Big Trip, Ch 10, Warblering

Warblering

2 July 1962

The campsite last night, a few miles east of Seney NWR, was mostly devoid of people but unfortunately not devoid of mosquitoes. It seems that mosquitoes enter each chapter of my birding life. Why should I complain? Many birds eat mosquitoes.

When I was ready for bed a well-dressed attractive girl caring a back pack jauntily walked up to my campsite. She asked if I would drive her to Lansing. I told her I could not as my car was stuffed. She said she could rearrange the car and suggested that I move my ice chest to the left, my typewriter on top of the book box and maybe the… I had spent almost a year calculating how to take advantage of every cubic inch of the inside of my beetle. I told her no. She put her hand on my shoulder and said please. I suggested she ask the elderly couple at the next campsite. Seemingly wounded for a second, she unrolled her sleeping bag next to mine saying that we could figure it out in the morning. That seemed harmless enough, especially since I hid a couple of rocks between our bags. She was not the kind of bird I had on my wish list. I settled in my zipped and rock walled sleeping bag. Then, this good looking, but rather odd female, who did not know me from a cake of soap, began telling me long and intimate details of her life. Somewhere between mosquitoes gnawing my drowsy brow and three in the morning she revealed that she was 15. That got my attention, but I kept quiet. She looked older and definitely more experienced that any 15-year-old I had known. Was she telling the truth? She said she had plenty of money. How did she earn it? Was this someone who this 18-year-old should avoid? She fell asleep, snoring, and I began easing out of my bag. I very quietly loaded the car, put it in neutral and pushed it several yards before jumping in to start the engine for my great escape.

I was on my way north for some nonbirding, to spend the money and time touring the waterway of locks and canals between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. I paid 75 cents for a hamburger and milkshake to go, and drove to the American locks at Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan. Hundreds of years ago Chippewa Indians guided their canoes through the roaring rapids of the St. Mary’s, the river that connected the two Great Lakes. Today, I would go from Superior to Huron and back, or was it the other way around, in the comfort of a small tourist boat. A huge ore ship was slowly making its way through the locks, its sides practically scraping the canal. As the water lowered the ship down 21 feet to the Lake Huron level I could see the bins filled with iron ore. The crew scurried here and there, keeping lines secure so that the ship would not bump the thick canal walls.

I ponied up $2.75 for the tour. A small boat quickly filled with passengers and chugged away from the dock. The tour conductor’s monotone drowned out the engine as he explained the locks. A Ring-billed Gull followed, and others soon joined it as we made our way into the American locks and back around through the Canadian locks. Our boat seemed to grow smaller as the water lowered us down. The dark wet walls of the canal gradually towered above before the locks at each end slowly swung shut. The lock was 32 feet deep in order to accommodate the deep drafts of the huge ships that pass back and forth between the lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. The trip was a two-hour tour, and our skipper returned our little boat to its berth.

Back on dry land, I found a service station that would check the ever so leaking transmission. Topping off the transmission cost fifty cents. At a grocery and nearby café I bought ice, groceries and dinner for $2.07. Southward bound, I ended up in a free campground about 25 miles north of the Mackinac (pronounced Macki-naw) Strait, the water body connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The few campers were enjoying the peace and quiet. I quickly scanned the area so I could avoid any fast talking girls wanting me to redecorate my car. I set up office on a picnic table to write my notes and a couple of letters to Oregon.

3 July

Birding around the campground took time, and I didn’t leave until 10 a.m. In about 30 minutes I approached the 26,372-foot steel Mackinac Straits Bridge, the longest bridge in the world. It opened in 1957. Before that a ferry was necessary to cross the Mackinac Straits. A total of 8,614 feet of the giant structure is a suspended bridge. I like bridges and took its picture when I reached Lower Michigan. Had I realized that wind causes the bridge to sway noticeably, I might have liked it less at 199 feet above the water. I marveled at the estimated weight of 1,024,500 tons, the 42,000 miles of wire forming the cables and 4,000 engineering drawings and 85,000 blueprints needed to make the bridge a reality. The $3.75 I paid at the tollbooth was miniscule compared to the $100,000,000 it took to span the straits.

