Audubon (1785 – 1851) never went to Abaco. The nearest he got was probably in 1820, when he made a field trip to the southern states, including Florida; or in the 1830s when he made at least one trip to Key West. One technique that set him apart from contemporaries was his method of producing naturalistic (as opposed to ‘stuffed bird’) drawings. It involved killing birds using very fine shot, and then using wires to pose them naturally, according to his field sketches. This contrasted with the usual technique of using a stuffed specimen as a model.
The birds shown below are all included in Audubon’s master-work Birds of America. They may all be found on Abaco today, though some with different names (the Carolina Turtle-Dove, for example, is now known as the Mourning Dove). There are more to add, of course, but this is a fair representative sample.
There are about 120 sets of the original book still in existence. They were incredibly expensive to produce in contemporary terms; and in modern times a set sold for $11.5 million at Sotheby’s London in 2010, setting the unbeaten record for the world’s most expensive book sale. Recently there was great excitement over the sale of another set at Christie’s New York, but the sale price was far lower, a mere $7,922,500…
As an exercise of some sort, I tried to imagine what Audubon might have found had he actually made a brief visit to the northern Bahamas when he was in Florida in 1820. I wondered if his diary entry might have read something along these lines:
“I am recently returned from my short voyage, and have made haste to commit my sketches to paper, for I have a small volume in mind. We dropped anchor by a most pretty island in the low waters of Lucaya, which some call Abaco. I went early ashore with some men, and straightway did observe to my astonishment the number and variety of birds thereon. There was but little habitation to be discerned; and the creatures held no terror of man, seeming as if we were not present. I made me some drawings in my smallest note book, the better to recall what I witnessed. We returned to our vessel before nightfall, which is wondrous swift in those parts. I am resolved to eat no further of the wolf-fish Albula, that is all bones and little to sustain a man… “
At least we can be confident he didn’t send the message OMG!!! Lotsa birds – Gr8! All a-twitter! ROFL @audubon
Due credit, of course, to the Audubon Society and all it stands for