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The diaries of James Chapin

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Book 1: (May 8, 1909 to July 17, 1909)

May • JuneJuly

Diaries List

[Business card (loose)]:

Y. Le Boulbin, Directeur de l'Ongomo. Kakamoeka. Par Loango Gabon. (Back): Y Le Boulbin Goudelin; Cotes-du-Nord; France.

DATE: 5/8/1909 (Saturday)
LOCALITY: Sailed from New York, at 11am on SS "Zeeland".
WEATHER: Fair, a fresh easterly breeze.

Going down the bay we saw 10 or 15 herring gulls, and off Fort Wadsworth, Staten Id. a flock of at least 50 small gulls, almost certainly Larus philadelphia.

DATE: 5/9/1909 (Sunday)
WEATHER: Foggy almost all day, clearing in late afternoon. Light easterly wind.
LOCALITY: 349 miles east of Sandy Hook at 12m.

At 9:55am I saw the first petrel of the voyage. A number including 2 or 3 flocks of 30 or 40, seen before dinner; quite common, and almost always in sight, during first half of afternoon. The largest number seen together was about 150 or 175. Early in the afternoon a flock of about 25 terns was seen hovering over a spot where the water was disturbed by some large animals, perhaps sharks or porpoises. Late in the afternoon five or six terns were seen flying NE. At this same time I also saw a very dark-colored bird, about the size of a small gull, that flew close down along the water, exactly like a shear water, first taking four or five wing-beats, and then sailing. It might possibly have been a sooty shear water. In addition, three large gull-like birds were seen today, but were all too far off to be seen well. This afternoon, as Mr. Lang and I were standing on the port side of the stern, we saw a shark, some 3 or 4 feet long, close in by the ship's side. Not only its dorsal fin, but the tip of its tail as well, stuck out of the water.

DATE: 5/10/1909 (Monday)
WEATHER: Fair, sea calm.
LOCALITY: 717 miles from Sandy Hook at 12m.

Three terns, sitting on a piece of floating wood were the only birds seen in the morning. At about 1:30pm I saw 6 or 8 petrels following the ship, and they kept flying along in our wake, some 100 or 150 yards astern, until after 4:30pm.

DATE: 5/11/1909 (Tuesday)
WEATHER: Cloudy, one light shower in morning. Wind southerly early in morning, becoming stronger and changing to NW. In late afternoon it shifted to NE.
LOCALITY: 1122 miles from Sandy Hook at 12m.

At 6:10am Mr. Lang saw 6 or 8 petrels following the ship, and 2 or 3 could be seen in our wake at almost any time during the day. Between 11 and 12 o'clock I saw a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) which flew around the ship, evidently trying to alight. About 2pm a ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) came flying along, and lit on one of the ratlines for a

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moment, so that I could look at it, thru my glass, at about a distance of 25 feet. At 5:40 or 5:45pm I again saw a ruby-crowned kinglet, perhaps the same individual alight for a few seconds near the same part of the boat. Between 2 and 3pm a white-throated sparrow was flying about the boat again; and around 5:20 and 5:50 two of these sparrows were seen trying to light on the boat. One of them finally hopped around on the deck where I could see it very well. It was in very dull plumage, and was probably, I suppose, a female. Early this morning Mr. Lang and I saw an adult gray rat near the stern of the ship.

DATE: 5/12/1909 (Wednesday)
WEATHER: Cloudy in early morning, generally fair the rest of the day. Strong north wind.
LOCALITY: 1506 miles from Sandy Hook at 12m.

No birds seen all day.

DATE: 5/13/1909 (Thursday)
WEATHER: Fair in morning and early afternoon, cloudy in latter half of the afternoon. Strong northeast wind.
LOCALITY: 1880 miles from Sandy Hook at 12m.

At 11am on the starboard side of the boat we saw a jaeger skimming along over the water. I flew like a gull, but more swiftly, and I could see its dirty whitish breast, but could not make out any elongated tail-feathers. It seemed to cross our bow, but I could not see it when I got on the other side of the boat.

DATE: 5/14/1909 (Friday)
WEATHER: Generally fair, strong NE wind.
LOCALITY: 2235 miles from Sandy Hook at 12m.

Only one bird seen today. It may have been a jaeger, but I could not see its color, or watch it sufficiently to tell.

DATE: 5/15/1909 (Saturday)
WEATHER: Fair, fresh E wind.
LOCALITY: 2596 miles from Sandy Hook, and 707 from Dover, at 12m.

