Alexander Wetmore and friends [Jim Seely, Clarence Cook, and Art Rudy] in North Freedom, Wisconsin, February 22, 1902. SIA2011-2231.
Alexander Wetmore and friends [Jim Seely, Clarence Cook, and Art Rudy] in North Freedom, Wisconsin, February 22, 1902. SIA2011-2231.
Lesser frigate-bird colony, Phoenix Island, 1965. This photograph was taken by researcher Robert R. Fleet during his work with the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2011-1362.
|Primate, 1960. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 01-096, Martin H. Moynihan Papers, 1952-1996. Box 1, Folder 29 (Envelope 1). SIA2014-01181.|
Visual documentation—photographs, sketches, illustrations, video—can be a powerful tool for recording observations, with or without text. Each method has inherent benefits and drawbacks. A sketch may not be as “accurate” as a photograph, but a few lines of a sketch may record exactly the detail a collector wishes to remember. A photograph can be a great way to record behaviors that occur quickly, or details for later study. Just take a look at the field notes of Martin H. Moynihan, and see what I mean.
|Martin H. Moynihan's field notes on Alouatta palliata [South Pacific Blackish Howling Monkey] with drawing, August 30, 1961. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 01-096, Martin H. Moynihan Papers, 1952-1996. Box 2, Folder 3. SIA2014-03780.|
M. Moynihan was the first Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and a noted authority on animal behavior. His field notes are packed with images documenting the behaviors and interactions of the wildlife he observed. He chose to study a startlingly wide array of fauna: primates, birds, and squid. For each, he utilized drawing and photography, depending in the needs and challenges of the work.
Images in this Flickr set were selected to demonstrate how the method chosen affects the information imparted in his notes. Moynihan’s spare and elegant manner of drawing is particularly adept at proving how drawings can clarify or highlight a particular trait.
Curious to learn more? Check out Moynihan’s transcribed notes on Smithsonian Transcription Center.
View from LORAN tower on Sand-Johnston Island, including antenna supports, 1964. Photograph was taken as part of field documentation for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2013-08810.
|Cypress Swamp in South Carolina, 1898. Photograph is from personal papers of Florence Merriam Bailey, documenting travel in the vicinity of Summerville, South Carolina. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007417, Box 2, Folder "Photograph of F.M.B., undated". SIA2014-01855.|
At the Field Book Project, we've come across married couples that worked together in the field, but few quite like Vernon Orlando Bailey (1864-1942) and Florence Merriam Bailey (1863-1948). Not only did both enjoy long, fruitful careers in their respective fields, but they also have their own field documentation. Vernon Bailey worked as a Field Biologist for the US Biological Survey, and wrote and collected extensively for the organization. Florence Bailey was known for her study and writing in the field of ornithology.
The Smithsonian Transcription Center recently added field books from both of these individuals to those awaiting volunteer input. In order to highlight this couple's unique contributions, the Field Book Project has launched a new Flickr set of images from their personal papers.
|Kangaroo rat specimen, Continental, Arizona, 1921. Photograph taken by Sterling Bunnell for Vernon Orlando Bailey. Bailey worked as a field naturalist for the United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Biological Survey. Bailey was particularly interested in rodents, especially Dipodomys, or kangaroo rat. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 007267, Box 5 Folder 12. SIA2011-1399.|
Both Florence and Vernon advocated for the wildlife they studied. Much of Florence Merriam Bailey’s field work and writing focused on the protection of birds, and she was a strong proponent for the use of binoculars instead of shotguns to observe them. Vernon Bailey had a long-held concern for humane animal population control. He went so far as to design and manufacture more humane traps and educate the public on their use. Images include field photographs Vernon Bailey used in relation to his work for more humane trapping techniques. Images from the Florence Bailey field book document her field work and travels.
