Printed in the Feb. 2, 2005 edition of the I.V. News
Those of us that spend much time on rocky areas along the coast have probably noticed a longlegged black bird with a long orange bill. This bird is commonly called the llack oystercatcher. This crow-sized bird uses its chisel shaped bill to open mussels and clams on the rocks and tide pools. It also eats worms, limpets, small starfish, and even fish. It’s nest is a simple cup in the rocks, lined with pebbles or small shells. It is also distinctive because it has pink legs and feet, which is why the scientific name is Haematopus bachmani. “Haemato” is Greek for blood and “podos” or “pus” means foot. But who was Bachman?
John Bachman was a minister who lived in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1830s. He had a number of daughters and was very interested in mammals. John James Audubon lived in his home often when he painted pictures of birds in the southern states. Black oystercatchers are only found along the west coast from Alaska to Mexico and neither Bachman or Audubon ever traveled to the western part of the continent.
There is another person involved in this story. Thomas Nuttall came to Oregon in 1836 to collect plants. The Pacific Dogwood is named for him. When Nuttall returned to the East he took at least ninety bird skins with him to be identified and these were sold to Audubon. In naming and drawing them, Audubon named one for his friend John Bachman. As an extra tidbit of information, both of Audubon’s sons, Victor and John, married Bachman daughters. Sadly, the two daughters both died of tuberculosis after a few years of marriage. The sons both remarried and raised the children in healthy homes. The story needs one more person however, because Thomas Nuttall, botanist, did not collect the ninety bird skins which he sold to Audubon. Nuttall’s partner, John Townsend was collecting mammals and probably helped with some of the birds.
William Fraser Tolmie was born Feb. 3, 1812 in Inverness, Scotland. He was trained as a medical doctor but joined the Hudson Bay Fur Company in 1832. He was assigned to work in the Oregon Territory and work under the direction of John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver. Tolmie did help with medical problems, but his job was administering the posts and making sure each fort was efficient and profitable for the company. He worked in various fur trading posts in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia before retiring to a farm near Victoria, British Columbia.
During his working years, Tolmie became very interested in natural history and collected many specimens of birds, mammals, and plants. He also spent a lot of time studying Indian cultures and languages which later helped scholars who attempted to record this information when the Indian populations began to decline. Tolmie was also responsible for establishing the first book lending library in the Pacific Northwest. This was mainly set up for officers of the Hudson Bay Company and was maintained at Ft. Vancouver. The company messengers would transport books from fort to fort as well as company business. Tolmie has been recognized by the State of Washington with Tolmie State Park, a marine park located at the south end of Puget Sound. This recognition is mainly because of his involvement with politics in Washington and British Columbia.
Among Tolmie’s birds that were sold to Audubon was a small yellow and gray warbler that is known today as Oporornis tolmie, but its common name is MacGillivray’s warbler. This is a whole new story based on another friend of Audubon that helped him in publishing his work. To further complicate the story, there is a grass and a saxifrage found in the Illinois Valley area named for William Fraser Tolmie.