Veering off the beaten track in Lower Michigan, I took a less traveled highway to Pellston, and then jogged to the remote University of Michigan Biological Station. Among the 140 or so rustic buildings that sheltered students from mosquitoes and the weather, were laboratories, classrooms and dorms. The station, founded in 1909, was in session, and students were everywhere. Some were clustering informally around a teacher, the man himself, Dr. Olin S. Pettingill, Jr. He stood tall and interested, all the while clutching in his teeth a briar pipe. I could appreciate the pipe. My father smoked one. Dr. Pettingill took time from his students to provide me a brief tour of campus, and was interested that someone was using his bird finding guides. I told him the guides were invaluable. He offered me some suggestions on future places I hoped to visit. I showed him my Michigan road map, which I had carefully marked with the locations of nesting warblers from Dr. Harold Mayfield’s landmark monograph on Kirtland’s Warblers. Dr. Pettingill drew three circles on my map, and, with teeth clinching the stem of his pipe, said, “Try those places.”

Not far east of the research station was the cottage of Lyle S. and Ester Hubbard on Mullet Lake near the town of Indian River. Lyle, who lived in Florida, was one of the many compilers of Christmas Bird Counts that I had written during the planning stages of the trip. He suggested I stop by for a visit at their summer home. We talked for about 30 minutes before Lyle suggested hiking through a nearby forest before dark. The trail, a few yards from the cottage, is an abandoned road with grasses growing chest high in the middle, led through a tall and darkened hardwood habitat full of warblers and vireos. This area Lyle fondly called the big woods. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo called from the trees. Redstarts were foraging high in the dim light. It was difficult to see color. Lyle called out the names of three warblers I had not seen. Their unfamiliar songs were a jumble of sounds nearly hidden by a myriad of Blue Jays, Olive-sided Flycatcher and others heard over the muffled drumming of a Ruffed Grouse. Was I in heaven or what?

*****

A few changes have occurred in Upper Michigan. The cost of the tour boat through the locks went up about 300%. My interest in bridges remains, but the engineering status of the Mackanac Bridge has been overshadowed. Among long bridges, the Mackinac Bridge ranks 10th by having the longest span. The Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, built in 1998 in Japan has a span 6,532 feet is the longest. The Golden Gate Bridge ranks number eight in the longest span category. China is now building a bridge a little over 22 miles long. The recently built Millau Viaduct toll bridge spanning the Tarn Valley in France is 1.6 miles long and 891 feet high. Yikes. Regardless of dimensions, bridges are often beautiful. They inspire.

Regrettably, I then smoked cigarettes in the 60s; during part of my college years I also picked up the briar. At 50 years, after prevailing common sense and scary slide shows, I finally gave up tobacco. I did see, nonetheless, quite a few birds through the veil of tobacco smoke.

*****

4 and 5 July

We were up late last night comparing our own local birds and birding and the birds we wanted to see. We viewed a slide show of tantalizing Florida birds and a couple of tours the Hubbards took to some of the West Indian islands. They were planning a trip to Texas next spring, the same time I would be there. I woke refreshed from the cool and soapy shower, an indoor mosquito free sleep, and rejuvenated by Lyle’s enthusiasm about birds. He was nearly as zealous about birding as I was.