By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Vernon Orlando Bailey hated being away from home and that is likely why I found a photograph of his wife, Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, tucked into the back of one of his field books. The black-and-white photograph is dated March 1900, and was taken just a few months after their wedding. This is an interesting find because it is located in Bailey’s field notes from his trip to Oregon and northern California in Autumn of 1909, nearly ten years after the photograph was originally taken.
|Photograph of Florence Merriam Bailey found in field book of Vernon Bailey. Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA 007267, Box 2, Folder 14. SIA2013-05307.|
Photograph of birds on antenna supports for LORAN tower on Sand-Johnston Island, 1963, and was part of field documentation for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, on Sand-Johnston Island. SIA2013-08806.
Fregata minor [Great Frigatebird] 18 days old, on Christmas Island [Kiritimati], Kiribati, 1967. The chick was photographed to document its development, as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2013-07653.
Red-tailed Tropicbird chick on Kure Atoll (c. 1960's) was photographed as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2013-07694.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Blackfoot Albatross chick in "sweater", Kure Atoll (undated). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 9, Envelope 1. SIA2013-07687.
Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 9, Folder 1. SIA2013-07688.
Field photography can sometimes be the most interesting and intriguing of the field notes we catalog. A photograph can be surprisingly useful: images of terrain give a viewer a snapshot in time of an environment’s composition, level of development, and types of vegetation once common. Photographs of specimens can be important for knowing original appearance since organisms sometimes change in appearance after death.
As informative as these photographs are, they can be also the source of delightful surprises. They may record details that one simply wouldn’t expect to find in field photography. We discovered our own ornithological mystery recently in Record Unit 000245 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program.
As I was cataloging one collection of photographs, I came across a photograph with an entertaining caption, “Albatross chick in a sweater.” One of the joys of this project has been discovering the lighter side of field work documented in field books. Scientific field work is a serious business to be sure, involving long hours, difficult locations, and limited time. However it can be a source of humor, comradery, and unexpected inspiration (and unexpected photographs). I began to check with colleagues for input on the photograph. We were able to develop a decent conjecture as to the composition of the sweater. As to why the bird is in a sweater, we are still working on that.
In our search to discover why, we’ve found some interesting facts regarding birds in sweaters. In 2011 there was a call out to knitters to provide penguins in New Zealand with sweaters after an oil spill to prevent them from ingesting oil on their feathers during preening. In 2010, there was a call put out across England for sweaters to keep balding hens warm.
These are the earliest references to bird clothing we have found. So why were POBSP participants addressing the clothing needs of their feathered friends so much earlier? It’s still a mystery yet to be solved. If you have ideas or input as to the reason for this photograph, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Curious to learn more about the field book collection?
Edgar A. Mearns, c. 1900. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU000095, Box 17, Folder 1. NHB-21452.
Edgar Alexander Mearns (1856-1916) was an army surgeon and field naturalist. He developed an early interest in natural history, studying the flora and fauna around his home in Highland Falls, New York. Mearns' primary biological interests were ornithology and mammalogy. During his tours in the US Army he managed to collect extensively across the United States, United States-Mexican border as member of the United States-Mexican International Boundary Survey (serving as medical officer), and the Philippines. The National Museum of Natural History houses thousands of his specimens, 30,000 just from his collecting during 1892 to 1894. Though not initially a professional collector, he was well respected in the field natural history, and was even invited by Theodore Roosevelt to accompany the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition as naturalist. From 1909 to 1910, Mearns explored parts of British East Africa from Mount Kenia to the White Nile. Mearns' last expedition was in 1911, when he served as a naturalist with the Childs Frick Expedition to Africa.
During his years of collecting, he shared his interest with his son Louis. The quote below is from one of his field book “E. A. Mearns field book, 1902” from collection SIA Acc. 11-097, and shows that this shared enjoyment of natural history was not just limited to his son.
Spermophilus mexicanus parvidens – A pair of these ground squirrels was given me by a Seminole woman at Ft. Clark, Texas. They were caught by pouring water down their holes, and taken as they emerged therefore to escape drowning. I let them go in our back yard at Ft. Clark beside a pile of old lumber in which they sought shelter. Later they dug a burrow beneath this heap of rubbish having an exit outside the bound fence which enclosed the yard. These squirrels and a rabbit which likewise resided in the same pile of rubbish in the corner of our yard were the theme of numerous comments by my wife and children in my absence during the Spanish War. Under date of November 10, 1898, my wife wrote: “the squirrel has a big hold in the yard, and he is carrying down excelsior for his winter nest. I like to see them around.” Lepus bachmam(?) – Louis di Z. Mearns [Edgar Mearns’s son] wrote June 22, 1898: “our rabbit has a hold in the front yard under a tree, and I saw it twice today.”
