We get one Yellow-rumped Warbler every day at our garden suet logs…but when the wan winter sunlight pushed through the scrim of the pale clouds late this morning, the dog and I got a much brighter glimpse of warblerworld. Well, honestly, the dog could care less. There were three Townsend’s Warblers in ponderosa pines at the intersection of NW16th Street and Thomsen here in McMinnville. I’ve walked past those pines a hundred times since the end of summer, and never seen a single warbler there before.
At first the flock was south of 16th then flew to the facing pine north of 16th. The Townsend’s were accompanied by attendant Juncos also feeding in the canopy.
The Yamhill Valley Christmas Count totaled two Townsend’s this year and the average annual count for that CBC stands at 2.75. So today’s little flock of three Townsend’s together can stand as an unusual event this time of year in this place. Prior to today my only Townsend’s sighting in this county was in spring. See bottom of blog for a bit about Mr. Townsend.
Some other bright colors on a gray December day: roses that can’t read a calendar.
JOHN KIRK TOWNSEND
Townsend (1809-1851) was a protege of one of America’s most important naturalists, Thomas Nuttall. Nuttall wrote the earliest bird handbook for North America as well as the pioneering books on American trees and may have discovered more new plant species here than any other naturalist.
Townsend was a Philadelphia Quaker as were many native-born scientists before the U.S. Civil War. Other religions discouraged science, especially after Darwin’s work was published and publicized. Townsend discovered an unusual bird in 1833 that has never been seen since. It may have been a hybrid of some sparrows or the last of a disappearing species. By 1834 Townsend had medical training. At that pint he was invited by his mentor, the 47 year old Nuttall, to come along on an expedition up the Missouri River and on to the Oregon Coast. Nuttall quit his teaching post at Harvard and the two men went with a company of trappers and traders that set off from Saint Louis.
For some time Townsend served as doctor for Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, now in Washington State across the Columbia from Portland. Meanwhile Nuttall went to California. Both men also visited Hawaii. Nuttall returned east in 1836 and then Audubon seized the chance to use the Nuttall-Townsend discoveries to enhance his own publications and reputation. Townsend did not return east until 1837 by which time Audubon had described most of the Pacific Coast bird discoveries by Nuttall and Townsend. New species the two men found included: Black Oystercatcher, T’s Solitaire and Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hermit Warbler, MacGillvray’s Warbler, Bushtit, Chesnut-backed Chickadee, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Lark Bunting, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Plover, Harris’s Sparrow, Vaux’s Swift, Green-tailed Towhee. From Nuttall’s California collecting came the first Yellow-billed Magpie and Tricolored Blackbird.
Townsend also discovered numerous new mammal species and several are named for him, from mole to vole. Nuttall, of course, got his own namesake woodpecker and rabbit plus myriad plants.
Townsend died at an early age from the effects of arsenic poisoning. Arsenic powder was used in those days to preserve bird skins thus it was his study of birds that killed him.