Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Violet-green Swallow // William Swainson

Violet-green Swallow
Park City, Utah, USA
Member of the Swallow Family
§A Sord of Swallows§

~true bird fact~ Violet-green swallows have been known to babysit for bluebirds. They protected and fed the chicks in the absence of their parents until they fledged (were able to leave the nest). It takes a village!

On another note- because of the unfortunate angle your bird photographer had to take this photo from, you can't really see this guy's namesake plumage, which is really very striking. I vow to one day get a better photo of this bird, but if you can't wait til then, google him, he's super cool looking.

Listens to the radio
Loves to tell you what you're doing wrong with your kids. A real busybody
Has a stilted and awkward way of interacting with others
Maybe belongs to one of those weird religious group
First described in 1827 by William John Swainson.
File:Swainson William 1789-1855.jpg 
Swainson was a character. He is, in his wikipedia article (the measure by which all men are judged) described at different points as 'influential', 'reckless', 'famous', 'eccentric', 'talented', and 'ignorant as a goose'. He once became involved in a land dispute with a Māori chief in New Zealand. It is fair to say Swainson was on the wrong side of history several times. But let's not just jump right to his failings.

Active through the early and middle 1800's, Swainson began his career, as so many naturalists, in the military. A major explorer of Brazil who focused mainly on birds and fish, Swainson has quite a lot of namesakes. He has his own thrush, hawk, warbler, sparrow, francolin (?), flycatcher, and even a toucan. He mainly achieved fame as an early adopter of lithography. In fact, he was the first naturalist to do so. It was an easy way to mass produce prints without the use of an engraver. Monochrome lithographs would arrive with a sort of paint-by-numbers created by Swainson. He was apparently an illustrator of great achievement.

Swainson took a turn for the odd when he began supporting a new system of biological classification called Quinarianism, which posited, for seemingly no reason, that all taxa could be divided into fives. If an animal did not have five variations in its family, that meant that there were undiscovered species. It only got more complicated from there and the images of this system have a kind of bizarre Kabalistic look to them.
Late in life he took an ill-advised position as a botanical surveyor in Sydney, Australia (he moved to Oceania when he was basically laughed out of Britain for his Rule of Five nonsense). He knew basically nothing about Botany, unfortunately, and released an absurd report that listed, among other oddities, over 1500 species of Eucalyptus Trees (ur author notes that this is way more than 5). He died a few years later. William Swainson may be dead, but he continues to delight with his lasting images of birds and tales of his ridiculous misadventures.

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