To learn more about this and other materials, visit Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center.
This is the first of a joint blog series by the Field Book Project (FBP) and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), showcasing examples of digital connections between collectors, field book catalog records, and the resulting publications of collecting events.
Over the summer the Field Book Project and Biodiversity Heritage Library examined some of the fascinating stories and natural history documentation that resulted from major expeditions. In the past, expeditions were the best way to expediently collect in many regions of the world. Expeditions still occur today, but they were far more common before the advent of major changes in transportation. Expeditions tend to generate great stories; the mix of personalities, challenges, and exotic locations seem to make it inevitable. For much of the nineteenth century, expeditions were often organized as needed; they could be heavily influenced by the temperaments of the people leading them. Strong personalities among the leaders sometimes led to serious conflicts (curious to learn more? Check out the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) biography on John Wesley Powell, the Survey’s second director, and its discussion of the Powell, Hayden, King, and Wheeler Surveys). These conflicts and the US government’s growing need for more consistent information about its natural resources eventually led to fundamental changes in the way collecting was completed. Eventually the US federal government established organizations like the US Bureau of Fisheries, US Geological Survey, US Biological Survey whose primary purpose was to routinely collect, document, and eventually oversee some of the nation’s natural resources.
These organizations and their first collectors often involve great stories, but also provide wonderful examples of the types of field work documented. Additionally, their efforts were for the United States’s benefit, and the resulting reports and publications are now available through resources like the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This new blog series is a chance to highlight the different types of collectors that formed these organizations.
United States Biological Survey (USBS)
The first story will highlight the beginnings of the US Biological Survey (USBS), originally formed by C. Hart Merriam under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The story forms around two individuals of note—C. Hart Merriam (first chief of USBS) and Vernon Bailey (USBS’s first major specimen collector and naturalist). These individuals each had unique ways of coming to their field of study, method of work, and differing output, but each was an important contributor to their discipline. Their catalog records and publications are also available through FBP and BHL (see content links below).
US Biological Survey staff, including Vernon O. Bailey and C. Hart Merriam, 1919.
C. Hart Merriam was a biologist, whose work at the end of the 19th century was instrumental in the emerging field of ecology. His field work and affiliation with the USDA led to his "life zones" concept. In 1885 he was chosen to head the Section of Economic Ornithology in the USDA. His vision for the section eventually shifted its focus from only birds to include mammals. By 1896 it became the USBS, later merging with other federal entities to form the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1883, C. Hart Merriam began corresponding with a young man in Minnesota with an interest in collecting, named Vernon Bailey. This relationship developed over the decades, and proved an important influence on the shaping and growth of the USBS. Merriam had a strong educational background in science and was well established in the USDA. But for the USBS to develop, he needed people in the field. Bailey did not have a formal education in the sciences, but showed a natural aptitude for collecting that Merriam mentored through their correspondence. In 1885, Bailey began sending collections to Merriam, and in 1887, Merriam hired Bailey as the first field agent for Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy (what would become USBS). Bailey went on to collect for over 50 years, and became the first and only chief field naturalist of the USBS in 1890, a position he held until his death in 1933.
Florence Merriam Bailey, taken shortly after her wedding, March 1900. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA 007267, Box 2, Folder 14.
Their relationship proved important on a personal level as well. During one of Bailey’s visits to Washington, DC, he stayed at Merriam’s home. This provided a chance to meet Merriam’s sister, Florence Merriam Bailey, who was a distinguished naturalist in her own right. Vernon and Florence would marry in 1899. Throughout their marriage they completed field work together and co-wrote natural sciences publications.
Perhaps the best way to see how these individuals’ styles of work and interests differed, is to examine their field books and publications.
