Popular Science Monthly/Volume 68/May 1906/Bird Photography in Norway
|←The Psychology of Yellow||Popular Science Monthly Volume 68 May 1906 (1906)
Bird Photography in Norway
By R. W. Shufeldt
|The Progress of Science→|
By Dr. R. W. SHUFELDT
AS any general reader of the magazines in this country thoroughly appreciates, there has been within the last twenty years a wonderful and widespread interest taken in the matter of photography of birds, their nests and their haunts. There is not a month that passes without some one of the larger magazines, or even several of them, publishing a bird article illustrated with a series of photographic reproductions from nature, and these are often from the pens of our best-known ornithologists. The effect has been that many of our commoner bird forms are now coming to be quite generally known, which was by no means the case forty or more years ago. But the United States does not stand alone in the production of this class of literature, and, old as the old world is, it has not come to be so antiquated that people no longer take any interest in its avifauna; indeed, the old adage that 'familiarity breeds contempt' by no means applies here, for, as a matter of fact, the very reverse of the proverb holds true, and the better we come to know the birds, the more ready are we to recognize the fascination of their closer acquaintance.
Having been a student of the world's ornithology for a period extending over forty years, and a continuous writer on the subject for a quarter of a century, the birds of Europe are nearly as well known to me as those of my own country, and the life histories of some of them mean quite as much to me. In this way I have become as familiar with the birds of a country like Norway as I am with those of any part of the United States, and some of them I have studied quite as closely, their habits as well as their anatomy. Now the Scandinavian camerists have not been idle in the making of life photographs of the birds of the North European region in general and of Norway in particular. Among these workers no one is better known, or more distinguished, than the veteran Norse naturalist, Professor Robert Collett, professor of zoology at the University of Christiania, who has been a correspondent of the writer's since the early eighties. Professor Collett spends his summer vacations in rambling over the most interesting parts of Norway, during which times he captures many bird pictures with his camera. He has kindly illustrated the present article for me and supplied some of the notes.When one comes to study the land birds of Norway, one soon ascertains that many of them are resident species, a still greater number
of them are migratory, while still others belong to a small list of 'stragglers,' these last being birds that only accidentally occur there, and which, from one circumstance or another, are visitors by chance rather than by choice. This may happen in any country, as in the case of European birds being found in the United States, or American birds in England or elsewhere. It must be borne well in mind, however,
that such occurrences are but accidents, and at the best extremely rare. The resident birds in Norway are chiefly boreal forms and some few of them are circumpolar in distribution, and are therefore found, not only in this country, but throughout northern Europe and Asia. On the other hand, the migratory land birds comprise those species which during the spring and summer pass up into the country from southern and western Europe, to return in the autumn. Many of these breed there, and their habits are well known to continental ornithologists. As to the water birds, the coasts, inlets, fjords and estuaries of Norway abound with them, as do many of the inland lakes and streams. Some of these numerous species are resident; a large number are migratory; and, as we should naturally expect, 'stragglers' from other lands and seas occur there from time to time. Not a few of the species are common to our Atlantic coasts, and a few others are of almost cosmopolitan distribution, in so far as the northern hemisphere is concerned.
Among the land birds there are represented the thrushes and their allies, various kinds of warblers; the dipper; titmice, nuthatch, the wrens, creeper, wagtails, pipits (one being peculiar to Norway), oriole and shrikes; flycatchers, finches and swallows; crossbills; the starling; crows and their allies; larks; swifts; the nightjar; woodpeckers and wryneck; cuckoo: eagles, hawks and owls and some of their allies, and some few other forms. Then among the game birds there are ptarmigan, grouse, the famous capercaille, quail, doves, woodcock and others.
Passing to the water birds the list is still more varied. There is the gannet and two species of cormorant; several waders; swans and geese, and a variety of wild ducks, loons and divers; many snipe, plovers, sandpipers and their allies; curlew; gulls and terns, of which there are numerous species; skuas and petrels; guillemots and auks, and the puffins. In fact the ornis, as a whole, of Norway is by no means an uninteresting one, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of its representatives have been known and described for so many centuries past. With these facts before us then, it can easily be appreciated that the birds of Norway offer the photographer of such subjects almost as varied a field of bird life as he can find in the United States, and the same is true of their nests and eggs. Again, Norway is especially interesting in her topography and plant life, or flora. That this is so has led many of her bird photographers to include in their pictures more of the surroundings than is usually the case in similar productions taken in this country by American ornithologists. All the photographs illustrating the present article are good examples of this, and, in my opinion, everything else being equal, it gives them an additional value; especially as any one of them will bear enlargement either for lecture purposes or for figures.
