Big Trip, Ch 15, Capital Birder

Capital Birder

23 September

The pitter-patter of rain splashing on the car’s plastic sunroof accompanied the light of dawn at West Potomac Island campground. The sound, just inches from my site of slumber, reminded me of rain hitting my now obsolete pup tent. The car was far cozier and daily assembly was not required. I tried birding on the island, but the area seemed void of variety. In a place like the Capital, there should be plenty nonbirds to see. Being Sunday, I figured that the streets would be full with tourist so I walked leisurely along the cherry tree bordered Potomac River sidewalk, just following my nose. Today I would try to be just a tourist, but I could not help try to identify almost every bird flying my way. I was a committed capital birder.

The first stop, the first National monument on my life list, if I was keeping such a list, was a white domed building. I was glassing a Mockingbird perched in a tall bush. There, in the background, was Jefferson Memorial. The now cloudless sky reflected the white of the building and a giant Thomas Jefferson inside. I felt I had suddenly stepped inside a high school textbook. To the north were the White House and a 500-foot monolithic Washington Monument. The Lincoln Memorial was to my left. There were so many beautiful buildings, many recognizable from those textbooks. Everywhere there was history.

On I walked, taking pictures and glassing birds, which the birds usually turned out to be nothing exciting. I think I would have been excited if I had seen a Redstart or even a Robin. Besides the hustle of daily commuter life, bring with it a den of noise and pollution, and the encroachment of natural habitat, a new problem in bird conservation has become apparent. Spraying the elms in the Mall regularly helped prevent the spread of Dutch elm disease. The Mall, a park-like section of lawns and trees running from Washington Monument to the Capitol building looked like a good place for birds, and I had heard that before the program of spraying, The Mall was “alive” with birds. It is a difficult situation. Without spraying, the elms surely will not survive.

Before ending my day, I walked up the gentle hill to the base of Washington Monument. There are few areas in the city where, when lost yesterday, that I could not see the giant white spire that helped me navigate the streets. I was not sure I would have time to walk the 896 stairs steps to the top. I took the elevator. During the 70-second ascent, I glanced through a pamphlet outlining a few brief facts about the Washington Monument. It was hard to believe that it began in 1848, a time when my home would not be a state for 11 more years. Completed in1885, building the monument cost less than it now cost to maintain. At the top, a tiny pyramid-shaped area accommodated only a few people at a time and people vied for a position at the thick windows facing out in four directions. The view revealed an amazing perspective of Washington, D.C. The green scene, tree after tree, forests everywhere was gratefully startling.

My camera seemed heavy with film exposed to the four cardinal directions as I made my descent by the stairs. The stones of the walls represented every state in the Union as well as many places worldwide. During the long way down, several weary climbers struggled for the pinnacle. Several were shedding clothes; I wondered how much they were wearing once reaching the top.

Back home, I rested my weary feet. How much of the grandeur of the city could I enjoy before my planned two-week stay ended? I had met a few long time Washingtonians today. They said they could never see it all. More importantly, what birds would I find here?


Because of all the moving since 1962, some my annotated road maps were lost. Just how I got from Hawk Mountain to Washington, D.C., is not clear. My notes only stated that I spent the night on Interstate 70. Interstate 95, the Interstate in Washington, D.C., was under construction. Shortcuts when hiking from my camp on East Potomac Island sometimes required me to dodge through the construction site. Although I have not checked to be sure, I imagine now that the patrol officer that rousted me in Maryland would today give me a ticket and made me move on, regardless of the hour. Hitching is against the law on Interstates; sleeping most likely is also.

