How a young birder became a famous ornithologist

Sergei Buturlin was not interested in a career in academic circles, where he was more fond of expeditions in the North, walks in nature and bird watching, which he identified with amazing ease. Without receiving official scientific degrees, he managed to become famous throughout the world as one of the best experts on the avifauna and create the country’s first detailed reference book of birds.

Friends of youth

The childhood of the future scientist passed in Simbirsk. It was there that he became addicted to wandering through the forests and became interested in hunting, and his first weapon was a homemade bow. Sergey Buturlin got the hang of shooting from it no worse than Robin Hood, hitting the target from 35 m. A little later, he switched to a more modern version and hunted with guns. And his first articles, which Buturlin began to publish in the “Hunting Newspaper” from the age of 16, were devoted to hunting, weapons and birds, which became his passion for the rest of his life.

Every now and then new songbirds appeared on the estate, which were caught by the future ornithologist. In addition, among his pets were a gray heron, three eagle owls, two martens and even a calf, who settled with the calves and peacefully walked with them to the pasture. Yes, and with pets, Buturlin got along well – his son recalled the cat Vaska, who used to sit on his father’s shoulders when he worked at his desk.

Once, while in Anadyr, the scientist stayed with his gymnasium friend Leonid Geshel. The family cat Muska, who had a ferocious disposition, immediately began to keep him company at work – she fit right on the desk. When Muska was littered, she brought her “friend” to show off her children, and allowed her to stroke her while she lay among the kittens. The stern mother tore everyone else with her claws and bit them at the slightest attempt to approach the closet, where she arranged her offspring.

“As for riding, he … was committed to it in his youth, served military service in the cavalry, loved horses and told stories that testify to their great mind. Cats and dogs were his true friends. In Simbirsk he had a cat who knew the schedule his lessons. By the time they were over, the cat would come to the gymnasium, settle on Sergei’s backpack, and together they would return home. If some business or dogs delayed the cat along the way, then, knowing that he was late, he galloped to the gymnasium, which was clearly visible on the steep street.

Alexander Buturlin “Memories and thoughts about the father”

At first, hardly anyone could suspect that Sergei Buturlin was waiting for a scientific career; in the sixth grade of the gymnasium, he even managed to stay for the second year. But a few years later he graduated from the St. Petersburg Imperial School of Law with a gold medal. At the same time, he continued to enthusiastically study natural science disciplines – zoology, geology, biogeography. Once after school in the Horse Guards Regiment, Buturlin began to write a monograph on the taxonomy of birds – “Kuliki Russian Empire”.

Interests – scientific and not only

It was the systematization that fascinated the scientist most of all. His first scientific papers of this kind were published in 1901. In the summer of 1900, together with the future famous writer Boris Zhitkov, the young explorer set off on his first expedition. Friends studied plants, insects and nesting migratory birds at the mouth of the Northern Dvina, as well as on the islands of Kolguev and Novaya Zemlya.

The results of the trip turned out to be very impressive: scientists discovered several new species and managed to prove that the Atlantic puffin can be found on Novaya Zemlya. The book “Across the North of Russia”, which Buturlin and Zhitkov published a year later, received a silver medal from the Imperial Russian Geographical Society.

In the same year, the first complete ornithological reference book in the history of Russia “Synoptic tables of hunting birds of the Russian Empire” was published. A year later, new works were published that systematized birds – “Wild Geese of the Russian Empire” and “Notes on Some Birds of Livonia”. Slowly but surely, the scientist was collecting material for the future detailed multi-volume guide to birds.

His works turned out to be so significant that they attracted attention abroad – Buturlin began a correspondence with the English ornithologist Henry Dresser, German explorers Ernst Hartert and Otto Bamberg.

Travel also continued. If Buturlin’s first visit to Kolguev lasted only a day, in 1902 he stayed there for two months. During the expedition, it was possible to draw up a detailed map of the island, collect extensive geological, botanical and zoological collections, as well as meteorological data.

“Saving time, Buturlin always wrote straight away. He did this not only in his office, but also on trips, on a ship, on expeditionary wanderings, lying in a hospital bed. At the same time, as Professor G.P. Dementiev noted, “Sergey Aleksandrovich was one of the most remarkable writers among our zoologists in his simple, clear and lively language. It happened that the lack of drafts led to irreparable losses. So, the key to all vertebrates (including fish) of Central and South-Eastern Russia, prepared in 1920, has sunk into oblivion.

Alexander Buturlin “Memories and thoughts about the father”

In 1905, the scientist went to the Kolyma region, he was appointed head of an expedition dedicated to the study of almost unknown local nature. In addition, according to its results, it was planned to establish food supply to the northern outskirts of the country. For the first time, scientists have learned where the pink gull nests, discovered in 1823 by James Ross and known in ornithological circles as the “flying Dutchman”, because no one could find out where it nested.

Work on the reference book of birds continued for more than a decade. The first volume of the “Complete Guide to the Birds of the USSR” was released only in 1934, and Buturlin did not live to see the release of the last, fifth volume, but managed to prepare it together with his student Georgy Dementyev.

