Many thanks to my good friend and fellow zoological detective– Josef Harold Lindholm III— for sending me a treasure trove of vintage Sydney Porter articles on the Imperial amazon of Dominica, material which has not seen the light of day for almost 90 years now!
Searching for historical material about Dominica and its parrots, I had found a few Imperial articles listed in a musty bibliography– and of course Josef, being the world’s premier collector of avicultural desiderata, had the original old documents at hand. He also found additional materials to send along, including a 1930 article about Dominica’s other endemic amazon, then known as Bouquet’s parrot, now named the Red-necked amazon. Josef also happens to be the Curator of Birds at the Tulsa Zoo.
A sample of Sydney Porter’s thoughts on Dominica c. 1929:
A matter of between four and five thousand miles away and a three week’s journey from the shores of England lies the world’s most incredible island…There is a strange, sinister atmosphere about Dominica, which some say is an evil spirit which broods over the island. But leaving native superstitions aside, it is a strange fact that on this lovely island very few seem to succeed, something happens, and in time the jungle swallows up again the efforts made by man…After nearly three hundred years, while most of the other West Indian Islands seem to prosper, this island remains almost as wild and mysterious as ever. It certainly is the wildest and most impressive land I have ever seen, and its grandeur and beauty will remain a life-long impression. Dominica will ever be as a dream, one of those strange, mysterious, and lovely lands which we see only in our dreaming hours, and I shall always feel that there is nowhere else left to see, for in Dominica I have seen the world’s nearest approach to Paradise.
Born in 1900, Sydney Porter became a well-known and much-loved figure in avicultural circles in Britain until his untimely death in 1958. In bad health throughout his life, he fled England’s cold winters at every opportunity, venturing to the tropics in part as a remedy for his chronic, degenerative asthma. His passion for birds carried him to many far-flung corners of the globe, including trips to East Africa, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, South America, and the Caribbean. Of his arrival on Dominica in February 1929, Porter wrote:
When I had set sail at the beginning of February, after several months of indifferent health, in search of sunshine in Jamaica, I had not the slightest intention of ever setting foot on the lovely island of Dominica, but it was in this latter country that I did eventually arrive, and not in the former. I will explain. Our boat– which was bound for Barbados, the jumping off ground for passengers bound for the lesser-known West Indian islands– carried as passengers several residents of the Lesser Antilles, who were returning after a trip to Europe, and as I got to know them I questioned them about the rare parrots from the respective islands. But few of them knew anything about the birds except the Parrot from St. Vincent, which they regarded more or less as a myth; but two days before landing at Barbados, I was introduced to a charming lady who resided on Dominica, and who knew Amazona imperialis well. She said it had always been very scarce, but now was excessively rare…So upon this information I decided to alter all my arrangements, and come to the island and try my luck at securing a specimen– or at least seeing these magnificent birds in a state of freedom. Fortunately, I was able to do both.
Intrigued? Fear not: I will be sharing Porter’s articles in their entirety here in a series of future posts.