Field Books from the Field Book Project:
Publications at Biodiversity Heritage Library:
We invite you to check out our next post, and find out more the background of these fascinating individuals, organizations, and how you can learn more about their research online.
By Andrea Hall, Fall Intern, Field Book Project
There are items in the Field Book Project requiring conservation treatment so involved, that they span the terms of more than one intern. The book, “Original Labels, #1 - #15499” that Summer Conservation Intern, Tessa Gadomski wrote about in August was one of these items. The book includes over 120 pages of bird specimen labels adhered in multiple ways, each page needing different levels of treatment. It was an exciting project. As the Fall Conservation Intern on the Field Book Project, I was able to hit the ground running, using the treatment proposal that Tessa had prepared and the work she had already completed this summer. Each page was cleaned with soft sponges; the many pins and paperclips were removed and noted. Broken hinges were repaired or replaced, and any stuck labels were lifted gently.
The pins and paperclips proved a particularly interesting facet. 131 straight pins and paperclips were found throughout the book, all used to keep labels together. Straight pins aren’t actually an unusual method of keeping paper items together. Jane Austen used them to construct and edit manuscripts and modern editors are still comparing notes on the intended sequence of Walt Whitman poems based on the placement of pinholes (Whitman even used pins to bind a book!) George Washington had a massive and a bit mysterious stash of pins, too. The pins from “Original Labels, #1 - #15499” came in all shapes and sizes, some long and thin, others short and rusty. The paperclips had a lot of variety, too. I continued to save the pins and paperclips, as Tessa had done, so that the fascinating record of attachment could be saved.
|Image 1: Pins and Paperclips from “Original Labels, #1-#15499” from SIA Accession 12-485. Credit: Andrea Hall|
Don’t worry, I didn’t leave the previously pinned labels hanging! Any labels which had been attached with a pin or a paperclip were placed in specially made sleeves of polypropylene and Hollytex.
|Image 2: “Original Labels, #1-#15499” from SIA Accession 12-485. Credit: Andrea Hall|
|Image 3: “Original Labels, #1-#15499” from SIA Accession 12-485. Credit: Andrea Hall|
It was really great to get a chance to go more in depth with this treatment. This is just one (or really 131) of the many interesting things I’ve found in field books this fall. I’m looking forward to the next discovery!
We'd like to thank Andrea for all her great work this fall, and wish her the best of luck with her future endeavors.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|View from LORAN tower throug the antenna center structure on Sand-Johnston Island, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU00245, Box 225, Folder 11. SIA2013-08812.|
If you have ever wondered just how much a land mass can change, take a look at the island chains in the Pacific. These were often formed by repeated submarine volcanic eruptions that created islands as large of the Big Island of Hawaii or ones so small they are only a few acres in size and barely above sea-level. One of these smaller islands has repeatedly appeared in the field books cataloged by the Field Book Project. At only 22 acres in size, Sand Island is probably not a location known by many people. But it is a regular destination for pelagic birds, and thus has attracted years worth of ornithological field work. It later became part of the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and since 2009 has been part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This little island has had a pretty eventful history over the last century. Until the mid-twentieth century it had never been consistently occupied by people. However, the location proved useful to the US Navy and US Coast Guard for several decades. During this time there were as many of 300 personnel on Sand island, and its size was increased from 10 to 22 acres.
|Compiled image of aerial photographs taken of Sand-Johnston Island, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU000245, Box 225, Folder 11. SIA2013-08809.|
Many small islands have been documented in field notes cataloged by the Field Book Project, specifically in the collection RU000245 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, but this island’s documentation proved additionally interesting because of the presence of a LORAN station established in 1959 by the US Coast Guard.
|LORAN tower station on Sand-Johnston Island, 1963.Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU000245, Box 225, Folder 3. SIA2013-08808.|
LORAN is an abbreviation for Long Range Navigation. LORAN and later LORAN-C was a ground-based navigation system operated by the U.S. Coast Guard for the use of maritime and aviation traffic. Modern GPS navigation systems rendered the LORAN system obsolete and, in 2009, the structure on Sand Island was dismantled.
RU000245 has several years of field books and field photography of Sand Island documenting the pelagic birds that come annually to breed. What is so striking is that some of the visual documentation was taken from atop the LORAN tower.
