Tuesday, January 29, 2013

19th-Century Explorations in Mexico

This stunning illustration of an Imperial Woodpecker pair by John L. Ridgway appeared in the July 1898 edition of The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists' Union. It accompanied an article by E. W. Nelson, titled, "The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus imperialis." (These birds were sometimes called Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, because they are so similar to the smaller American Ivory-billed Woodpecker.) The article was the first (and arguably the best) major natural history piece on the Imperial Woodpecker, based entirely on field observations of the birds in the mountains of Mexico. Read the full Auk article here: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Edward William Nelson was the quintessential Victorian Explorer, who first made a name for himself studying the wildlife and indigenous peoples of the Alaskan frontier.  With his field assistant, Edward A. Goldman, he launched his first Mexico expedition (which was supposed to last three months) in January 1892. They ended up spending fourteen years in Mexico, crossing and recrossing the length and breadth of the country, traveling through many areas never before visited by a scientist.


  1. I started to read the article, but it's so hard to reconcile the fact that these scientists shot at birds and collected at eggs - even if it was standard practice at the time.

  2. ny hat off to you!
    they live

  3. Hi Tim. I just stumbled across your wonderful blog and look forward to reading your book on this subject. It appears the link to the Auk article above is broken. Any chance you can fix the link so I can read that article? Thanks so much!