Almost every waking hour was either talking about birds or looking for them. We visited Reese’s Bog and found Canada, Black and White and Black-throated Green warblers. There also were Yellow Warblers and a rather drab warbler, the Pine Warbler. We saw more warblers with warbler not in their name, including Ovenbirds, Redstarts [=American Redstart], and Northern Waterthrushes; the latter species was also seen yesterday following my visit with Dr. Pettingill. The next day, in the big woods, was a singing bird that impressed me when I saw it illustrated in my first bird book when I was about 10 years of age. With guidance from my host, we located a male Chestnut-sided Warbler singing from an exposed perch about 50 feet away. The combination of a clean white breast bordered by chestnut sides and yellow crown was appealing. Maybe it was the chestnut color that was so attracting. It is somewhat of an unusual color for warblers. I suppose a breeding male Bay-breasted Warbler would be more than I could take. Not much later we heard the high-pitched song of a Blackburnian Warbler. This was another dreamt about warbler. The illustration that I had salivated over was pale compared to the real thing. Again, our new warbler was in plain view, and perched in the sunlight. Wow. This was my best two days for seeing so many species of warblers. Most of my warbler hunting was limited to southwestern Oregon, where, during June it would be possible to find nine species by lots of hard birding requiring hunting riparian valleys and conifers in the mountains. Lyle and I saw nine species of breeding warblers with ease; probably about 15 more species breed in the region. Including migrants, Michigan can boast about 40 species of warblers. I was numb from the thought.

Early on the morning of 5 July we took a boat trip to the Indian River Marsh bordering Mullet Lake. Our query was the Least Bittern. Luckily, one flew over the marsh, staying in the air long enough for us to confirm its identity. Usually this secretive species remains hidden in marsh vegetation. In the vicinity we found Pied-billed Grebes, Black Ducks, Common Tern, and, best of all, Upland Sandpiper. This made up for not finding the Yellow-bellied Flycatchers Pettingill reported to be at Reese’s Bog.

6 July

Bedtime did not come until late last night, a time when we talked more birds and discussed the areas where we might see Kirtland’s Warblers. We poured over maps, Pettingill’s recent bird finding information and suggestions he passed on a couple of days ago, and sifted through Harold Mayfield’s 1961 census of this rare warbler. The “sleep” was five hours but it seemed like 10 minutes. Gulping breakfast, we hurried away from the lakeshore cottage. We were soon on our southward journey into jack-pine country and the only breeding home of the Kirtland. Turning east onto a sandy route we observed Chipping Sparrows and Indigo Buntings along the roadside and, finally, jack-pines and two cars parked in single file on the right.

A few steps of quiet walking from the car brought us to the sound of a singing Kirtland’s Warbler, which provided a glimpse before disappearing into the pine needles. We left the male singing and soon ran into Dr. Pettingill and one of his students from the biological station. I was surprised to see them walk quickly to a nest they knew about. Surely the incubating bird would bolt, making the nest harder to find. What I did not know was that the Kirtland’s Warblers were unafraid of humans, almost tame. The female did not leave the nest until practically touched, and then it stayed just feet away while the four giant humans towered over the nest. The mate of the female kept singing as if nothing was happening. The nest contained a young cowbird and two cowbird eggs. While examining the obscurely located nest under a jack-pine I happened to look over two feet from the nest and found a smaller egg quite unlike the cowbird eggs. Dr. Pettingill looked, picked it up, and identified it as a Kirtland’s Warbler egg. He said the egg was needed for the station’s museum. A cowbird had pecked the egg before or after it was removed from the host nest. Later in the day Lyle and I located a nest with three young. This time the nestlings were Kirtland’s Warblers. We found six more singing males before the sun began to set.

We felt lucky to observe Kirtland’s Warblers, a species with a population of only 502 estimated in 1961. These rare birds nest on the ground under 5-7 foot tall jack-pines (Pinus banksiana). Once trees grow to an older and taller age, the ground under them becomes littered with needles. Kirtland’s Warblers don’t like the bed of needles. The species do not fare well with aging jack pines and they do not fare well from nest parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbirds.