The campground disappeared, tennis courts, golf greens and fairways, driving ranges and well-manicured lawns appeared. I even had a second job at the golf course during the late 60s when I was in the Navy. Touring the big city is not possible on the cheap, at least not as cheap as I enjoyed it in 1962. The “campers” are now the homeless, a faction I saw soar, especially during the last two decades I worked there. During my stay, more museums sprung up; never mind the countless memorials, statures and monuments. Eventually, prohibition of most vehicular traffic on the Mall helped provide a more park-like environment. A subway system constructed from 1969 to 1976 and millions of tourist growing in number, created a steady hum along the Mall from the Capital to Lincoln Memorial. I learned to drive in traffic, including navigating easily around much of the city. Of course, I had favorite routes that I usually traveled, but there were alternate routes just in case of the usual lanes became unusable, as they often did by snow, accidents, especially on the bridges, and sometimes by dignitaries being whisked to where ever they were whisked. The traffic circles became more negotiable but still something to avoid. I learned to go with the flow, and take gridlock and snarls of stationary cars in stride. After all, almost any direction I looked was beautiful, historical and inspiring.

Many of the trees viewed from Washington Monument in 1962 are gone. According to a survey of the city owned trees summarized in the Washington Post around the turn of this century, 10%, or the equivalent of 10,000 trees, were dead. Satellite images reveal that acres and acres of city neighborhood trees have vanished. Worse, only 32% of surviving trees were healthy. It was estimated that 10,000 trees would have to be planted for 10 years to reach the number of trees in 1970. Reasons given in the report included neglect, funding and an ongoing building boom. Dutch elm disease took its toll; the surviving elms on the Mall were sprayed heavily. Maybe the loss of trees and so much spraying was why, even now, the Mall and East Potomac Island are not the birding hotspots they could have been.

The view from the Washington Monument helped me realize that a city could be green, but it required work and funding. More funding is now being spent for security. The monument would be closed for several months in 2004 to enhance its security. I recalled, that, years ago, a sad and confused man threatened to blow it up with the dynamite he said was loaded in his pickup parked at the monument’s base. Everyone in Smithsonian was told to get out and duck for cover. Fortunately, it was a misguided hoax, and Washington Monument stood tall to be the beacon for lost drivers and a great summer place to watch Common Nighthawks trolling for moths attracted by the bright floodlights reflecting off the whitish stones.


24-28 September

The next five days were spent in the Division of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History. I wanted to use the library, especially for information on breeding behavior of Western Bluebirds. Digging back in old, time worn volumes of the Auk, Condor, Wilson Bulletin and other journals and books revealed much new and exciting information about bluebirds. Many times, I found myself gazing at accounts entirely unrelated to my subject. It was hard to stay focused in the quite room holding 6,000 books and 20,000 author separates that Pettingill had described.

Before I actually got started with my library research, I first met some of the staff. However, before that, I was not sure how to get from the ground floor to the Division above. I asked an uniformed guard, who surprised me by telling me all I had to do was take the elevator up and turn left, or was it right. Off the elevator, I wandered about, looking for the library. It was very quiet. Eventually I found an open door, and inside were shelf upon shelf of books and journals. I picked up a tome, but before I could open it, a tall, whitish gray-haired, man appeared in the doorway. He wore a white shirt, conservative tie, dress pants and shoes, and a comforting smile. The imposing figure, who had been just around a corner examining bird specimens from Panama, did not speak. I did, and said, “Surely this isn’t the complete library.”

“That’s my personal library,” he replied. Embarrassed, I quickly told him who I was and why I was wandering around the Division of Birds. He extended his hand, laughed and introduced himself. That’s how I met Dr. Alexander Wetmore, a famous ornithologist, former Secretary of Smithsonian, and kind gentleman. He introduced me to Phil Humphrey, the curator of birds. Dr. Humphrey took me to the library, told me were the local restroom was located and left me in the awe of all those printed pages. I worked until about 4 p.m.

It was time to replenish my food supply, so I headed out to find a grocery store. It would have made more sense to ask at the museum for direction to a store within walking distance. Instead I drove. Then I drove some more, being pushed onward by the steady stream of homeward bound cars. Everyone was exiting the city at the same time. The further I got from downtown, the lighter became the traffic, and, somehow I ended up in Arlington, Virginia, a few miles from the museum. I spotted a grocery store, got my food, which seemed expensive, and carefully navigated to the campground on West Potomac Island.

