Photo by BarrytheBirder
I was quite surprised to discover this past week that back in the late 1800s and early 1900s there was a warbler known as the Cairns Warbler. Cairns happens to my wife's maiden name and her ancestors arrived in Canada in the early 1800s and took up homesteading in King Township, not far from where she and I live today. How could she and I never have heard of the Cairns Warbler before? It's because the Cairns Warbler was a subspecies of the Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) It was discovered and first described in the southern Allegheny Mountains by John S. Cairns of Weaveryule, North Carolina. What made it different? It was apparently a little darker than other Black-throated Blue Warblers and had staked out a favourite territory. There were skeptics, but eventually Dendroica caerulescens cairnsi was declared. The case for the subspecies did not last however and today it is only a historical footnote.
I do nevertheless have to admire John Cairns' convincing eloquence when he described his special bird. "High up on the heavily timbered mountain ranges of western North Carolina is the summer home of the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Here in precipitous ravines, amid tangled vines and moss-covered logs, where the sun's rays never penetrate the rank vegetation and the air is always cool, dwells the happy little creature, filling the woods from dawn to twilight with its song. These birds are a local race. They arrive ten days earlier than those that pass through the valleys on their northward migration. The nests show little variation...exteriorly they are composed of rhododendron or grape-vine bark, interwoven with birch-bark, moss, spider-webs, and occasionally bits of rotten wood. The interior is neatly lined with hair-like moss, resembling fine black roots, mixed with a few sprays of bright red moss, forming a strikingly beautiful contrast to the pearly eggs. The female gathers all the materials, and builds rapidly, usually completing a nest in from four to six days if the weather is favourable. She is usually accompanied by the male, which, however, does not assist her in any way." I probably would have been convinced by Mr. Cairns also. Those Scottish immigrants could be very persuasive.
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