Just after dinner this evening, at 6:45pm there were two gulls following the ship. They were apparently a little larger than Larus philadelphia, were built more like herring gulls (L. argentatus), had white heads, breasts, and tails, and pearly gray backs. The black on the tips of the wings was "cut off" very sharply, the feet were very dark, and the bill apparently greenish yellow. I think they were almost undoubtedly Larus canus. They settled down on the water, and were joined by a third gull, of the same sort. This was the last seen of them.

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DATE: 5/16/1909 (Sunday)
WEATHER: Fair, fresh easterly breeze.
LOCALITY: 2969 miles from Sandy Hook, and 334 from Dover at 12m. Passed Scilly Islands at 1:30pm.

At 7:45am a flock of about 10 lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) began to follow our ship, and during the course of the morning their numbers increased to about 40. At about 11am the first herring gull was noticed, but by 3pm the herring gulls were about as numerous as the black-backs, and by 5pm apparently outnumbered them. During the afternoon there were fully sixty gulls following the ship, some flying alongside the stern, and some a few yards behind. At 7pm the number was reduced to 11 or 12, of which only two or three were black-backs. The lesser black-backed gulls were about the same size as herring gulls, perhaps a trifle smaller, and differed principally in the color of the back and the upper side of the wings. Their beaks were of an orange color, very much like those of herring gulls, but perhaps a little redder. Their feet were of a rich reddish orange color, very different from the herring gull's feet. The call of the black backs was quite like that of the herring gulls. A few immature gulls were seen, but I did not attempt to identify them, and they were very greatly outnumbered by the adults. During the morning I saw 2 or 3 large birds at a distance, which I suspected were gannets. At about 11 o'clock, however, an adult gannet was flying along parallel to the course of the ship. I could see its pointed tails, black-tipped wings, gray bill, and the buff color about the head. At about 1:30pm while we were passing to the south of the Scilly Islands, we saw three birds together, flying along close to the water, after the manner of shear waters, which may have been Manx shear waters. I saw the black back, and white belly, but they were too far off to observe the shape of the bill.

DATE: 5/17/1909 (Monday)
WEATHER: Cloudy, one or two slight showers, a little sunshine in late afternoon.
LOCALITY: We reached Dover, England, about 10am, and at 5:30pm cast anchor in the river between Flushing and Antwerp.

A little before 8am a flock of about a dozen gulls was following the ship; one of them was a lesser black-back, and the others herring gulls. At Dover there were many herring gulls in the harbor, and a flock of some forty or more were following the steamer when we left. But tho I saw no black-backs while we were near Dover, there were two immature gulls of that species, about an hour later, among the herring gulls flying behind us. During most of the remainder of the afternoon no gulls followed the steamer, tho occasionally one or two herring gulls would be seen at a distance. Up the river a little way from Flushing we saw a large heron, that looked exactly like an American great blue heron, and must have been Ardea cinerea, flying along over the water.

DATE: 5/18/1909 (Tuesday)
WEATHER: We have fair weather all day.
LOCALITY: The "Zeeland" started up the Schelde again at 8:30am and reached Antwerp at 11.

Just as we weighed anchor I was watching a flock of six or seven black-headed gulls. Larus ridibundus, that came close to the stern. At least three of them were fully adult, with dark slaty heads, and red bills. They were very much like Larus philadelphia in color, even having a similar white area on the front of the wing. Of the young birds I saw three very well. One had a grayish head, but much lighter than that of an adult, another had the head white, with only a dark spot on