*****

Kirtland’s Warblers were counted beginning in 1951, 1961, and 1971. The 1971 count revealed a decrease from 502 singing males in 1961 to only 201. The population reached an all-time low in 1974 and 1987 when it dipped to 167 singing males. In 1972 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Michigan Audubon Society realized that the breeding population of Kirtland’s Warblers should be counted annually. It was also realized that something must be done to protect the warbler. As usual, loss of suitable habitat was determined to be the main cause of a dwindling population. Kirtland’s Warblers need about 30 to 40 acres to raise their young. Much of the problem of habitat was solved by controlled burning so that tree heights and understory could be regulated. The second cause of the decrease in warblers was Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism. Years of study and years of Kirtland’s Warblers hosting cowbirds eggs and young show that one cowbird egg in a warbler nest means one to three of the warbler chicks could survive. However, if two cowbird eggs are laid in a warbler nest, none of the warbler chicks will survive because they can’t compete with the larger and more aggressive cowbird young. By 1982 a program of cowbird control reduced cowbird parasitism to 3%, and the average number of warblers fledging per pair of Kirtland’s Warblers was 3.1. Cowbird parasitism was 69% in 1966-1971 with only one fledging per pair. Of course the few remaining Kirtland’s Warblers must go through the perils of migration. About 70% of the birds migrating return to Michigan the next spring but only 36% of the birds fledged the previous year run the gauntlet successfully. Despite habitat loss, cowbird parasitism, migration and other fatal dangers, Kirtland’s Warbler numbers are ever so slightly increasing. In 2003, males were singing 1,202 strong. The birds were scattered across more sites than mapped by Harold Mayfield a half a century earlier. There were even 14 males singing away in Upper Michigan. Singing males have also been found in Wisconsin and southern Ontario but not annually and breeding has not been confirmed as of this writing.

Now, if you want to see a Kirtland’s Warbler you cannot just point yourself to the likely places as I did in 1962. Now, there are Kirtland’s Warbler tours. There’s even a Kirtland’s Warbler National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in the 1980s to protect 6,684 acres on 119 different blocks of habitat in xxx Upper Michigan. The state of Michigan and the US Forest Service administers habitat for the majority of the warblers. Part of protecting Kirtland’s Warblers is keeping them safe from those that might love them to death. There are lots more birders now than in 1962. This increase could have caused an inverse result in the population of Kirtland’s Warbler by disrupting nesting birds with too much human activity or worse yet or equally as harmful, with a misplaced foot. The closures and tours insure birds will have a chance to be seen.

*****

7-16 July

Last night I was hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Gerlock in Michigan’s capitol, Lansing. I had met the Gerlocks five days ago in Luce County, a sparsely populated and primarily swampy land in Upper Michigan between Seney NWR and Saulte Ste. Marie.

The next morning I drove to Indiana where birding was put on hold while I made the obligatory visit to two families of relatives in Ft. Wayne. At my aunt’s old neighborhood I added Cardinal to the trip list. At my cousins, in a new but treeless and bushless part of town, I saw only Starlings. I spent a lot of time visiting, listening to my cousin’s stereo, a new and exciting wonder, and worrying that the porcelain hanging on the wall would vibrate to the waiting floor. There was always plenty to eat. One day I ate at least my share of a chocolate layer cake despite the fact I don’t like chocolate. Not liking chocolate almost always evokes a look of “are you crazy?” Then there were the colossal strawberry pies topped with whipped cream. The decadent pies were available at a drive-up window, and we did drive up on several occasions. Between the stereo, clean sheets and hot water, strawberry pies, and potato salad, I was almost in heaven. I also gained four pounds to my lean mass. Thankfully, there was some time swimming and boating in a city park lake or I would have gained more. I purchased a stereo record for $4.00 as a gift to my cousins. One day we toured Gene Stratton Porter’s summer home. She studied nature and wrote 12 novels during the 20th century. My aunt and uncle thought I got more out of the tour than I did, no offence to Gene Stratton Porter or her descendants. I was more than ready to be on my way.

17 July

I arrived at Waterville, Ohio, a small town about half way between Toledo and Bowling Green, for a short but delightful visit with Harold Mayfield. He had not arrived from his Toledo office. His 17 year old daughter and I rowed across the Maumee River in search of Prothonotary Warblers and Carolina Wrens, species at their northern breeding ranges. The Maumee River, which much of my route from Indiana had followed, flows north and empties into Lake Erie at Toledo. The banks from the slow river water seemed lifeless in the steamy afternoon. Back on shore an hour later we turned up a Wood Thrush and a couple of Carolina Wrens.

