SI2015-A-5: “The History of the Natural History of Sable Island” – Ian A. McLaren

The earliest published observations on the biota of Sable Island, along with casual observations in the logbooks of successive superintendents, are vague and emphasize natural resources. John .B.  Gilpin’s visits during summer 1854 and early September 1855 were the first by a knowledgeable naturalist. He published sketchy descriptions of the flora and more thorough (although sometimes inaccurate) accounts of the island’s pinnipeds, birds, and marine molluscs. Intense study of the island’s birds began with J. W. Maynard’s 1868 collection of a migrating Ipswich Sparrow in coastal Massachusetts. This led to recognition in 1884 of eggs from that new ‘species’ that had been sent from the island to the US National Museum by Superintendent Dodds in 1862, and encouraged New York naturalist Johanthan Dwight to visit the island June-July1894 primarily to study the sparrow and produce a substantial monograph. He also enthused Superintendent Bouteiller’s family to send him many specimens of birds, some very unusual, now in the American Museum of Natural History. The Bouteillers also published systematic bird observations, 1901-1907. A visit in summer 1999 by Dominion Botanist John Macoun produced the first reasonably complete survey of the island’s plants, but only casual reports on the fauna (but he did collect the once-thought-endemic freshwater sponge Anheteromenia ryderi). He probably also encouraged the futile efforts at tree-planting in May 1901 under the direction of W.E. Saunders, who published a few observation s on the Ipswich Sparrow and other birds. This ‘history’ conveniently closes with Harold St. John’s, visit to the island in 1913. As a student of the illustrious botanist, M.L. Fernald, he produced the first truly modern survey of the island’s flora.

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