22 October 2012

Maximilian Tagebuch Conveys Distinctive Bird History

When Prince Maximilian of Wied Germany came to explore America in 1832, among his varied interests was flora and fauna. Given particular attention were birds, as he traveled from the eastern coast into the wild territory of the northern Great Plains. The importance is so readily obvious in his tagebuch (a.k.a. journal), now available in their entirety following the issue of volume three in recent months by the Durham Center for Western Studies at Joslyn Art Museum, located in Omaha, Nebraska.

Each hefty volume conveys in particular detail and finesse so many unforgetable tidbits for the history of people and places decades ago. The original verbage, though sometimes marred by editorial nuance and syntactical excess, has copious footnotes suited for a scholarly work that is now and will ever-be an essential source for this period in American history.

There are so many details, with vital, distinctive details for any investigation of historic birds, that include these specifics: 1) Maximilian wrote daily entries, so the specific date of an occurrence is blatantly indicated and certainly appreciated in comparison to other historic narratives where a monthly account might not include any date details; 2) the Prince had an entourage, so there were other men out and about to gather natural history material, and they included hunter David Dreidoppel, and Karl Bodmer, the expedition artist whose exquisite artistics presentations are visually dramatic in an unsurpassed and wonderful manner; 3) both Maximilian and Bodmer prepared small color sketches which in addition to the verbage of the journal and associated large graphic works, also contribute to the sense of what was observed during their voyage; 4) Maximilian was a scholar, and visited with important local authorities of natural history knowledge where they resided (especially at New Harmony, Indiana) and had the monetary means to purchase and have available any available, and current at the time, reference publications; 5) notes in the journal often include specific details of size, color and other features and lore sufficient for denoting an accurate identification, as considered in detail for the published volumes, and denoted by footnotes.

A detailed analysis of the bird records for the expedition has been a long-term personal interest. They were first considered upon reading a 1983 article presenting an extract of the journey for the Nebraska region. The accounts and words of different birds piqued an interest in bird history which has continued unabated. It wasn't until more than two decades later that the first authoritative volume of the princely journal was issued and could reviewed in an accurate detail. The same situation occurred with the second volume a few years later, and finally the final volume this year, so a nearly complete consideration could be accomplished. The natural history prepared by Prince Maximilian does however, remain untranslated and thus not available for review and proper, additional consideration as to its significance.

In regards for details about the bird sightings, extracting appropriate records was a process of reading each page closely and noting bird and bird-related observations for a particular date. A geographic location was then determined, and particulars were then entered into a database for further review. Maps were essential in the effort. Essentially important were maps of the Missouri River prepared by Martin Plamondon II, which depict the historic character of the river channel as conveyed by maps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as used by the Prince, and which so importantly include details sufficient for determining a geographic locality appropriate in the modern context of places and counties. These particulars are obviously essential to indicate geographic occurrence as well as distribution. Rather than presenting a vague place, it was possible to denote localities to a refined extent, with several places often mentioned by Maximilian within one modern-day county of a state. Along the Missouri River, there was regularly enough detail to determine a site of occurrence, so a decision could be made as to the particular state, since the river was the boundary, especially in the Nebraska region. Elsewhere, especially in the final weeks of his expedition, their were hamlets and towns noted, which made the process much simpler.

Distinctive Bird History

Always writing about details of particular interest, the first pertinent bird records indicated in the journal were in June 1832, while on the Outer Banks of the Atlantic Coast. The transocean route of the ship was approaching the eastern coast of the U.S.A. As the expedition moved to the west, the bird records continued unabated for many places, including several which were territories in a country moving westward across an expansive continent.

Based upon the commentary by Maximilian, it's obvious that bird records during his sojourn during three years, were widespread. Notations of pertinent activity occurred in numerous states as well as associated with provinces in Canada. A geographic summary indicates these particulars:

  • Indiana: 623 records, especially because of the winter sojourn at New Harmony
  • North Dakota: 452, especially because of the winter sojourn at Fort Clark
  • Montana: 264
  • South Dakota: 246
  • Nebraska: 163
  • Missouri: 152
  • Pennsylvania: 67
  • Iowa: 39
  • Ohio: 38
  • Illinois: 24
  • New York: 15
  • Newfoundland, Canada: 9
  • Nova Scotia, Canada: 5
  • Kentucky: 5
  • Massachusetts: 4
  • Kansas: 4
  • Maine: 2
  • Labrador coast, Canada: 2
  • Rhode Island: 1

About 287 different localities were needed to adequately indicate the many various spaces and places for which Prince Maximilian scribbled notes in accord to what would be modern-day bird-watching. Atop the locality list, based upon the extent of mentions on the tagebuch, are:

  • New Harmony on the Wabash: 489 records because of a months long residence from late autumn through to the next spring-time when it was time to continue moving westward;
  • Fort Clark Environs: 167 because of a lengthy presence, once gain during a winters-time sojourn
  • Fort Union, Yellowstone River: 71, also because repeated journal entries for the locality;
  • Troublesome Island Area: 53 for a vicinity which is now inundated by a reservoir, in Dakota
  • Fort McKenzie: 29, also on the northern plains.