The next day I poured through as much material at the Division of Birds library as time allowed. My hand ached from writing notes on what I might use for my research. That afternoon, with directions from Dr. Humphrey, I headed for Georgetown. Historically, Georgetown was in Maryland. Washington, D.C., as it was first conceived by none other than George Washington, was on the Potomac River between Georgetown and another old city, Alexandria, Virginia. I had grown up thinking that the late 1800s represented history, as they did for Oregon, but the history in the east was nothing, well, new. Georgetown was founded in 1789, but I got lost today before finding it. Finally, I reached Wisconsin Avenue, a narrow main street that took me to the Audubon Center bookstore and my appointment with Dr. Joan Criswell. She read my complete wish list, naming the species that could be found in the area. Most of the birds were those at their northern limit of their breeding range. Some could possibly be found wintering southward, maybe in Florida.

It rained most of the 27th, but it was warm and dry in the Division of Birds. The day started with a visit with Dr. Wetmore. We discussed education and ornithology as a career. His advice, along with that of Maurice Broun, was swaying me away from working for either the refuge or national park systems. During our discussion, I learned that Dr. Wetmore was working on a reference book on the birds of Panama. It was exciting to listen to his accounts of research in the tropics and see the smile in his eyes as he spoke of plans to return. He gave me four reprints, what Pettingill called separates, which I read from cover to cover, back at my camp for the evening.

On the last day at the Division of Birds, 28 September, I had copied volumes of notes from more than 25 references. Dr. Wetmore and Dr. Humphrey helped steer me to certain reprints that I might have otherwise missed. The staff was small, with Theodore Bobber, formally dressed and wearing xxx to keep his sleeves up, worked in a corner near a window where he catalogued incoming specimens. Others kept to themselves. Dr. Humphrey told me of an expedition he would soon be taking to Brazil, and that he needed about six employees to send to various parts of the world to study and collect birds. If only I had college behind me.

During the afternoon, Dr. Wetmore remembered my inquiry about Barn Owls in towers of the original 1847 vintage Smithsonian building now called the Castle. He said he would show me one if there were one to be found. It was a rather strange birding affair, without binoculars, street clothing and inside the attic of a tower of a museum. We climbed a ladder from within one of the offices, and up several staircases. There, we found nothing but the musty smell of bird droppings. To our displeasure, the openings where a Barn Owl might enter had been boarded over. He told me that he had had the same entrances cleared a few years ago when he was Secretary of Smithsonian and, even though retired at 72; he was going to have the boards removed.


Barn Owls have since been allowed to nest in the Castle Building. When Dr. Wetmore and I returned to the Division of Birds that day in September 1962, I took a final look, at the hundreds of museum specimen cases, a last glance at the library, and thanked the staff for their courteous help. The only time I ever saw Dr. Wetmore angry was the day we found the entrance for the Barn Owls boarded closed. Even at our first meeting, I could feel the warmth and gentle, yet imposing, energy of this man, who, most people who knew him called him Alex. In the time when I knew him, the countless lunches in the library, and nearly daily conversations on the range where he examined specimens, I always called him Dr. Wetmore. It wasn’t until a year of working in the Division, beginning in 1971 that I felt I could address the other PhDs, with the exception of Dr. John Aldrich, by their first name.