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the ear, and the third was intermediate between these two. On the way up the river we saw fully twenty-five gulls, many of which were probably of this same species. The River Shelde is very wide, in many places, with a great many sandbars exposed at low water, and must provide a feeding ground for many shorebirds. Last evening, at 7:50 we heard the whistle of some bird that bore considerable resemblance to that of a yellow leg, and this morning I saw a large flock of some small plovers or sandpipers, and a bunch of six shore-birds fully large enough for black bellied plover. A tern the right size and color for Sterna hirundo flew close to the ship on our way up the river, two birds that looked like small cormorants were seen sitting on a sort of signal set up in the river, and a swallow (Hirundo) flew overhead. Along the shore, where sloping muddy banks were exposed by the falling tide, we could see a great many V-shaped traps, evidently for fish, made by planting stakes in the mud to form two converging barriers, and placing a sort of wicker basket at their junction to hold the victims. (See Illustration) In the afternoon we visited the Zoological Garden in Antwerp. The grounds tho rather small, are very well designed and are kept in excellent condition. The collection of large mammals is good, containing Burchells, Grevy's and the mountain zebra, two giraffes, an Indian rhinoceros, four American bison, and a calf, both the Indian and American tapirs, three European elk (Alces), polar bears, brown bears, black bears, a grizzly bear, and many other interesting things. The antelopes are well represented, but there are no mammals smaller than a viscacha, an European beaver, coypu rats, and an agouti. The collection of large birds is very fine, all of them being kept in outdoor cages and enclosures. There are many shovellers (Spatula elypeata), European widgeons (Mareca penelope), European green-winged teal, Tufted ducks (Marila cristata), pintails, garganeys (Querquedula circia), Muscovies, Mandarin ducks, Pochards (Fuligula ferina), Australian ducks (Anas superciliosa), four Golden-eyes (Clangula clangula), and a few wood-ducks (Aix sponsa). There are a few black swans, and five geese of the genus Anseranas, with very slightly webbed feet. Flamingoes are represented by two large flocks, and Porphyrios by one large flock. We also saw a great many different cranes, some coots and moorhens, a screamer (Palamedea), two king condors -one adult and one young, two Bateleur eagles, a Haliaetus vocifer, two Buteo jackal, an eagle-owl, an African horned owl (Bubo lacteus), a snowy owl, and a spectacled owl (Pulsatrix personata). Some black-crowned night herons in the large flying cage had nests in one of the trees. The smaller perching birds were not very numerous, and consisted largely of native Belgian species, tho there were some weaver-birds, a hill-tit (Liothrix butea), a jay-thrush (Garrulax), and soon. A lark, some chaffinches, and a blackbird were singing. The blackbird's song is quite robin-like, but louder and more varied. Just as we were looking at the caged blackbird, a wild one flew overhead. Over the railroad station, which adjoins the zoological garden, some 15 or 20 swifts (Cypselus apus) were flying. The collection of reptiles and amphibians is small, and is located in the lion house. Under the label "Rana catesbiana" "North America", were some immerse toads.

DATE: 5/19/1909 (Wednesday)
LOCALITY: We are staying in Antwerp, at the Grand Hotel.

This morning there were many swifts flying about, and on two occasions three or four of them came down and flew around in the hotel court, making a long, rasping, whistling noise. They fly like Chaetura pelagica, first flapping their wings very rapidly, and then holding them rigid. Their forked tails, and larger size are the main points of difference. At 3pm, while walking up the Place de Meir, I saw a starling fly across the street. This is the first wild one I have seen in Europe. This afternoon we visited the Zoological Garden again, and Mr. Lang secured the permission of the director to take photographs there, after which he made about three dozen exposures, largely of birds. I watched three ducks, of at least two different species (one of them was Dendrocygna viduata), and saw them dive completely under water, and stay down for some seconds. We visited the museum attached to the Zoological Garden, which we did not see yesterday. It

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contains mainly mounted birds and mammals, including an okapi, of which there is also a complete skeleton. In the large flying cage there is a great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), several herring gulls (L. argentatus), and about four smaller gulls, which I am sure, by examining mounted specimens in the museum, are Larus canus. Their plumage is colored about the same as the herring gulls, but the iris is brown, and the edges of the eye-lids red, the bill grayish green, with a dark ring near the tip, and the feet light gray. They have well developed hind toes, at least for gulls. As I stood by one of the large mammal yards, a turtle dove flew down and lit on the ground. It may have been only a domesticated individual, but perhaps it was wild. On our way back to the hotel in the evening we saw numbers of swifts, some of which I saw alighting under cornices and about columns on the fronts of buildings. When we reached the hotel there were a couple trying to light around inside the court there.

DATE: 5/20/1909 (Thursday)
LOCALITY: Came to Brussels from Antwerp, on the 10:04 train this morning. Stopped at the Hotel de l'Europe.

Early this afternoon we paid a short visit to the Royal Museum of Natural History. The Palentological collection there is very fine, consisting exclusively of Belgian material, and containing a number of Iguanodons, cave bears, and even material from supposed fossil owl pellets. The systematic collections of mammals and birds are very complete, and well labeled. Of reptiles, amphibians and fishes I saw only the species occurring in Belgium.

DATE: 5/21/1909 (Friday)
LOCALITY: This afternoon we rode out to Tervueren on the trolley, visited the Congo Museum, and walked back along the line of the trolley through the famous beech forest.

