19 December 2008

Research into Historic Ornithology Relies on Online Resources

A particular element essential to gaining knowledge of wildbirds during historic times is access to a myriad of online resources that can provident pertinent details. The vast array of material in the digital realm has many precise details needed to document occurrence and distribution at a particular place and time.

In their narrative, a scribe noted what details of birds seen or known. The details vary according to the interest and intent of the writer, but one essential and consistent component is an identification, whether it was a commonly used term or a detailed scientific description derived from the accepted taxonomy of the era.

When a particular species was noted, the given terminology was based on the writer's current knowledge, or access - during an era with multiple constraints on the spread of information - to the writings of others. The scholarly works available to review when denoting a particular species would make an obvious difference. Were collection specimens available to provide a comparison, and usually a requisite to evaluate features of specimen? If a copy of the latest volume of a zoological journal or annals of science was not handy for referral, the author may have not realized the species was already suitably described. There were many challenges, of course.

Array of Resources

In evaluating the bird history for the modern millenium, online searches provide a completely unique and fresh tool with its distinctly new and effective means of research through a world wide web of information.

Online searches have multiple benefits. Search results obviously surpass whatever information might be found in the nearest scholarly library. It certainly exceeds the array of holdings that persist within any state of residence. Search methods can reveal different results. Again and again something of pertinence - known or unexpected - is presented.

Search terminology - with a lexicon of its own - using quotes and other modifier options, certainly can make a difference. A dead-end where there is nothing meaningful shown when using an exact search, can be altered by using different directions for the computer. A fuzzy-search can be useful when the original source has misspellings or uses an alternate spelling that does not fit the norm of other published names.

The word-working might lead to another reference that uses the same name, but provides a different set of clues to historic distribution of birds for the continent. There may something of unexpected interest found that is worth further consideration. In numerous cases, while working on bird history, the search on a particular scientific name provided results that included another pertinent reference, and previously not known, but certainly worth a detour down a different lane of investigation.

Archaic Nomenclature

A particular realm of consideration is historic nomenclature, a scheme that has consistently changed for the huge variety of birds that have occurred around the globe. Scientific names of the 1600s from Buzzard's Bay or in the west at Puerto de Monterey or perhaps also at the Bay of Eleven Thousand Virgins certainly are not the norms of the modern-era. Conforming those old terms to modern equivalents is a chore in the least, and at times a perplexing difficulty.

Searching for a specific scientific name given in a historic article can in some instances lead to a definitive identification. The working alternative is essential documentary details with a variety of resultant tangents. If a the modern equivalent of an archaic scientific name cannot be readily found, the terms can be entered in an alternate manner, and with a click, some other potential solutions are given to consider.

The search tool is especially helpful with taxonomy, which has been always be consistently and constantly changing. Even if a match to a particular set of two Latin language names may match multiple sources, it may not correlate to the modern equivalent, so further looking might be required to eventually match a current accepted scientific name. When there is no exact match, the terms can be entered in alternate way - with recognized search modifiers to refine the inquisition - for results that lead onward to further details that can lead to a useful match.

While determining the distribution of wildbirds in America northward of Panama, web searches provided many equivalents of matching ancient nomenclature to modern norms. Efforts by a scant few are also providing new resources that combine their determined results of research into a vastly useful resource.

Foreign Sources

While evaluating the species known for North America, one essential reference tool available at the local university library, was the bound volume of the American Ornithologists' Union checklist of 1998. By comparing a list of species derived from historic references published in North American, there were species not documented. There was certainly a gap, but by reviewing the published AOU list, additional references were found that needed to be checked.

In a few cases, the research meant reading some alternate languages. This certainly had not been expected in working on bird history for a continent where the primary language for many was English. The common essential thread was having the birds' scientific name given, in Latin.

Older material from Canada contained French terminology, but often the original sources had already been translated by a researcher. The linguistics were interesting of course, but no challenge to deriving an identity.

Many of the first descriptions of wild animal species occurred in foreign publications. English language sources abound from publishing houses in London, especially prior to 1850. The Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London started in the 1830s, and the celebrated John Gould wrote up some of the first notes for North American species in the early 1840s.

In 1859, The Ibis, the first journal dedicated to the subject of ornithology, was published in England. Its first paper was on the ornithology of central America, by Philip Lutley Sclater and Osbert Salvin. There was also a paper on birds of the West Indies in the issues of the year.

Articles or books in three foreign languages in particular have been looked while delving further into brd history..

One of the older items was printed in Russian. The 1811-era zoographica by the celebrated Petrus Simon Pallas, M.D., was for an area including the Bering Strait and Aleutian Islands, once part of the vast Russian nation, but now part of Alaska.

In the mid-1850s and mid-1860s era, the Journal of Ornithology published in the German Democratic Republic, has some important papers on the occurrence of species in middle America, notably Cuba and Costa Rica.

More recently, a journal with the title La Naturaleza, had a list of species for Veracruz by senor Don Francisco Sumichrast. His important findings had been published elsewhere in articles authored by other notable ornithologist's but in the early 1870s, a national journal allowed him to write up his findings in his native language.

Valuable Email

An additional essential aspect of research investigation is back-and-forth communication from the available web of email. Contacts given on a web-page are an avenue to ask someone for a particular detail. In some instances, a focused answer to a query provided as the result of asking someone else - with their expertise and attuned knowledge - about a particularly intractable name, where even the web does not given something suitable, was a welcome reply.