Until you see pictures of the area, it may be a challenge to imagine just how small and flat the island is. The pictures in RU000245 impart of sense of proportion and distance but also an interesting sense of perspective. Vantage point can play an important part in field work imagery. We have seen numerous examples in the field photography of how distance and detail affects the information imparted.
These photographs not only provide information about the landscape but also a personal sense of the photographer’s efforts to acquire the images. Observing the photographer’s shoes in the shot brings a sense of perspective to the imagery that reminds me of the effort and time expended to make field photography possible--the miles sailed, planes flown, or in this case, the rungs climbed.
Interested in learning more? Check out some of these links from Time and Navigation Exhibit at National Air and Space Museum.
The Field Book Project has launched a new Flickr set, inspired by field photographs of Sand and Johnson Island, cataloged from Record Unit 000245, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP), 1961-1973.
Many of the images document the LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) tower station that was at Johnston Atoll; several are taken from various vantage points. These images demonstrate some of the heights scientific collectors are willing to go for their field work.
|Compiled image of aerial photographs taken of Sand-Johnston island, 1964. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 225, Folder 11. SIA2013-08809.|
A Fairy tern egg found on McKean Island, April 17, 1966. This photograph was taken by researcher Philip C. Shelton during his work with the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2011-1363.
Alexander Wetmore on Sierra San Xavier in Argentina in 1921. SIA RU 7006 Box 171 Folder Album 2 1920-1921. SIA2009-0429.
Alexander Wetmore was an ornithologist and the sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian. During 1911-1912 he collected in Puerto Rico, while working for the USDA’s Bureau of Biological Survey. He recorded his work in four volumes in which he described his daily activities, collecting methods, and observations of flora and fauna, as well as observations about the effect of tobacco and coffee plantations on the environment. In the fourth volume covering July 18 – September 15, he also discusses some of his less than stellar evenings on the island.
July 19, Friday -- Last night was certainly a bad one. First time in my life that bed bugs even kept me awake to amount to anything but I expect that all together I slept less than two hours. Got up twice turned on a light and first time killed 41 and next time 18. The pillows here are filled with a sort of seed something like cattail and then the mice or rats I did not know which tore a hole in mine and would not let it alone so finally I threw it in a corner on the floor.
By Smithsonian Institution Archives Conservation Technician Kirsten Tyree, and Field Book Project Interns Tessa Gadomski and Noah Smutz
During the past several months, the conservation team has been conducting a preservation assessment survey of over 6000 field books in the Departments of Fishes, Entomology, Birds, Mammals, and Botany and at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. We have been thoroughly examining each field book, noting any damage, preservation concerns, and repairs that need to be made, ultimately giving each item a score of 0-3 depending on the level of treatment and rehousing needed. You might think this would be tedious, yes? Quite the opposite! Almost every field book held a treasure inside, as we routinely came across the most bizarre and interesting things, from beautiful feathers nestled into the pages of a 19th century diary to amazing watercolor drawings that made us sigh and daydream briefly about being an adventurer scientist/artist exploring the world. We thought we would share a sampling of some of the more interesting things we have come across. Please enjoy!
Conservation Intern Noah Smutz found:
While surveying the Division of Mammals field books I came across these interesting drawings. They are from Abbott-Alcala Box No. 1. The folder is titled: Abbott, William Louis, Aldabra Id, Trong, Kashmir 1891-1893 in Acc. 12-156. These three drawings show tracings of a flying squirrel and flying squirrel pelts. It is quite exceptional to find life sized drawing of these animals. I especially enjoy the first one that has the “crime scene” outline of the squirrel and then over the top of that drawing is the outline of the squirrel’s pelt! While mildly morose these types of field drawings are a wealth of information from this expedition and are one of the many interesting things to be found in the Smithsonian Field Books!