In the evening I listened as Dr. Mayfield talked to me about Blue-Gray Tanagers to Pacific terns. Naturally Kirtland’s Warblers came up. He spoke of Golden-cheeked Warblers of the Edwards Plateau in Texas, and an ornithologist he knew who was planning to study the life history of this rare warbler. With information for finding Golden and Blue-winged warblers, I was on my way.

*****

Later, during my museum days some of my colleagues and I probably would have referred to Dr. Mayfield as Mr. Kirtland’s Warbler. This was meant with respect and recognition of a person’s most notable achievement. John Aldrich was Mr. Crane. Lester Short was called Mr. Woodpecker although we sometimes shorted the epitaph. Dick Banks could have been known as Mr. White-crowned Sparrow, the species he studied to earn his doctoral teeth, but the name was too long. Besides he had moved on to other species. Likewise, I moved from species to species during my taxonomic studies. There were investigations on woodpeckers, flycatchers, a warbler, and many others. I am not sure what my colleagues called me.

*****

18-20 July 1962

Last night I set up camp in Oak Opening Park. Birding the next morning was uneventful. I had entered the summer doldrums. It was too hot and sultry even for a mosquito. In fact, whether I was in optimum habitat or not, elusive Prothonotary or Blue and Golden-winged warblers were not singing and they seemed to not be moving. I was beginning to worry. In Oregon, late July and August are lousy for birding. I still had nearly a half of a continent to cross before being able to be in position for fall migrating shorebirds.

The next morning I left the oak and prairie region of northwestern Ohio, carefully skirted Toledo to avoid any unseemly traffic, and arrived at Marblehead, a point jutting into Lake Erie. The tent was pitched in East Harbor State Park for $1.50 where there were too many people and not enough birds. I swam in Lake Erie, which was a good way to rinse away salt deposits and cool down.

With slightly sullen birding sprit, I made or fought my way into the Cleveland traffic. Being used to more open spaces and fewer people and cars of the west, I was mortified and petrified by aftermath on the land from around 890,000 (as of 1960) people. The hundreds of thousands were all driving their cars when I arrived. I finally made it to Lakewood, suburb and the home of John Smity, a person I had corresponded with months ago. He was not going to be available until tomorrow, but handed me notes to review. He had copied them by hand, and told me to keep them. His notes, included lists of birds he recorded during an April trip to Texas in 1962 and one two Florida, mostly in April 1961. The two lists revealed he was extremely lucky by finding most of the specialties I hoped to see. I wasn’t that lucky, and I doubted that I would find two species of redshanks in Texas, as did Mr. Smity. His Texas list even included Eskimo Curlew! For his trip to Florida, I was suspicios of his sightings of Iceland Gull and Bewick’s Wren. Maybe he did see all those odd ball birds, but I felt a little unsure about the sightings of Mr. Smity, whose real name is not used here.

Mr. Smity also offered a large assemblage of information for finding birds for the Cleveland Park system called the Emerald Chain. I hoped the information was accurate. That would have to wait until after a night at the Cleveland YMCA where I was able to shower and sleep for $3.00.

On the morning of 20 July I woke refreshed, clean for a change, and free of fresh mosquito bites. I ate eggs, bacon and toast for a $1.24 breakfast. I was ready to go birding in Cleveland’s Metropolitan Parks, the emerald chain that, like a necklace, circled around the city. What a wonderful treat after my seemingly harrowing experience on the highway yesterday. The city park system, started in 1917 administers 14,000 acres that includes riparian and upland forests, lakes, fields and plenty of visitors.

