Himalaya and Tragopans

Dr Hypercube recently mentioned the excellent book Tales of the Himalaya: Adventures of a Naturalist by the late Lawrence Swan of Darjeeling and California. I would have loved to know Swan, who climbed and collected all over the mountains and valleys I long to see, and may have been the last in a long line of Europeans (so to speak) who did so. I envy them!

All things Himalayan are touched on with wit and knowledge– the geese that fly over Everest, the abominable snowman (he is skeptical but someone I know– Libby actually– has seen odd tracks); the frogs that illustrate the collision of continents; the aeolian zone; the abundant hordes of relentless leeches (Libby confirms with a shudder, forty years later); the quirks of Sherpas and climbers. Recommended highly by both Diary of a Mad Natural Historian and Q, backed by L who has had the boots- on- the- ground experience (I’ll find a photo).

I don’t know whether it is sad that Tales is a Print- On- Demand title or that POD is exactly where good quirky books are going– if so, all the more reason to buy.

The book also features a delightful chapter on Himalayan pheasants, especially the surreally beautiful Tragopans. These birds are my favorite creatures other than raptors and tazis, and in my opinion the most beautiful birds in the world, beating out such showy contenders as birds of paradise. Swan kept them, and was lucky enough to see their courtship, where they extrude a weird “bib” of blue and red, and grow horns. What perfect dinosaurs!

These paintings are from William Beebe’s Pheasants, Their Lives and Homes, which chronicle his pursuit of pheasants in the early decades of the twentieth century in places like the Himalayas and Burma and, with the works of Roy Chapman Andrews, jump- started my life’s obsession with Asia and its creatures.

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