Thursday, January 25, 2018

Steller's Jay and the Bering Strait

"This bird alone," Steller wrote in 1741 "proved to me that we were really in America." 

Steller's Jay is a remarkable bird, similar to the eastern Blue Jay in form but the body of Steller's Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri,  is a silvery blue and it's head darker, around here, the eastern Fraser Valley, the head is black.  It has longer legs and a finer beak than the Blue Jay.  It is only crested jay west of the Rockies and is the provincial bird of British Columbia. 

I wish I could tell you that it is a wonderful songbird but its voice is more of a squawk, a threatening scold rather than a thrill.  It flies around with an attitude much like the man for whom they are named.

Steller's Jay is named for naturalist, Georg Wilhelm Steller.  Steller was part of a great Russian endeavour, in 1741, under the leadership of Vitus Jonassen Bering to, in part, map and discover a route from Russia to America. 

Georg Wilhelm Steller was a great naturalist but he was also, apparently, overbearing, arrogant, insensitive to the feelings of others and hypersensitive to any slight that might be directed towards him. Although often correct, his shrill, demanding delivery ensured his views were regularly ignored. Much like how we endure the squawk of our Steller's Jays as they fly about. How ironic. In the end, he was neither loved or respected.

The Bering expedition did find America but it proved to be a horrific journey forcing the survivors to the edge of human endurance.  Bering and many others never make it home.  

Some fifty year later, British mariner, Captain James Cook named the strait between Russia and Alaska - the Bering Strait.

I previously wrote about the Bering expedition in a post called "Steller's Jay and the Tragic Bering Landing".

Recommended reading is the new book "Island of the Blue Foxes" by Stephen R. Bowen, 2017 Douglas & McIntyre Publishing.

Steller's Jay is also known as Mountain Jay, Pine Jay and as a Long - Crested Jay. For me, I wish it could be renamed, that exciting movement of colour from silvery blue to black invites to my imagination a more appropriate name the "Stellar Jay". 

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