Rocky River Reservation, a 4300 acre western piece of the Emerald Chain, according to my host yesterday, might yield something to add to my trip list. I strolled the several miles of trails straining to catch a glimpse of anything through the cooling shade. The heat and rigors of molt tax most birds to the quiet recesses of big leafed trees and way from the noise and bustle of people jostling the air. An unwary parent Tufted Titmouse, along with four others tagging along, whistled loudly just off the trail. After about 3 hours I realized my time might be better spent elsewhere, and just as I turned back I heard a soft peaceful sound. This was not the peace of rest or as in peace and quiet, nor was it the call for peace as was needed in the burgeoning war in Vietnam. This was the peace I had heard so many times in recordings, and had heard on earlier visits to the Midwest. On a bare limb, perched upright in the sun was an Acadian Flycatcher. Not more than 20 feet away, I spied another flycatcher, silent and with buffy wing bars. It had an eye ring like the adult Acadian, but this young bird could have been any one of several species in the pesky and difficult genus Empidonax.

The airport was east of the park, and although I had had opportunity to visit airports in other cities, I thought it was time to do some plane spotting. At the Brookfield Airport departing prop-jet airliners screamed off the runway and others roared down to a stop at the terminal. Huge cumbersome looking trucks traveled in and among parked planes and back to the terminal. Their engines were muffled silent by the roar of the planes. It was a noisy experience, the deafening screams of the props pulling at the air, and the roar of the engines burning more fuel at the time than my VW would probably use in its life time. The smell of the fuel was everywhere. I wondered that if the noise and fuel consumption was directly proportional to the speed of travel. Tired of featherless fliers, I drove east in my quiet and high mpg VW.

*****

The warblers of the Great Lakes added considerably to my trip list. The Big Woods at the Hubbards, Reese’s Swamp and other haunts of northern Lower Michigan were inspiring. I crossed paths a couple of time with Olin Pettingill. His bird finding publications pale compared to the birding publications now available. It should never be forgotten that he is the Father of bird finding guides, and that he was a great and revered teacher of ornithology.

My time in Lansing, Michigan, could have been an inspirational experience had I had the luck to visit with Dr. Robert W. Storer. In 1962 he was curator of birds at the University of Michigan. Born in 1914, when parents and society raised gentlemen, he has published over 200 scientific and popular articles. Luckily for me, I spent hours with Robert Storer when he visited Smithsonian in his capacity as a member of the AOU Checklist Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North American Birds. He also came to work in the research collection. His specialties have included loons and more recently grebes. His grand manner earned him the respectful title of Mr. Loon, although later he was fondly known as Mr. Grebe.

My swim in Lake Erie west of Cleveland possibly put me at more risk than driving the fast paced lanes funneling my white knuckles into the heart of the city. In the 1960s Lake Erie was declared dead. Algae had robbed the water of oxygen and slimed the beaches. Phosphorous from detergents and fertilizers, heavy metals, sewage, and other gross and poisonous additions poured into the lake. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River, flowing through Cleveland on its way to Lake Erie, caught fire because it was so polluted. In 1962, I noted nothing unusual about swimming in Lake Erie. Although teenagers may often be oblivious to their fate, I was a picky nerdish kind of guy. More than likely I would have avoided being slimmed by Lake Erie. I recall my submersible experience as refreshing, but I hope I didn’t swallow. In the 21st Century, Lake Erie is monitored and in relatively good health.

Remarkably, the population of Cleveland in 2000 decreased even with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Drew Carey. The wonderful city park system was 20,000 acres by 2004, a 6,000 acre increase. For reference, New York’s Central Park is only 843 acres. The park also began restoring prairie habitat after 1962.

It turns out that the unnamed birder in Cleveland was a well-known observer and frequently reported his local sighting and even photographed a Painted Redstart in the region. There was a report of a Common Redshank in Texas, but the record was not accepted. I could not determine if the report generated from the unnamed birder I called Mr. Smity. Now, in the 21st Century, I wonder if some of his records, if passed onto today’s social network, would have been verified or dismissed. He could have been an outstanding and lucky birder who saw an Eskimo Curlew the year before the species was definitely found in Texas. Certainly, my plan was to look for the curlews. Did he see two species of redhank, the curlew, Gray-breasted Martin and other great species in Texas? Did he find a Common Raven in Florida? A correspondent’s reply to my inquiry about Mr. Smity in 2014 revealed at least some of local bird identifications he made created legendary disagreements between him and local birders.