Direct communications has also been essential in getting further details for a particular quandary, and to provide input that may help improve the details given by an online resource. This may be as simple as correcting a typographical error, correcting a misspelled name that would mean certain consternation for someone trying to find specific information, or clarifying a bit of detail to improve the quality of the information within a larger set of data.

Errors can be readily changed only in the information is available for review and easy comment.

Online Material Furthers Interpretation of History

Results provided by online searches has increased the ability to find material pertinent to historic birds, furthering an inquest into further, in-depth research investigations. For bird nomenclature, there are a couple of particularly notable web-sources of note.

Search Considerations

Online searches of historic material provide an unexpected and diverse array of results to excite the researcher. Known history is a unique and distinct window to tomorrow by using the array of knowledge from the past. With so many potential avenues open to the past through online items of a myriad sort, the understanding of what once was has an improved understanding to know what the environment of today is about.

Online resources are certainly a treasure-chest for the researcher investigating the history of birds. The price is certainly reasonable for a researcher with no budget. Access is immediate if the computers are working properly at the local library. Gratitude is the operative word, since without access to online material, research would certainly be limited by a lack of knowledge, and it it just really fine to be able to read material once ensconced in a library a thousand miles away.

There are some consistent findings have occurred during a multitude of searches that need some consideration to work towards improvements.

The miscellaneous volumes of a scientific journal should be equitably displayed, instead of showing most of a sequence year-by-year but just giving a snippet of something for a year within the range where many others are shown in their entirety. This applies, for example, to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. There are bunch of these issues shown from more than 150 years in the past, but the 1863 issue in particular, is only available in a snippet view. The online issue available is just an index. The 1861, 1862 and 1864 issues also have not been found for their due consideration.

And these volumes have several articles of interest that are not available because of this means of presentation.

Also for this journal, there are two directions that can be used to access the volumes online. Selecting one search result leads to three pages of results with links to items - excluding one - where only a snippet view is given. Selecting a different result, provides the preferable five pages of options with full-view access.

Another item of dire consequence, is quality. If a paged is scanned in a manner where it is not at all legible for reading, it is useless to a researcher and obviously frustrating. Although there is an option to send a message that the page is not legible, the means of how this is dealt with is not known, especially is and when the page is redone and ready for reading.

Quality is essential to provide resources that are readily useful now and in the long term. This includes quality presentation, using effective tags to mark and identify a volume, and other little details that can make a difference.

Inconsistent results may be provided on occasion. Most recently, a Spanish-language paper about the birds of Veracruz was located while doing a search for a particular scientific name. The download to a PDF option was used to save the volume for future reference. A brief time later - on the same morning - when looking for the same item, when using the article title as the search term, a subsequent article - a continuation - was found instead, then saved for reference. But when looking for the first article, it could not be relocated using several search options.

A helpful change when displaying search results would be to have them sorted by year. Instead of the oldest volume being buried on a subsequent page or pages, it should show up earlier in the list, making it easier to find a particular volume in a series. It would also be helpful to do a search limited to the results provided by an initial search, i.e., to search through the volumes of a particular journal.

Furthering Knowledge of Bird History

Achieving an understandable history of wildbirds for the northern continent of America could be a useless frustration without the myriad of essential details found around on the internet. In particular, consider some things known from a focused investigation into the history of wildbirds extant in the North American continent prior to 1875:

  • Historically published information gives key details on the occurrence of numerous bird species at a particular place and time;
  • Nomenclatural equivalents given through searches among an array of now online publications provided by a great variety of entities that have undertaken digitizing efforts;
  • New sources of information can be found from unexpected resources because of nomenclature norms
  • Search results can lead to unexpected results due to matching terms only found through word matches;
  • Insights into the historic efforts of men instrumental in describing bird species distributed about the continent;
  • Understanding of how many people have contributed to the knowledge and subsequent appreciation of birds and their presence in a variety of natural environments during different places in time;
  • How the strictures of science have continued through so many decades during an unabated effort to know and understand birds and their relationships;
  • An endless source of published appreciation for wildbirds in the many different environments, hither and yon across a geographic region.
  • Appreciation for the commitment of so may people that have documented the history of birdlife at so many different places, presenting bone studies, direct observations, specimen studies, et al. to know more about the winged members of the world, wherever the person with an interest sufficient to get the particulars recorded in a journal or some alternate publication of yore, may have been.
  • Realization of how there is a such a particular interest in birds which is something ageless and provides so many valuable insights into the character or the natural wild environment; and
  • An essential need to present viable alternatives to archive personal efforts of bird history to ensure the hard work is preserved and available beyond the time when someone is actively working on a particular project of notable importance.

Investigating bird history and the state of the science for North American avifauna in past decades is possible only through use of the grand variety of online resources ready for use by the intrepid researcher. Results provide a better and more thorough understanding of the past for wildbirds documented throughout the continent.

Information online has expanded to the extent where it is basically essential for any historic studies, and further development and improvements will make it more and more valuable. The future potential is certainly exciting for learning more from bird history from two centuries in the past, or from the modern efforts that so thoroughly and accurately document bird distribution and occurrence contributions.

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