A new museum building had just been built, and the hall containing the vertebrates in the old museum was closed during the transfer of the collection to the new building; but by applying to the conservatoire we obtained permission to go in. [See drawing]. The collection of mammals was the most important zoological exhibit. It contains about 4 mounted okapis and 2 mounted skeletons, 1 head and one complete specimen of the square-lipped rhinoceros, a great variety of antelopes, and most of the other interesting mammals from the Congo Free State. The bird collection, tho of considerable size, does not compare with the mammals. The collection of reptiles, amphibians, and fishes is composed of specimens preserved in alcohol. I did not see any salamanders, the only amphibian, being two or three species of frogs, about two tree-frogs, and one or two toads. The collection of fishes contains a great many curious forms, some with long snouts. After leaving the museum, we walked about the grounds a little and then followed the tramway back thru the beech forest. Near the museum we heard two cuckoos sing, and found a dead "blind-worm" (angius fragilis). The European beech is a much taller tree than the American, and has a long, straight bare trunk, with darker bark. There were no bushes in this wood, and one could see a long distance thru it, especially as the beeches are planted in rows. Just before we reached the trolley station at Tervueren, on our way out this afternoon, we saw a green woodpecker (Gecinus viridis) sitting on a lawn alongside the track.

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DATE: [5/23/1909]

[Drawing of a bird]: Motacilla (cinerea) in Anvers Zoo. Soc. Mus. (female with top of head gray). Motacilla (2) 1, Hirundo rustica 12, Turdus merula 1, T. musicus? 1, Cuculus canorus 1 or 2 (s), Rana (esculenta?) 1.

DATE: 5/22/1909 (Saturday)
LOCALITY: Stay in Brussels all day.

DATE: 5/23/1909 (Sunday)
LOCALITY: I went alone to Tervueren this afternoon, and walked about the park, but did not go in the museum.

There were a great many birds singing, but they were mostly quite high up in the trees, and there seemed to be a lack of ground-living birds, possibly because there is no underbrush in the woods. The only birds I recognized were as follows: Cuculus H/or 2 (s), Hirundo s. 12 or 15 c., Passer domesticus, Motacilla s. 1 male and 1 female s. 1 [male], Turdus merula s1, T. musicus s.1. The swallows were very much like barn swallows (H. erythrogaster) except for the color of the belly, which seemed considerably lighter. Their twittering was very much like the barn swallow's. The wagtails were probably Motacilla (alba? or cinerea). First I saw a pair of them, the male -his sex was judged only from the black feathers on the crown, was chasing the female- the top of her head was only gray. Later I saw a single individual, in the plumage of a male. While walking on the ground, these wagtail's heads bobbed forward and backward; as soon as they stood still, their tails wagged up and down. In one of the ponds at Tervueren I caught a frog (Rana esculenta?). Its vocal sacs were placed at the side of the mouth, as in Rana pipiens. Its voice, which I heard later, while I had it at the hotel, also resembled that of the Leopard Frog. [See drawing]: Under parts white, general color of upper side of head and back light green, yellowish on cheeks. A light median line running from between the eyes to the anus, two lateral folds golden brown, hind legs greenish and light brown, mottled with blackish. Some dark spots on lower part of back, and dark mottling on side of body. Vocal pouches at sides of mouth, as in Rana pipiens.

DATE: 5/27/1909 (Thursday)
LOCALITY: This afternoon I went to a rifle range just outside Brussels, to try our Mannlicher rifles. There I saw a lark, a blackbird, and 4 or 5 swallows (Hirundo). Later in the afternoon, in the park on the Rue Royale, near the hotel, I saw 3 or 4 jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and a titmouse (Parus caeruleus). [See drawing].

DATE: 5/28/1909 (Friday)
LOCALITY: We visited Tervueren with M. Kervyn late this afternoon, and saw the interior of the new museum building.

From a window I saw 2 or 3 martins (Chelidon urbica) flying about and lighting on the ground.

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DATE: 5/30/1909 (Sunday)
LOCALITY: This afternoon I spent in the Antwerp Zoological Garden, and in the park.

In the museum of the zoological society I identified a number of the birds I have seen in Belgium. In the garden I saw a wild goldfinch (Carduelis) and jackdaw (Corvus monedula). In the park I saw 3 blackbirds (Turdus merula), one of them singing, and one hunting earthworms exactly like an American robin. On a lawn there were two starlings(S. vulgaris), one an adult, and the other a young bird with the tail not yet fully grown. In the eastern corner of the park, on the edge of the pond, were two flycatchers (Muscicapa grisola). They, perched, flew, and acted in general exactly like American "tyrant" flycatchers. Swifts (Cypselus apus) are very abundant both in Antwerp and in Brussels, and are especially numerous, or at least conspicuous, at sunset.

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Diaries List