By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
There were few days in James Eike’s life that were not “glorious”, “wonderful”, or “perfect”, according to his own description. It’s Eike’s apparent enthusiasm for life that first inspired an extraordinary interest in me for his field books. My curiosity became admiration for so dedicated and constant a lover of birds.
Eike’s field notes record a sampling of the bird population in Northern Virginia over the course of 30+ years through the daily notes on birds he observed at his homes in Falls Church and Fairfax and in surrounding areas. His collection, Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7342, consists of more than 80 pocket sized spiral notebooks and hundreds of bird checklists. Unlike most creators of field notes we catalog, however, Eike was not a professional scientist. Furthermore, his field notes do not correspond to a collection of specimen. What, then, makes Eike’s notes so special?
There are several valuable aspects to Eike’s field notes, despite the lack of a specimen collection and professional training of the creator. One, Eike rarely missed a day in over 30 years of bird watching, even asking neighbors and friends to bird watch if he could not. Second, Eike’s bird watching focused on a concentrated location—Northern Virginia—mostly at or near his home (although Eike occasionally bird watched in Maryland, DC, North Carolina, and other locations). Third, in addition to his field notes which contained freehand lists and observations, mostly of birds in his neighborhood, Eike kept preprinted checklists of birds from numerous field trips each year. Finally, Eike’s notes contain historical weather data because he noted weather conditions, often including temperatures.
On a more personal level, Eike’s notes are one example of the intrinsic value of field notes because of the integration of these notes into all aspects of his life. Often above, below, or sometimes just beside the list of birds spotted, Eike would include snippets of the events from his life. Some of these snippets reflected personal triumphs, some pieces of history, still others (a majority) the love he felt for wife Claire, daughter Sue, and grand-daughter Rachel. Some examples follow.
November 22, 1963: “[…] Pres. Kennedy Killed in Dallas, died 1PM. Song sps, starlings […] Heartbreak Day! The kind, humorous, sincere man’s voice stilled”.
March 20, 1969: “Haze and overcast […] green heron, bob white […] Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin landed on moon! […] Red bellies, downys […]”.
July 29, 1979: “Sun, 70-85 degrees. Bay Ridge Horse Show—Rachel won two ribbons!! […] Observed at Bay ridge equestrian stables on 7/29 (8:40AM-12:40PM), 1 bob white, 20 killden […]”.
April 6, 1980: “Our 40th Anniversary!! […] 1 purple finch [♀] (s), white crowns, juncos, […]”.
Eike continued to take notes until just weeks before he died on February 8, 1983 at the age of 82. On January 17, 1983 he ecstatically wrote “[…] Sue and Rachel arrived! So great! Bluebirds [...]”. Eike’s final entry was on Jan 21, 1983. Beneath this entry, Claire writes “fini”, as instructed by Eike. Claire, herself an avid bird watcher, resumed the notes in June and finished out the notebook believing Eike would have wanted her to.
Eike’s personality, constancy, dedication and love of bird watching did not go unrewarded. Shortly after his death, the Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO), of which James and Claire Eike were long time members, created the James W. Eike Service Award in Eike’s honor. This honor is still awarded today.