|Drawing of flying squirrel, from "Abbott, William Louis, Aldabra Id, Trong, Kashmir 1891-1893 in Acc. 12-156." Credit: Noah Smutz, 2013.|
|Drawing of flying squirrel from "Abbott, William Louis, Aldabra Id, Trong, Kashmir 1891-1893" in Acc. 12-156. Credit: Noah Smutz, 2013.|
Conservation Intern Tessa Gadomski found:
In this field book from the National Museum of Natural History's Division of Birds, I found over 1,500 bird specimen tags, from a range of dates, attached to loose pages using all sorts of tapes, adhesives, paperclips, and pins. These tags were originally attached to bird specimens to allow researchers to identify the genus, species, and common name for each specimen. At some point around 1919, these tags were removed from the specimens, archived in this binder, and replaced with new tags. The collection of tags is titled “Original labels, #1 - #15499” from Box 36, Accession 12-485.
|Cover of “Original labels, #1 - #15499” from Accession 12-485. Credit: Tessa Gadomski, 2013.|
|“Original labels, #1 - #15499” from Accession 12-485. Credit: Tessa Gadomski, 2013.|
|“Original labels, #1 - #15499” from Accession 12-485. Credit: Tessa Gadomski, 2013.|
Conservation Technician Kirsten Tyree found:
Of all the things I expected to find in a field book this was the least of them: a handmade paper comb! Even more bizarre, it is from the Field Notes on insects in Fiji and the British Solomon Islands, 1915-1916, by William Mann. Perhaps entomologist Mann was feeling a bit ragged in the field and wanted to spiff up his hairdo or was just feeling bored and crafty one afternoon? The paper comb, field notes and diary of his trip can be found in Box 7 of Record Unit 007293.
|Drawing of comb from "Field Notes on insects in Fiji and the British Solomon Islands, 1915-1916" from Record Unit 007293. Credit: Kirsten Tyree, 2013.|
|Drawing of comb, unfolded, from "Field Notes on insects in Fiji and the British Solomon Islands, 1915-1916" from Record Unit 007293. Credit: Kirsten Tyree, 2013.|
We also found these beautiful feathers nicely labeled in the specimen list of Leonard Stejneger, 1870-1871, Record Unit 007074. They were carefully nestled into brown paper wrapping inside the book. It is always wonderful to find tangible links to their explorations!
|Cover of specimen "Specimen list, #101-448, 1870-1871," Record Unit 007074. Credit: Kirsten Tyree, 2013.|
|Feathers from specimens in paper wrapping found in "Specimen list, #101-448, 1870-1871," Record Unit 007074. Credit: Kirsten Tyree, 2013.|
|Feathers from specimens found in "Specimen list, #101-448, 1870-1871," Record Unit 007074. Credit: Kirsten Tyree, 2013.|
Curious to see more unexpected finds in field books? Check out some of these links:
Charles Overton Handley (1924-2000) as a mammalogist and curator in the National Museum of Natural History, Division of Mammals. In the 1940’s he spent several years participating in collecting ventures in the Canadian Arctic. The journals document his collecting, methods, and observations of professional and personal endeavors. It also appears he had a healthy appreciation for a good meal as he discusses below in a quote from “C. O. Handley, Jr., Mould Bay, Prince Patrick Island, NWT, Canada, 18 April - 31 July 1949.”
[April 28, 1949] Come to the arctic for good food! I don’t think it would be possible for a steak to be thicker, juicier, or tenderer. Wouldn’t a lot of people in the states give a pretty penny for one of the carcasses in our storehouse? One hind quarter yielded as many steaks that it was difficult even for eight super chow hounds to prevent any of it from being thrown to the dogs...
To learn more about this and other materials in his collection, we encourage you to visit Smithsonian Collection Search Center.
Laysan Albatross chick on Kure Atoll (c. 1960's) was photographed as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 13, Envelope 1. SIA2013-07693.
The Field Book Project has launched a new Flickr set, inspired by the many field photographs we have cataloged from Record Unit 000245, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP), 1961-1973. The Program deployed over 40 Smithsonian Institution employees to conduct biological surveys of plants and animals that occurred on the islands and atolls. A major focus was determining migration, distribution, and populations of seabirds.
These images were selected from a series of photographs taken by program staff to document development of the various pelagic birds studied on Kiritimati Island and Kure Atoll. Among the images is a series documenting the development of a Great Frigatebird, from 1 to 140 days old.
