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TITLE
Birds in the Works of Martin Martin (1 of 2)
EXTERNAL ID
GB1796_SINCLAIR_ANDREWCURRIE_03
PERIOD
1980s; 1990s
CREATOR
Andrew Currie
SOURCE
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
ASSET ID
1808
KEYWORDS
botany
zoology
travelogues
gazetteers
ornithology
Western Isles
audio

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Martin Martin's 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland' (1703) and 'A Voyage to St Kilda' (1698) are amongst the first printed works describing the life, culture and beliefs of the people of the Hebrides. In this audio extract from 1996, Skye naturalist - Andrew Currie - identifies many of the bird species mentioned in Martin's works.

When we come to birds Martin reported at least thirty-seven bird species from at least twenty-six islands. These numbers are less than precise because of difficulties either with identification or island geography. The wren was first noted on St. Kilda by Martin though it was many years later before it was identified as a sub-species. Ravens were seen on North Uist, Skye and Trodday. Of the latter he says, 'there is a couple of ravens in this isle which suffer none other of their kind to come thither; and when their own young are able to fly they beat them away also from the isle'. That story rings true to the naturalist.

Eagles are widely reported and it is clear that Martin recognised the two species. John Love, writing in 1983, in 'The Return of the Sea Eagle', gathered all of Martin's sea eagle records. He noted sea eagles in Harris, North Uist, St. Kilda, The Shiants, and Skye but the species finally became extinct in 1916. Unfortunately, hawks are lumped together and it is a great pity that the many references leave me guessing as to which hawks he saw. Some must have been the peregrine falcon, especially the St. Kilda ones. Many birds are given Old Scots names. A greater problem for me is the Gaelic names, often in phonetic spelling. Martin particularly recorded sea birds although all too often he resorted to the more general term, 'sea fowls'. Shag, gannet, fulmar, razorbill, guillemot and puffin are just a few. Gulls, he unfortunately lumps, again leaving me in doubt. The St. Kilda gannets are reported in a 'prodigious number' from the stacks, while from Soay there are 'infinite numbers' of fulmar, guillemot, razorbill and puffin. How I wish that he had attempted to count, as a modern bird man would do, even approximately to tens, hundreds, thousands.

The storm petrel is carefully described with dates of arrival, laying, hatching and departure. The most poignant account is of the gairfowl or great auk. Mary Bones in 1993 gives a full account of this bird, including the oft-repeated description. She says that St. Kilda is probably the most important site in Britain for the history of the gairfowl's status as a native bird and Martin Martin is one of the primary authorities on the appearance and habits of the bird. The last of these birds was seen alive and was killed in Iceland in 1884

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Birds in the Works of Martin Martin (1 of 2)

1980s; 1990s

botany; zoology; travelogues; gazetteers; ornithology; Western Isles; audio

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Bill Sinclair Audio: Martin Martin

Martin Martin's 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland' (1703) and 'A Voyage to St Kilda' (1698) are amongst the first printed works describing the life, culture and beliefs of the people of the Hebrides. In this audio extract from 1996, Skye naturalist - Andrew Currie - identifies many of the bird species mentioned in Martin's works.<br /> <br /> When we come to birds Martin reported at least thirty-seven bird species from at least twenty-six islands. These numbers are less than precise because of difficulties either with identification or island geography. The wren was first noted on St. Kilda by Martin though it was many years later before it was identified as a sub-species. Ravens were seen on North Uist, Skye and Trodday. Of the latter he says, 'there is a couple of ravens in this isle which suffer none other of their kind to come thither; and when their own young are able to fly they beat them away also from the isle'. That story rings true to the naturalist. <br /> <br /> Eagles are widely reported and it is clear that Martin recognised the two species. John Love, writing in 1983, in 'The Return of the Sea Eagle', gathered all of Martin's sea eagle records. He noted sea eagles in Harris, North Uist, St. Kilda, The Shiants, and Skye but the species finally became extinct in 1916. Unfortunately, hawks are lumped together and it is a great pity that the many references leave me guessing as to which hawks he saw. Some must have been the peregrine falcon, especially the St. Kilda ones. Many birds are given Old Scots names. A greater problem for me is the Gaelic names, often in phonetic spelling. Martin particularly recorded sea birds although all too often he resorted to the more general term, 'sea fowls'. Shag, gannet, fulmar, razorbill, guillemot and puffin are just a few. Gulls, he unfortunately lumps, again leaving me in doubt. The St. Kilda gannets are reported in a 'prodigious number' from the stacks, while from Soay there are 'infinite numbers' of fulmar, guillemot, razorbill and puffin. How I wish that he had attempted to count, as a modern bird man would do, even approximately to tens, hundreds, thousands. <br /> <br /> The storm petrel is carefully described with dates of arrival, laying, hatching and departure. The most poignant account is of the gairfowl or great auk. Mary Bones in 1993 gives a full account of this bird, including the oft-repeated description. She says that St. Kilda is probably the most important site in Britain for the history of the gairfowl's status as a native bird and Martin Martin is one of the primary authorities on the appearance and habits of the bird. The last of these birds was seen alive and was killed in Iceland in 1884