The Division of Birds moved from the old part of the building to the new east wing on the sixth floor in the mid-60s. About ten years later, and for decades more, the temperature of the Division was far from warm. Coats and sweater were the uniform of the day, summer and winter. Shortly after I retired in 1996, the older heating and cooling system was revised to keep the collection safe and the staff more comfortable. As good fortune would have it, many enjoyable hours were spent looking at and searching in the museum cases despite the cold temperatures. A short lifetime of cataloging, identifying and examining specimens was a pleasure as was getting to know and befriend the staff of the Division of Birds. They were my benefactors and colleagues. Roxie Laybourne, expert in identifying birds from just a barbule, had been there since the year I was born and still held an office in the Division when I retired. John Aldrich, taxonomist, had worked on galliformes to American Robins, the latter with Fran James, was affectingly known as Mr. Crane from his work on the taxonomy of Sandhill Cranes. Theodore Bober, aka Ted, knew everyone. He was there in 1962 and was a great oral historian of the museum personnel. He was at his desk, where I would see him each morning reading the newspaper before work started. His side- kick and later head of the support staff of the division, Phil Angle, also had a penchant for oral history. His skills at organization, and rapier wit, were a special asset to the staff, and made work life a pleasure from secretaries to curators. Claudia Angle, an expert at specimen preparation and I shared an office on the west side overlooking the mall. Phil Humphrey had moved on when I began working, but his compatriot, George Watson, remembered the skinny kid who lurked around the library in 1962. Storrs Olson, paleornithologist, signed on the same year I did, joining Dick Zusi, the anatomist of the group, and Paul Slud known for work in Costa Rica. Over the years, the staff changed, with George, who had contributed heavily to the first edition of the first edition of the National Geographic field guide to birds, and Paul Slud, resigned. Gary Graves, a fellow Arkansawier, became the youngest curator. Most of my work was with friend and mentor Richard C. Banks, whose PhD thesis on White-crowned Sparrows recognized a subspecies that, in one of my earlier papers, I refuted. There were never any hard feelings; we coauthored numerous papers during our careers. Marshall Howe and Mercedes Foster joined, with Dick and me, the National Biological Survey, the organization founded in 1885. Joe T. Marshall, of screech-owl fame, built harpsichords with raven quills that plucked the strings, kept us all on our toes and more than moderately in good stead from his deft humor. Many other people passed through the Division.

The library now has its own room. Compared to my floundering in 1962, I had learned to appreciate and love the library. On some days, I practically lived there. Eventually the librarian asked that I help by recommending what publications to add to the growing shelves. My mom, faithful librarian in my hometown, was proud. As for the information, I gathered on bluebirds in 1962, work, college and the Navy prevented me from ever completing my field studies.

During my museum career, I had the pleasure to seeing two new life birds. The first, during a cold winter, was a Snowy Owl, which spent hours perching on top of the tiled roof of the Department of Justice building just across Constitution Avenue. Views of the owl were shared with the staff from the confines of our poorly heated sixth floor wing. There is nothing like seeing a life bird with Dr. Wetmore and Mr. Ripley. The second species was discovered in early spring on the Mall. Ring-billed Gulls had formerly stayed away from the hustle and bustle of the Mall by gathering on an open grassy area near Washington Monument. In later years, they began foraging all over the Mall, and, while I was walking from my parking spot under the Air and Space museum, I happened on a strange gull, as many gulls are. This one had a dark mantle and appeared a little larger than its neighboring Ring-bills. After making a few mental notes, I hurried to my office to check a couple of references. Carla Dove and I could see the bird from my office. We went out for a closer look. The mystery gull was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, and it was verified by my fellow scientists.

The feel of Washington, DC and working there was changed on 9-11. Carla sent Linda and me an email on 17 September 2001. She wrote, “Last week was weird. Can you imagine looking out your office window and seeing black smoke pouring out the Pentagon? That is what we saw after we heard about the crash. Then we started hearing rumors about the Capitol and other buildings. Needless to say, some of us wasted no time getting out of here. I did not want to be in any building or on a metro, or on a bridge or even standing in the middle of the mall. So, we got into a car and headed for home as fast as possible. We made it home in about 45 minutes but we heard on the radio that streets and bridges were being closed as soon as we crossed them. It was scary. Now, things are slow. It takes about two hours to get to work, we have come right by the Pentagon and traffic has been diverted and metro buses do not go there anymore so everything is disorganized. No one I know got hurt in any of the tragic events but one of Claudia’s daughters had a close friend die at the Pentagon.”


