How do you get to Inaccessible Island? You probably don't walk.
June 13, 2020 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (Wikipedia) are British Overseas Territories located in the South Atlantic and consisting of the island of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha. More than 1,500 miles (2,4600 km) west from the coast of Namibia, and 2,000 miles (3,270 km) east of Brazil (Google Maps), the island group includes Inaccessible Island (Wikipedia), which is home to world’s smallest flightless bird, the Inaccessible Island Rail (Oiseaux Birds). How did the little birds get there? (Atlas Obscura)

First described in 1923 by British ornithologist Percy Lowe (10,000 Birds), but Lowe wasn't the one to obtain the specimen he described.
Because Lowe was the first to describe Atlantisia rogersi it is sometimes called Lowe’s Rail, one of three alternate common names (the others being Atlantis Rail and Inaccessible Rail).

It is really Henry Martyn Rogers [a missionary minister in Tristan da Cunha] who deserves to be associated with the rail though (and he is, as Lowe did bestow the scientific name Atlantisia rogersi upon the rail).
Lowe, as summarized in Atlas Obscura,
believed the bird had come to the island from Africa or South America but theorized that Atlantisia rogersi had always been flightless. In his view, it had arrived on its remote island home by walking over land bridges long submerged under the oceans.
95 years after it was first described, scientists compared the DNA of the Inaccessible Island Rail against similar birds (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, abstract only). Again from Atlas Obscura:
After sequencing the genome of the rails caught in their net, the scientists were able to find the Inaccessible Island rail’s closest relative—the dot-winged crake (Birdlife Datazone), which lives in Uruguay and Argentina. Both birds are also closely related to the black rail (Audobon), which is found in South and North America.
With this evaluation, Atlantisia rogersi may need to be renamed to Laterallus rogersi, based on the principle of priority (Wikipedia), as the black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) was described first, in 1789 (Wikipedia).
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Getting to Saint Helena was impossible even by plane until a few years ago. I'd recommend this documentary on "The World's must useful Airport" which tells the story of how the island got an airport - and how that did not quite go to plan.

(I love the implication that all birds would give up on the costly ambition to fly if there were no need for them to do so).
posted by rongorongo at 3:34 AM on June 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

Inaccessible Island Rail is one of the worst-rated transit companies, ever.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:13 AM on June 14, 2020 [12 favorites]

Well yeah. Even an unladen bird has an average air speed velocity of zero.
posted by nat at 4:54 AM on June 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Inaccessible Island Rail is one of the worst-rated transit companies, ever.

But a solid Joanna Newsom song.
posted by wreckingball at 6:10 AM on June 14, 2020 [12 favorites]

The smallest flightless birds in the world, the rails scurry around the vegetation, feasting on worms, berries, seeds, and invertebrates, including a flightless species of moths.

I am gathering that the island should be called “Flying Is Overrated Island.”

Interesting post about something I knew nothing about.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:17 AM on June 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm riding the Inaccessible Island Rail
With the island wind right on my tail
If I don't get my baby back
I'm gonna lie down on the railroad track
And then I'll cry, cry, cry all the way home
All the way home (all the way home)
All the way home...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:35 AM on June 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

because their UK mail was otherwise always being misdirected to the town of St. Helens in north-west England.

One of my favourite stories is of a DJ who tried to have musical equipment shipped to Warsaw (Poland), but instead it ended up in Walsall (West Midlands).
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:38 AM on June 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

How do you get to Inaccessible Island?

- One does not simply...walk into Inaccessible
- In some sort of not-ical craft?
- Use the Force
- Click your heels together three times and repeat, "There's no place like Inaccessible"
- Practice, man, practice
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:18 AM on June 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

I made an fpp about Tristan back in the day.
Robin Repetto is a local photographer and tourist advisor.
Tristan has an unofficial twitter
As Robin told National Geo 'Everything here depends on the weather'.
posted by adamvasco at 10:33 AM on June 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I see Greg_Ace had his coffee this morning.
posted by hippybear at 12:33 PM on June 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I feel like this bird is something Stephen Maturin should have discovered while Surprise stopped for fresh water.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:14 PM on June 14, 2020

Inaccessible Island is fringed with sheer sea cliffs but can be landed on via a few boulder beaches

Well that's disappointing
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:23 AM on June 15, 2020

Wow! When I first read this post, I mistakenly assumed Atlantisia rogersi (the world's smallest flightless bird mentioned in the OP) was named after my father, Douglas S. Rogers, who lived on Ascension Island from 1966 to 1971, working for Pan-American Airways' Aerospace division. In his spare time he co-founded the island's historical society, took a ton of amazing photographs with his Hasselblad 500C, and aided visiting scientists. One of these was Smithsonian ornithologist Storrs Olson, who literally wrote the book on Lowe's Rail.