It may seem that Buturlin’s whole life was devoted to scientific studies, but in fact the range of his interests was surprisingly wide. He was fond of billiards, chess and astronomy. I read historical works and vividly discussed them with numerous friends. In particular, he was very interested in the controversy surrounding False Dmitry I – Buturlin believed that he was the real son of Ivan the Terrible. The ornithologist loved poetry, in a letter to Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich he expressed a hypothesis dedicated to the possible personal acquaintance of Alexander Pushkin and Yuri Lermontov, the father of the poet Mikhail Lermontov, for which he sought evidence in their lyrics. He even wrote poetry himself.

“I liked your poems for their out-of-dateness and for the seemingly hopelessly lost, that I would like to call chivalry. If it weren’t for the GPU, then I would certainly organize a knightly order in our time … and I invited you first of all. Very much in our time, people have lied.”

From a letter from Mikhail Prishvin to Sergei Buturlin

Live communication

The circle of acquaintances and friends of the scientist was wide and varied. Everyone who dealt with him noted how easy and pleasant it was to communicate with him. Professor Vladimir Gertner noted his special delicacy, regardless of whether he spoke with major statesmen or “the most ordinary people.” Professor Ilya Volchanetsky wrote in a letter to Buturlin’s son: “Extraordinary simplicity and evenness in address, attention to the interlocutor, a lively response to everything that is said, an exhaustive business-like answer, reasonable advice, goodwill … And after all, he himself will remember, it happened, then he will ask how things have become now! .. Maybe , in this there was something from the best aristocratic education – a law school, after all! – but without a hint of pretense, falsehood, indifference, hidden arrogance, which often happened among people of that circle.

At the same time, Buturlin could also be biting, especially when he encountered hack work at work. It is he who owns a caustic comment about a certain scientific work: “There is much that is true and much that is new in this work. Unfortunately, everything that is true is not new, and everything that is new is wrong.”

Alexander Buturlin recalled that almost every day friends gathered in the house, business visitors of various kinds came to his father. Hunters brought guns for inspection and advice, every now and then someone dragged another bird, asking to determine its species, the authors brought manuscripts and already published books as a gift … The famous scientist treated everyone kindly and willingly fulfilled numerous requests. At the same time, he did not tolerate commonplace arguments about the “general rudeness and primitiveness” of the country’s ordinary inhabitants.

“… I know the central and eastern parts of Russia quite well, I have been to the Far North and the northwest, and I say with absolute certainty that these millions have incomparably more natural gentleness, even delicacy and intelligence than it seems from afar, but , of course, you can notice this when you do not appear either in the form of a formidable “boss” or a contemptuous “master”, or in the form of some kind of mummers “simplistic”, but treat people simply and naturally. nature, of course, is not enough everywhere, and in unfavorable conditions of life it is even more difficult to expect this.

Sergey Buturlin, from an article in the magazine “Hound and Rifle Hunting”

In 1924, he became a member of the Committee of the North, whose tasks included solving the numerous problems of the marginal peoples. In 1925, on behalf of the committee, Buturlin went on a trip to the Chukotka Peninsula, which was to be explored and to choose a place for organizing a cultural base.

On the way, a curious event happened: the steamer “Ingidirka”, on which Buturlin traveled, was stuck in the fog in Providence Bay for three days. I had to urgently revise the schedule of movement, and after some disputes, the ship went to unload in a place not foreseen by the original plan. To the amazement of those on the ship, local residents were waiting for them on the shore, who managed to send for a representative of the authorities – a policeman. As it turned out, the shaman predicted the day before that a ship would come. Discussing this event later, Buturlin considered it as proof that thought transmission existed at a distance. However, the main impressions of the scientist were not connected with paranormal phenomena, but with work that made it possible to improve people’s lives.

“Just think, we are taking doctors (and not paramedics) to Petropavlovsk, Gizhiga, Bolsheretsk, Novo-Mariinsk (now Anadyr. – Ed.), Wellen (near Cape Dezhnev), medicines – for 10,000 rubles. After 1905 the entire Kolyma-Chukotka Territory was without a single doctor, and for years it was impossible to obtain medicines worth 200 rubles a year.In addition to direct work, doctors are introduced by members to the executive committees, where representatives of the natives are also invited… A new Russian America is being forged here, if only Moscow did a better job of helping push American and Japanese America out of here.”

From a letter from Buturlin to Valery Kaverznev

Even a serious illness that chained Sergei Buturlin to bed for several years did not prevent him from continuing his work. In a letter to the director of the Kondo-Sosvinsky Reserve, Vasily Vasiliev, he shared: “I developed general tuberculosis, on the basis of which there was severe damage to two vertebrae and some other organs. Now I get up a little, thanks to a deaf plaster corset on my entire body (since January 1930 I have been disabled on a personal pension, but remained a member of the Committee of the North and for the last two months even I attend meetings and at the Zoological Museum, more often they send me materials to my house). I work partly sitting, mostly lying down, a lot … “

Boris Zhitkov, with whom Buturlin was friends all his life, noted: “The disease did not weaken either his ability to work or his interest in life. Thanks to the gentleness and calmness of his disposition and his never-failing patience, his long suffering almost did not create difficulties for those who communicated with him.” By 1933, the scientist’s condition had improved. But five years later, after two brain hemorrhages, he was gone.

By this time, he managed to publish about 2 thousand scientific articles and 30 separately published works, become famous throughout the world as one of the best specialists in birds, collect a scientific ornithological collection of 12 thousand copies. And until now, his works remain relevant, and in the articles of modern scientists, references to the materials of Sergei Buturlin appear every now and then.

Olga Ladygina

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