29 September to 2 October

The 29th was a welcome change. I went on a scheduled bird outing with the Atlantic Naturalist Society to Monument Knob, Maryland. The area is in Washington Monument State Park on a spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Appalachian Trail winds through the park, not far from the rough 75-foot tall rock structure built in 1827 to honor George Washington. Vandals had reduced the structure to rubble by 1882. The local Odd Fellows Lodge of Boonsboro began rebuilding. The finished product of today looked very much like a milk bottle. For birders, this was a good place to watch migrating hawks and eagles.

I was more excited about the prospect of passerines than migrating hawks. The area would not hold a candle to Hawk Mountain. I set off with a couple of guys to search the nearby scattered woods, but found only two species of warblers, no flycatchers and no thrushes. I did find a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a species I had met in Arkansas, but new for the trip.

By noon, I was inside the monument itself, climbing the narrow dark stairs to the top. From this vantage, a few Turkey Vultures sailed over, along with not many more Broad-winged Hawks and many more Rock Doves [=Rock Pigeons]. A few in the group identified a bird as a Peregrine Falcon, which I did not see well enough to call. It probably was a Peregrine. By early afternoon, the leader apologized for the bad day and left. I soon followed. The cold and hunger was bad enough, but a Black Vulture would have made the day.

When I got back in town, my luck of the day had not changed as I rear-ended a car. Luckily, neither car was damaged. We each went on our way, theirs to some unnamed suburb out-of-town, mine to my fenced in campground just walking minutes from Smithsonian. The next day I spent getting my notes up to date. I used the picnic table at my camping site. The picnic table offices across the country worked well despite the lady in Michigan who thought I was strange enough to use up a few feet of movie film and various people, especially children, who wanted to know what I was doing. Occasionally I spied a curious highway police officer parked at the roadside, radioing to check out my license plate and me. My Potomac picnic office was quiet on this last day of September. Most everyone ignored me as I banged away the typewriter, shaping a column about the trip to be published in my high school paper. A call home was welcome, from both ends. I reassured my parents not to worry and they reassured me that they would continue to worry but at the same time remained supportive of my adventure.

The first day of October was spent on the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, a system completed in 1850. A towpath, about 10 feet wide, flanks one side of the shallow canal. This was where mules pulled the slow heavily laden barges that navigated the narrow canal from lock to lock, from Seneca to Georgetown about 600 feet below. The towpath is a favorite for strollers, bikers, and birders. Before those leisurely pursuits, the C & O as the locals call it carried everything from people to coal. In 1924, the construction of a railway and a major flood ended the commercial importance of the canal. Since then much of the canal dried up, washed away or became filled in by the Potomac River that runs near it, or became overgrown by reclaiming vegetation. The Federal government has been responsible for the canal since 1938, but almost lost it to a highway. William O. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice, along with the editor of the Washington Post and others, walked from Seneca to Georgetown in 1954 to publicize the importance of the C & O as a recreation site. The highway was never built. Before and after, parts of the C & O required restoration from the aftermath of floods.

The towpath led me as from near Key Bridge in Georgetown to about five miles west or just outside the Washington, D.C., boundary with Maryland. On my return, I began to worry about getting a parking ticket and less about the fact that I was able to scare up only 17 species. About a half mile from my car, I spotted a couple of vultures. Ordinarily I would have ignored them but I still hadn’t found Black Vultures, a species most likely south with the warblers and flycatchers I couldn’t find. As I looked them over a voice behind me announced that the birds were Turkey Vultures. I introduced myself to Dennis Sherwin, formerly from Cleveland, who lived in Georgetown and loved birdwatching. We traded stories about birding in Ohio, where he earlier met Paul Savage and Jon Alquist in Ashtabula. I bragged about our Rufous-necked Sandpiper [=Rufous-necked Stint], and asked many questions about birding in the Washington area. Dennis suggested a day trip to check out Chesapeake Bay and parts of the coasts of Maryland and Delaware. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