Most of the other places for which bird records can be determined have ten or fewer observations, obviously understandable since the expedition was transitory, with only a limited number of stops/delays where time could be taken to look around the particular place, and get where the Prince could listen and the hunters might take a specimen. As well, birding from a moving boat would obviously result in a recognition of a lesser number of species, though because of the Prince's attention, his notes do convey a broader perspective, along the rivers and canals of what was then, the frontier of America.

Birds were a regular and typical item mentioned in the tagebuch. On April 10, 1833 and aboard the steamboat Yellow Stone, a boat of the American Fur Company, the party of explorers set forth from St. Louis. One of the first species seen nearby on the Mississippi river was a Pied-billed Grebe. And there were hundreds of subsequent notes in the many subsequent months.

There were 159 different species denoted during the expedition, in addition to other items noted which were various objects using bird material. The following list utilizes bird taxonomy as indicated by the summer 2012 list by the International Ornithological Congress, for birds of the world. Additional records can be given based on authentic sightings, but where there was not an indentifaction to a specific species possible, and these are not included in this list of valid species.

¶ Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus: 19 notations, from places in Indiana to Missouri
¶ Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo: 54 notations, mostly from New Harmony, with many from Missouri and other from the Nebraska and Iowa area of the Missouri River
¶ Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus: 5, only from Pennsylvania and Indiana
¶ Sage Grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus: 2 from North Dakota which at the time was a territory
¶ Sharp-tailed Grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus: 52
¶ Greater Prairie Chicken, Tympanuchus cupido: 19
¶ Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons: 2
¶ Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens: 5
¶ Canada Goose, Branta canadensis: 86
¶ Brant Goose, Branta bernicla: 1
¶ Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator: 21 records primarily for the Missouri River area in North Dakota and westward in Montana, also an observation here and there in Indiana, Missouri and Iowa
¶ Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus: 1
¶ Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata: 1
¶ Wood Duck, Aix sponsa: 35
¶ Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos: 32
¶ Blue-winged Teal, Anas discors: 5
¶ Northern Pintail, Anas acuta: 3
¶ Green-winged Teal, Anas carolinensis: 5
¶ Ring-necked Duck, Aythya collaris: 18
¶ Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula: 11
¶ Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus: 11
¶ Common Merganser, Mergus merganser: 8
¶ Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator: 1
¶ Wilson's Storm Petrel, Oceanites oceanicus: 10
¶ Leach's Storm Petrel, Oceanodroma leucorhoa: 1
¶ Pied-billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps: 5
¶ Black-necked Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis: 1
¶ Green Heron, Butorides virescens: 3
¶ Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias: 12
¶ American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos: 11
¶ Northern Gannet, Morus bassanus: 1
¶ Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus: 3
¶ Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo: 1
¶ Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura: 53
¶ Western Osprey, Pandion haliaetus: 6
¶ Swallow-tailed Kite, Elanoides forficatus: 3
¶ Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus: 44
¶ Northern Harrier, Circus hudsonius: 7
¶ Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus: 3
¶ Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus: 3
¶ Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis: 8
¶ American Kestrel, Falco sparverius: 26
¶ Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus: 1
¶ American Coot, Fulica americana: 14
¶ Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis: 14
¶ Whooping Crane, Grus americana: 5 from the prairie-land of Illinois, and along the Missouri River in North Dakota and Montana
¶ American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana: 3
¶ American Woodcock, Scolopax minor: 2
¶ Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus: 7
¶ Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius: 1
¶ Sanderling, Calidris alba: 1
¶ Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla: 1
¶ Wilson's Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor: 1
¶ Ivory Gull, Pagophila eburnea: 1 in the northern Atlantic, off the American coast
¶ Franklin's Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan: 3
¶ Common Tern, Sterna hirundo: 1
¶ Forster's Tern, Sterna forsteri: 1
¶ Black Tern, Chlidonias niger: 2
¶ Common Murre, Uria aalge: 1
¶ Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius: 15
¶ Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura: 30
¶ Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis: 23 notations primarily while at New Harmony, but other sightings were recorded for Indiana, Missouri and what is now Nebraska
¶ Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus: 1
¶ Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio: 5
¶ Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus: 2 notations represented by one for North Dakota and the other in New York
¶ Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus: 12
¶ Northern Barred Owl, Strix varia: 6
¶ Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia: 1
¶ Long-eared Owl, Asio otus: 1
¶ Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor: 15
¶ Eastern Whip-poor-will, Antrostomus vociferus: 8
¶ Chimney Swift, Chaetura pelagica: 3
¶ Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris: 4
¶ Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon: 29
¶ Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus: 27
¶ Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus: 11