As for airports and flying, I have had about as many fun air miles as possible. Flying is now just a means to get from A to B. I flew into Cleveland in the late 1970s. The prop-jets were becoming passé, and the airport had been modernized by 1962 standards. A newish subway system whisked me downtown to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History where I studied their collection. I was looking for specimens collected in Oregon as part of a long-term project on the taxonomy of birds from the Pacific Northwest and for specimens Harry C. Oberholser had designated as type specimens. Type specimens, called holotypes if there is just one specimen, are specimens designated in an original description of a newly named species or subspecies. Oberholser had proposed new names for about 30 new subspecies and a new species and genus of hummingbird in his long-awaited two tomes on the birds of Texas. Most of Oberholser’s notes were in file cabinets back at Smithsonian. I later compared thousands of specimens while examining the validity of Oberholser’s new taxa. One of the new birds he described was a new hummingbird he named Phasmornis mystica, aka a ghost-like bird, which may have been Oberholser’s joke on ornithology. I like to think it was.

Oberholser was a household word at the Smithsonian’s Division of Birds. Although often referred as HCO, we changed that to H2O. Judging from stories from people who worked with him at Smithonian, he would have been furious at such an appellation. He would have been furious about my 1978 evaluations of his new subspecies published in his truly monumental “Bird Life of Texas” appearing posthumously in 1974. Following retirement from the Biological Survey he moved to Cleveland where he worked at the Cleveland Museum. Apparently many of the staff then thought this compulsive man was over the edge when someone caught him changing the specific name of a tray of Empidonax flycatchers. No doubt Oberholser reveled an explanation to the unknowing staff member that the specimens formerly called Empidonax wrightii were now known as Empidonax oberholseri, and that the change was not his idea but that of Allan R. Phillips and the AOU.

Mr. Smity, whether being truthful or not, offered to introduce me to Oberholser. Unfortunately, I was then ignorant of Oberholser’s fame, and refused the chance to meet him. I will always regret my decision.

One of the more frequently observed warblers I had been seeing across the country, probably because of so many marshy National Wildlife Refuges along the way, was Common Yellowthroats. Oberholser once described and named 12 subspecies in a 1948 paper he privately published. His manuscript did not receive peer review. The minor differences Oberholser alleged between the various subspecies was not taken seriously by the ornithological community. None of the proposed names was recognized by the American Ornithologist Check-list Committee. There is one subspecies of Common Yellowthroat generally recognized today that Oberholser described in 1899. As for a thorough and sound review of the Common Yellowthroat, that remains to be seen. Yellow Warblers were another species frequently seen in the early part of the 1962 trip. One of my major projects at the museum was a review of the species. I even named four new subspecies, and used many of the same methods of comparing and identifying specimens to subspecies, as did Oberholser. The differences between subspecies are subtle differences in color and pattern. I am hoping that my peer reviewed publication, which had samples sizes far greater than Oberholser’s, will be taken seriously. Oberholser was extremely prolific. Had he taken advantage of peer review and larger collections, his contributions to taxonomy would have been greater.

At Seney NWR the Black and White Warbler heightened my interest in the family. Lyle Hubbard showed me several new species before topping off Michigan with the Kirtland’s Warbler. By then I had found about a fourth of the species that breed in the U.S. I was disappointed in not finding a few species such as Cerulean and Golden and Blue-winged warblers but I was excited about what warbler was around the next bend. This sort of enthusiasm, with lots of drive and focus, was what I saw, only magnified, when Jon Dunn, Kimball Garrett, and Cindy House (Tom Schultz joined the force later in the project) made one of their many descents on the Smithsonian collection of warbler specimens. Their love for warblers and zeal for research led them to produce their outstanding field guide that I could have used in 1962.

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