EML Blog

Notes from the Hassler archives: On tropical waters

[This post is part of a series on the archives of the 1871-1872 Hassler expedition, written by Bruno Costelini, Science without Borders intern at the Ernst Mayr Library]

As the year of 1871 was drawing to a close the Hassler steamed its way off the U.S. coast on through Caribbean waters, where the first dredging efforts were to be made. A stop by St. Thomas (one of the Virgin Islands, then a Danish colony) left the members of the expedition impressed not only with its natural beauty but also with the different customs of these first foreign peoples they encountered, as they managed to find the fish market fully operating on a Sunday:

Sunday is very little regarded here although there are a number of very small churches of different denominations. Regard for the Sabbath is much greater now than it was before the late earthquakes the people having been very much frightened at the time thinking it was their punishment. Groups were seen on any places during the earthquake singing hymns, and offering prayer.

St. Thomas harbor
“View of St. Thomas harbor with the Hassler on the left”

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Notes from the Hassler archives: Seasick!

[This post is part of a series on the archives of the 1871-1872 Hassler expedition, written by Bruno Costelini, Science without Borders intern at the Ernst Mayr Library]

Things did not look too good at the outset of the Hassler deep-sea dredging expedition. After leaving the Charlestown Navy Yard on the afternoon of December 4th, 1871, the ship had to anchor in Georges Island because of strong winds coming from S.W. accompanied by ominous clouds that looked “black and angry.” Starting again the next morning amidst the same weather, the thermometer at 20 degrees and ice “up about the bow on the rigging and mast,” a “cable broke loose and went down against the port stateroom doors” and almost all the party was seasick. [1]

The ship didn’t make much further, resting at Holmes Hole (Vineyard Haven) for a couple of days.

The Hassler steamer
"The Hassler steamer"

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Baby Birds Round 2

The house sparrows nesting outside a window in the EML reference room are feeding a new batch of chicks. From the quantity of begging chirps it's a smaller clutch than the first one but they are still keeping the parents busy ... The nest is so built up now that you can't see anything but you can sure hear them!

Baby Birds at the Library

A family of house sparrows has taken up residence in one of the north windows of the library reference room. The youngsters can be heard begging much of the day, and the parents have been kept very busy. The nest is placed so that we can't really see into it, but we can now see little wings flapping ...

Notes from William Brewster: Ornithologists in the Courtroom

In March 1886, one deacade before the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Protection of Birds had organized, William Brewster wrote three letters to fellow ornithologist George Sennett, describing an early attempt to pass bird protection legislation in Massachusetts.

Brewster, who would become the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s first president and a co-founder of the American...

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Notes from William Brewster: Signs of Spring

Here in the Greater Boston area we’ve had a week or so of beautiful spring weather. Robins are out foraging over soft ground, Red-winged Blackbirds flash their wings in wetland areas, and Song Sparrows are singing again. While we’re still likely to have more cold snaps and snow, we're definitely feeling the season shift.

For ornithologist William Brewster, a productive day’s work often looked like a long ramble outside with a notebook and a gun, or later on, a notebook and a pair of binoculars. His daily journal entries often run many pages long as he notes the places he visited and every natural detail that stood out to him.... Read more about Notes from William Brewster: Signs of Spring

Notes from William Brewster: Winter Irruption

For a few days in January of 1893, Cambridge was abuzz with an unfamiliar sight: a sudden ‘irruption’ of red and gold birds that drew lots of attention.

William Brewster recognized them as Pine Grosbeaks. They’re beautiful birds: the males a have a soft red head and breast that fades to light gray underneath, and dark wings with two white stripes or ‘wing bars’. In females and juveniles, the red head is replaced with a gold color. Large finches, they have stubby, thick, seed-cracking in beaks, similar in shape to a Northern Cardinal’s. In the winter, large foraging flocks of Pine Grosbeaks often strip entire trees of their fruits, crushing through pulp and seeds and moving on when the food source has been exhausted.

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Notes from William Brewster: A Day on a Boston Harbor Garbage Scow

On a bitter January morning in 1893, amateur ornithologist William Brewster took an excursion out past the Boston Harbor Islands, intending to take notes on marine birds and to collect a few if any caught his interest.

What better way to find Gulls and other seabirds than to hop onto a maritime garbage truck? The day’s bird notes are detailed and definitely an intriguing read for birders, but it's his description of the city’s garbage disposal that make this...

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