¶ Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius: 5
¶ Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens: 18
¶ Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus: 8
¶ Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus: 29
¶ Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus: 10 with all but two records from New Harmony, and the other two from Missouri
¶ Say's Phoebe, Sayornis saya: 1
¶ Eastern Wood Pewee, Contopus virens: 1
¶ Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis: 6
¶ Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus: 9
¶ Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus: 4
¶ Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus: 8
¶ Great Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor: 3
¶ Blue-headed Vireo, Vireo solitarius: 1
¶ Red-eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceus: 5
¶ Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata: 11
¶ Pinyon Jay, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus: 1
¶ Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia: 52
¶ American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos: 64
¶ Northern Raven, Corvus corax: 39
¶ Bohemian Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus: 3
¶ Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum: 4
¶ Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus: 23
¶ Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor: 11
¶ Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris: 5
¶ Sand Martin, Riparia riparia: 2
¶ Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor: 3
¶ Purple Martin, Progne subis: 4
¶ Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica: 3
¶ American Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota: 12
¶ Golden-crowned Kinglet, Regulus satrapa: 2
¶ Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus: 4
¶ Winter Wren, Troglodytes hiemalis: 8, with all but one record from New Harmony
¶ House Wren, Troglodytes aedon: 7
¶ White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis: 17
¶ Brown Creeper, Certhia americana: 8
¶ Grey Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis: 12
¶ Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum: 14
¶ Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis: 25
¶ Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus: 1
¶ Wood Thrush, Hylocichla mustelina: 3
¶ American Robin, Turdus migratorius: 10
¶ American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis: 8
¶ Common Redpoll, Carduelis flammea: 18
¶ Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus: 1
¶ Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla: 5
¶ Kentucky Warbler, Geothlypis formosa: 1
¶ Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas: 5
¶ American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla: 11
¶ American Yellow Warbler, Setophaga aestiva: 17
¶ Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata: 4
¶ Myrtle Warbler, Setophaga coronata: 6
¶ Wilson's Warbler, Cardellina pusilla: 1
¶ Yellow-breasted Chat, Icteria virens: 18
¶ Orchard Oriole, Icterus spurius: 2
¶ Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula: 17
¶ Bullock's Oriole, Icterus bullockii: 1
¶ Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater: 2
¶ Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus: 19
¶ Rusty Blackbird, Euphagus carolinus: 6
¶ Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula: 21
¶ Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna: 5
¶ Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta: 19
¶ Yellow-headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus: 10
¶ Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus: 3
¶ Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocorys: 2
¶ Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia: 10
¶ White-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys: 2
¶ White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis: 6
¶ Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis: 21
¶ American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea: 13
¶ Vesper Sparrow, Pooecetes gramineus: 2
¶ Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus: 20
¶ Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus: 6
¶ Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus: 18
¶ Smith's Longspur, Calcarius pictus: 1
¶ Snow Bunting, Plectrophenax nivalis: 17
¶ Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra: 3
¶ Scarlet Tanager, Piranga olivacea: 5
¶ Dickcissel, Spiza americana: 2
¶ Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus: 3
¶ Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis: 24
¶ Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea: 2
¶ Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amoena: 6
¶ Bird effigy: 7
¶ Calumet: 2
¶ Bird feather object: 25
¶ Bird feather fan: 8
¶ Bird bonnet: 9
¶ Bird bone whistle: 2
¶ Bird-motif garment: 2
¶ War lance: 3

Every indicative record expressed in the words scribbled with intent by Prince Maximilian is important to bird history. None of them are more significant than any one other. Interesting among the mix are, based upon an expeditionary perspective.

The details from the journal could obviously be further considered, and based upon a composite scenario, provide many valuable comparisons.

An Enduring Legacy

Even whilst returning to Europe, in his final days abroad by the North American continent, his effort continued and indicated some sea birds, once again at the Grand Banks, and they were petrels in July 1834.

Only by knowing the specific essential details can the actual significance can the effort by the Prince be appreciated. These findings are also essential to any effort of comparison between the results of the earlier Lewis and Clark Expedition, and then the travels by John James Audubon in 1843.

Each effort provides the particulars to compare temporal and spatial distribution of birds, especially along the Missouri River, which can be readily compared to subsequent times. It would be invaluable to have maps that would visually depict the details, and indicate an understanding completely new for any investigation associated with historic ornithology and its profound, and still mostly ingnored, presentations.