Sunday, 8 November 2015

Francesco Cetti (1726-1778).....What's in a Name?

Francesco Cetti was born in Mannheim, Germany (although his parents were natives of Como, Italy), educated in Lombardy and at the age of sixteen entered the Jesuit College at Monza.  Cetti became highly regarded as a mathematician, philosopher and theologian. 

When the King of Sardinia invited the Jesuits to help improve education on the island, Cetti was one of a number of distinguished men sent there in 1765.  The following year he was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Sassari on the island and he remained in this position until his death more than twenty years later.

Whenever he could Cetti would escape the confines of the town and make journeys along the coast and into the mountains where he constantly made new discoveries which he collated into his great work, Natural History of Sardinia.  Volumes of this work were published in 1774, 1776 and 1777.  The first dealt with quadrupeds and the second was devoted to ornithology and covered most of Sardinia’s birds, including a rusty coloured warbler which Marmora later dedicated to Cetti.  Two later volumes dealt with Icthyology and insects and fossils.  Cetti died as the last volume was nearing completion.

Forty years after Cetti’s death, Alberto della Marmora travelled extensively to Sardinia and whilst there collected both Eleanora’s Falcon and Cetti’s Warbler.  Marmora named the warbler Sylvia Cetti in1820 in honour of the Jesuit priest, however Temminck is credited as the first to fully describe the species as his description was published slightly earlier in the same year.  The English name was given soon afterwards in 1823, by John Latham.

At the time the breeding range of Cetti’s Warbler was limited to the Mediterranean area, but by the beginning of the twentieth century it began a gradual progression northwards through France.  The first reliable record of the species in Britain occurred in 1961 and numbers have now increased rapidly.

Marmora (who was aided in his studies by Franco Bonelli, Professor of Zoology at Turin University) benefitted greatly fro Cetti’s previous studies in Sardinia.  As well as rediscovering Cetti’s warbler he also found a new species which he named Sylvia sarda, now known in English as Marmora’s Warbler.  Once again Temminck’s description appeared months before Marmora had his description published, so it is Temminck who receives credit as the first describer!

6th Nov.  Samuel Hood and I were very pleased to be invited to give our presentation, A Focus on Great Crested Grebes to the Alnwick and District Natural History Society.  It’s always a pleasure to make this presentation as we (Samuel in particular) have spent so much time over several years watching these birds on the lake.  It has led us to take a deeper interest in the other eighteen species of grebe (some seriously threatened) around the world.  Of course three species of grebe have already been lost to extinction in fairly recent years, these being the Columbian Grebe (that some might argue was a sub species of Black-necked Grebe), Atitlan Grebe of Guatemala and the Alaotra Grebe of Madagascar. 

Sadly 2015 was the first time in a number of years that the Great Crested Grebes failed to produce young at Killingworth Lake despite several attempts.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with so much development going on in the area and plans being discussed to alter the water levels in the lake.