For photography, many of the water birds offer wonderfully attractive subjects, and particularly on the coast north of Stavanger, where
auks, gulls and various other kinds of water fowl breed in immense numbers on the high, bold cliffs facing the ocean. Puffins (Mormon fratercula) are also found here in myriads, inhabiting the bird-cliffs or 'fugleberge,' and these preserves are protected by their owners, who derive considerable profit from them.
In another locality off Stavanger, we find the small island of Rott. Here many birds breed, and in far more accessible locations, and often on the sandy and rocky stretches near the ocean. Cormorants breed here in numbers (Phalacrocorax graculus); at least two species of gulls (Larus canus and Larus fuscus)—the common gull and the lesser black-backed. (See Fig. 4.) The European oyster-catcher is also found breeding on this island, a species closely resembling our own American form. An interesting photograph of the former, and the three beautiful eggs it lays among the stones and pebbles on the beach, is shown in Fig. 1 and 2. A large colony of the common gull were breeding in the near neighborhood. The inhabitants of this island of Rott belong to an ignorant class of coast people, who make profit on anything that mammal, bird or fish may bring them, subsisting themselves on the same products. They kill and eat both the cormorants and the gulls, and have a habit when the birds are first hatched of clipping the outer feathers of the wings, and consequently the birds are never able to fly. Then after they are full grown they
are easily caught and killed in numbers, being immediately salted down for winter food. With respect to the cormorants, the young are decapitated in their nests, as soon as they are old enough, and put to similar uses. Nowhere else in all Norway does this custom prevail. When Professor Collett visited this island of Rott, he ascertained that the inhabitants did not use the razorbill auks for food, and that these birds were marvelously tame, so much so that when he undertook to photograph them, one of the legs of his tripod was in touch with the tail of one of the birds in the immediate foreground when he secured the picture reproduced in Fig. 3. He was also in plain view at the time.Another interesting picture of an auk (Alca torda) is shown in Fig. 5. This was secured at Vardö, in northern Norway. From this
view we can look seaward toward Spitzbergen, and directly in the direction of the North Pole. The auk is seen standing on the rocks in the middle distance; and also further to the left there is a gull.
Some charming photographs of wild ducks have been taken down at Bratvær, where the celebrated fisheries for torsk and herring are. There occur the famous eider ducks (Someteria mollisima), which yield the precious eiderdown, so extensively used as a lining for fashionable winter garments. These ducks heavily line their nests with this down, and its collecting is an industry of no little commercial importance. We also have several species of eider ducks in our own avifauna, and in some parts of the world they have been domesticated. Bratvær (Smölen) is just outside of Christiansund, a place situated about midway on the coast of Norway.
Although wild specimens, the four male eiders seen swimming in Fig. 6 were so tame that they were coaxed ashore by having food thrown to them. The three spotted individuals in the picture are birds that are in the process of assuming their summer plumage. We have in this illustration an excellent view of the character of the off-lying rocky islands of this region.
In Norway they do not have nearly the number of species of owls that we have in our avifauna here in the United States, but still they have a few interesting different kinds. As a matter of fact, in the former country only about six or seven species occur, while over forty species and subspecies are known to inhabit the latter. Of these one or two are common to both countries, as, for example, the well-known snowy owl, and others. Again the little Tengmalm's owl is a common form in Norway, and we have a subspecific race of it in our avifauna. While rambling through the pine forests of Ringebo, Gudbrandsdalen, Professor Collett frequently met with Tengmalm's owl and obtained photographs of it. One of the most interesting captured of this kind is shown in Fig. 7.
As every sportsman who has hunted through Norway knows, the most numerous and important game bird is the ptarmigan, there designated as the 'rype.' It occurs in great numbers, not only on the islands off the coast, but also in similar regions inland, that is, in the fjelds region, or the birch and willow belts. Moreover, they are extremely plentiful on the treeless island of Smölen, in the bailiwick of Nordmöre, where recently they have been hunted with dogs, though the former practise was to snare them.
Several species and subspecies of ptarmigan occur in different parts of the United States, principally in the northwest and through Alaska, while in Norway the common form prevails—the Lagopus lagopus of science. A beautiful picture of the nest of one of the latter is shown in Fig. 8. The site selected by the bird was among the roots of several gnarled and twisted birch trees, which are peculiar to the upper birch forests where alone they occur, for, strange to relate, these same birch trees grow quite straight and perpendicular in the lowlands, constituting a difference I am at present unable to explain. It will be noticed that there are but seven eggs in this nest, while a ptarmigan may lay at least three more to complete the clutch. Ptarmigans are white in winter, but tawny and mottled in their summer plumage, so when the female is sitting upon her nest she harmonizes very well with her surroundings. Professor Collett photographed this specimen while she was sitting, but he tells me the picture is not a success.
American ornithologists have frequently obtained fine photographs of a number of our game birds while they were sitting upon their eggs, as grouse, quail and woodcock, and several of these I have published in former articles.