The next day, before heading to the coast, was devoted strictly to being a tourist. The first stop was the White House where a tour herded the group I was with from Red to Green, Blue and other rooms. No pictures were allowed but cameras were ok. I sneaked a couple of shots even though I knew they would be crooked and dark without the benefit of aiming or a flash. After the big house, I trudged back to the Mall, saw Whistler’s Mother in the Freer Gallery, and ate lunch, walked to Lincoln Memorial, passing Reflection Pool that contained blooming water lilies floating in water full of gold-fish. Then, back on the Mall, I stared at the Wright brothers Kitty Hawk, Lindbergh’s Spirit of Saint Louis, old cars and farm machinery, costumes and more. I planned the Natural History building to be last, and just had a few minutes of marveling at fossils and skeletons of extinct prehistoric animals. (I was taught that these animals’ small brain capacity was the reason for their extinction.) At 4:30 p.m. sharp, the museum closed, but by then I was standing comfortably in an ascending elevator. At the top, I met and said goodbye to Phil Humphrey and George Watson. (At the time, I did not realize I would be seeing them in a couple of days).


Since the 60s when visiting the Washington Memorial the similarly structured cooling towers of Three-Mile Island loomed in the sky. The Kitty Hawk and other aircraft were moved to the new Air and Space museum. In 1972, my second year at Smithsonian, hurricane Agnes dropped so much rain over the Potomac River that it frightened the bird staff enough to move the holotypes from the basement to the safety of sixth floor where they remain today. The basement was never flooded but miles of the C & O Canal towpath washed away. By 1996, seventeen different floods destroyed parts of the canal, locks and lock houses.


3 October

The great expectations of a trip east of started when I slid out of my berth, the warm cozy sleeping bag, down to the open driver’s seat, and out the door for a sprint to the restroom. The lights that had illuminated Washington Monument had been turned off, and only the dim neon lights of the city outlined the black spire of marble in the 5:30 a.m. sky. Dennis arrived at the campground at six, and we roared eastward in his Chevy Corvair. We soon crossed a massive bridge yawning over the Chesapeake Bay, and motored onward to Ocean City, Maryland. According to Pettingill and a couple of local birders, we should have had good birding at Kent Island, Ocean City and Rehoboth and Lewis beaches in Delaware.

We managed to find 39 species by working hard. Probably our best birding was when we kicked up a few Seaside Sparrows and a couple of Sharp-tailed Sparrows [= one or both species]. Both were new life birds for Dennis. It is a pleasure to bird with someone who sees a new life species, especially on this day of greater expectations.

4 October

The rains came down Oregon style, a slow and steady drizzle under the shrouded dark gray clouds too thick to allow much light to penetrate. This was a day typical of the many winter days back home. The weather was not enough to dampen enthusiasm for attempting to identify a gull we saw yesterday at Ocean City. Dennis and I met around 10 at the Audubon Book Store. It did not take long before we realized that our mystery bird was probably not a Franklin’s Gull and more likely a Laughing Gull.

The rain continued, but the drops became bigger and there were more of them. This was Virginia style rain, not a so-called cloudburst, but pretty much a steady deluge. Flipping through all those field guides simply served to whet our appetite to go birding. We ended up at Roaches Run, a backwater adjacent to the airport, administered by the National Park Service. It is known for attracting waterfowl.