In the publication ("Evolution of the Rails of the South Atlantic Islands"), Olson thanks my dad for "his invaluable island lore and enthusiastic aid in the collection of specimens." The most interesting part of this scientific paper (to me) is his description of my father helping him collect the bird bones--with much difficulty.

"In five descents into the large fumarole, accompanied by D. S. Rogers or J. M. Couch, I picked up with forceps all the large bones I could reach, and with the aid of a camel's hair brush and a spoon, removed a quantity of the smaller bones and associated debris. From Chamber C ran several tunnels too narrow to permit passage but into which a Rail might easily have slipped. From the largest of these, which Rogers with much difficulty was able to enter a short way, were extracted bones of two rails... Rogers saw other skeletons in this tunnel which he could not reach but which he thought were rallid."

But the real reason I assumed these birds were name after my father is becausemy dad *is* the intended honoree of Typhlatya rogersi, a species of shrimp "discovered" on that very same trip and documented by Storrs Olson in his other report here.

"In June 1970, Storrs S. Olson, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, visited Ascension Island to seek evidence of an extinct rail-like bird that had been reported. During that visit, he made several collections of marine animals for the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History. Among the specimens brought to the Museum by Mr. Olson was a series of a small shrimp collected from an inland salt-water pool by Douglas S. Rogers, an employee of Pan American World Airways and Curator of the Fort Hayes Museum of the Ascension Historical Society."

Naming the shrimp:

"We take pleasure in naming this species for Douglas S. Rogers, who was responsible for bringing these two remarkable shrimps to our attention and who followed up this initial motivating effort by furnishing invaluable operational assistance to our general survey of the decapod and stomatopod faunas of Ascension Island."

But it's what Dr. Olson says next that that I find really moving:

"Perhaps we should take this opportunity to note that it is still possible for the amateur naturalist to make significant contributions to knowledge, especially if he or she has the chance to observe and collect in a part of the world that has not yet succumbed to the careless misdeeds of civilized man."

Anyway, very cool to wake up and read this today. Surprisingly (or maybe not) it's one of the least interesting stories about my father's five-year sojourn on one of the world's most remote islands.
posted by Text TK at 7:08 AM on June 15, 2020 [24 favorites]

On the linguistic side of evolution... or something, I believe that "y'all" developed there without any influence of southern American English, too, i.e. they would have never heard anyone else saying that. adamvasco's previously mentions other similarities to southern and African American English varieties that didn't actually come from the US.

In these times, I think it sounds like a nice place to be. But yeah, I'm not riding the Inaccessible Island Rail, either.
posted by Snowishberlin at 8:19 AM on June 15, 2020

Text TK I've visited those shrimps! I spent six months on Ascension in 2017 and I'm not at all surprised that your dad would have a bagful of interesting stories. It's such an amazing place and the stories abound!
posted by mkdirusername at 8:51 AM on June 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Metafilter: I've visited those shrimps!
posted by hippybear at 8:06 PM on June 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

I feel like this bird is something Stephen Maturin should have discovered while Surprise stopped for fresh water.

Quoting Wikipedia: "In Patrick O'Brian's The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989), pp. 120–29, Captain Aubrey's ship Diane, in a dead calm, is carried toward Inaccessible Island by the inshore current. One of the sailors recounts the wreck of a whaling ship that he witnessed when it was lost with all hands in similar conditions. Only a fortunate breeze saves Aubrey's ship. The episode is depicted in the cover painting of the book showing the towering cliffs plunging directly into the sea."

But I don't doubt that if they had been wrecked on the island, Maturin would totally have had a field day with the wildlife.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:43 PM on June 21, 2020

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