By now, I had found most of the ducks excluding some of the southern species such as the tree and Mottled Ducks. Maybe a new gull would be there. At first glance, through the windshield and glaze of fallen rain, there was not much to excite until we saw a demure duck with a creamy colored crown and forehead. Our first thought was European Wigeon, but our bird clearly had a dark green stripe running through the eye. The rest of the head was dark, but not the rufous of the European bird. However, the head was not grayish as would be an American Wigeon. Roaches Run was a short drive to the Division of Birds, which we drove in record time. George Watson gladly showed us a specimen that appeared to share characteristics of both species of wigeons. Our bird did not look like the specimen.

We were barely out the heavy glass and bronze doors of the museum before we decided to take another look at our wigeon. This time our mystery duck was out of the water. Now, the clouds were breaking although it was still pouring rain. Maybe we could photograph the bird. However, we lacked a camera. As we rushed out of the parking lot to retrieve Dennis’s camera in Georgetown, the windshield wipers stopped suddenly. Frantically, we traced the trouble to a loose screw. With the screw tightened, our nerves tightened as we rushed up the Potomac River to Georgetown. While double-parked I noticed a police officer becoming interested, but before he got to the car Dennis came running, camera in tow. As our wigeon sp. had just decided to drift away, we realized that one side of the bird resembled a typical male European Wigeon whereas the other side was typical of a male American Widgeon.


During my 30 or so years in Washington, I visited Roaches Run numerous times. I also birded on the C & O Canal but I avoided late September when I figured I would not find many species. Dyke Marsh and Hugh’s Hollow were my favorite areas. I occasionally checked the local bird society’s hotline, called Voice of the Naturalist. The late Claudia Wilds, self-assured, intelligent, lent her words as the voice and, posthumously, to an inspired work on terns and skimmers. Prothonotary and Cerulean warblers, species I missed in the 60s became new life birds while later birding just outside the capital. I finally experienced a wave of spring migrating warblers, vireos, and tanagers one day in the early 70s in a tiny Arlington Park not far from where I lived. While in Washington, I found that the time I would have normally spent birding was now occupied with working on bird specimens at the Division of Birds, interspersed with some fieldwork in Oregon and elsewhere in the spring and summer.

During the 30 years as a volunteer and as an employee, I probably met more ornithologist than birds, mostly at the museum, but also at other museums and ornithological meetings. Certainly, the list is far more international than my bird list. Because of my interest in Oregon birds, I made a point of meeting Ira N. Gabrielson, who, with his junior author Stanley S. Jewett, wrote “Birds of Oregon,” a vintage 1940 monograph that was still the primary source for the state’s birds. Dr. Gabrielson was a large round and gracious man sitting at his desk where he headed the Wildlife Management Institute a few blocks from the museum. I was just a couple of years into working in the Division of Birds but I had high hopes of redoing the old Oregon tome, and said so to Dr. Gabrielson. He wished me well and sent a letter permitting quotations of anything from his book. I worked diligently on the taxonomy of Northwestern Birds during my career, and contributed my findings to a new Oregon book published in 2003.

In just about five years since 1963, when I was making my way north to Maine, the skyline, especially in Arlington, changed dramatically. Growth continued to alter the landscape and it was going strong in 1996 when I left for Oregon. There became fewer trees although the size of the parks were stable. With the increase of human usage of parks, the abundance of breeding birds seemed to diminish. This conclusion is strictly anecdotal. I have no data although there may some out there that shows that human activity, noise and movement, is detrimental to breeding birds. Statues, monuments and buildings became darker from the accumulation of caustic pollutants. Periodic washing and sandblasting scrubbed parts of the city to its former self, but pigeon and blackbird dropping mounds were abundant. Towering magnolias, with their thick broad evergreen leaves are favored by roosting Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. During the night, the hordes of birds left not only their droppings but also the dead bodies of those birds not surviving cold winter nights. I could relate to the cold. Trekking in an open field on the way to a riparian edge of the windy Potomac River on a Christmas Count with Dick Zusi or Marshall Howe was so cold that frozen jaws prevented verbally tallying our lists.

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