Fregata minor chick on Kiritimati Island (1967) was photographed to document its development, as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. RU 000245, Box 220, Folder 16, Envelope 2. SIA2013-07652.
Fregata minor chick on Kiritimati Island (1967) was photographed to document its development, as part of field work completed during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. RU 000245, Box 220, Folder 16, Envelope 2. SIA2013-07675.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Today I find the need to take a moment to mourn the passing of someone who died April 3, 1912. I did not know him, am not related to him, but somehow his passing comes as a shock as I go through my usual work duties. As a cataloger I document the field books of individuals who in many cases are either long out of the field or deceased. Working at the Smithsonian I have the opportunity to work with really interesting field books. These sometimes are personal in nature.
Necessity dictates that I have limited time with each field book, but for those individuals whose collections are large, I think it is probably inevitable that I develop a sense of their personality. I and the other catalogers who have been part of the Field Book Project have all come across collectors whose field books inspired an level of affinity. One of my colleagues touched on this aspect in a blog in June of 2012 about Edgar Mearns and his son Louis.
I recently had the opportunity to catalog a few of Edgar Mearns’s materials. I was thrilled to have an excuse to examine his field books first hand. If you read his field book records, you will see that several include entries for specimens collected by his son. These start when his son was 4 years old. From the stories I’ve heard from researchers and staff that have used his materials, he sounded like a lovely individual with an endearingly close relationship with his son. My favorite example of this relationship is a reference in a field book abstract to the “Collecting Expedition to Chepachet Post Office, Glocester Township, Providence County, Rhode Island,” made by Dr. Edgar A. Mearns and his son, Louis di Zerega Mearns, 1-8 September 1900. I was utterly charmed by the idea of a father turning a trip to the post office into an expedition with his child.
I found my own proof of his strong familial connections in one of the field books I cataloged which inspired an upcoming post. While searching for appropriate supporting materials, I came across an obituary for Louis di Zerega Mearns. It is a very complimentary and succinct article in the Auk, and much to my dismay, was written by his father. Louis passed away at age 26 from diphtheria, 4 years before his father.
The emotion caught me by surprise. Yet, as I think of it, many people develop close emotional connections to their favorite sports teams, favorite characters on television, celebrities, reality television personalities, and any number of celebrated individuals (scientists and such) they may never have the chance to meet.
When examining these personal materials, even as briefly as I do, the stories they carry have a way of staying with me. These stories provide a framework for my remembering the natural history documentation I catalog but also add to my knowledge and respect for the institution where I work, appreciation for the people whose work I document, and sometimes a poignant reminder of the highs and lows of a life lived.
This is the fourth in a 4 part joint blog series by the Field Book Project (FBP) and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), showcasing examples of digital connections between museum specimens, field book catalog records, and the resulting publications.
Hiram Bingham (1875-1956). Smithsonian Institution Archives. Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham of Yale University went on expedition to Peru; during that fateful trip, he “discovered” and studied an early, terraced city that has since fascinated the international public for more than a century, Machu Picchu. Though there is some question as to whether he was the first foreigner to visit the site, Bingham’s archeological work during the expedition enflamed the imaginations of the public and inspired organizations like National Geographic Society to fund several subsequent trips to the site. One of these was the National Geographic Society Yale University Peruvian Expedition, 1915.
The expedition explored and excavated the ruins, and also collected natural history specimens. Expedition staff included those of various disciplines. Though the primary focus may have been the archeological study of Machu Picchu, collected items also included: mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. The majority of materials collected were kept by Yale University; however specimens like the insects collected by Harry W. Foote were deposited with the US National Museum.
The 3 expeditions discussed in this blog series demonstrate just how important cataloging and digitizing the different types of documentation are to understanding the complete story of historical scientific collection events. Take a look at a specimen, and a researcher can make contemporary observations. Take a look at the published materials and a researcher can find a scientist’s detailed study of an expedition’s specimens to compare to those contemporary observations. Take a look at the field books and a researcher can find a wealth of information that led the scientist to those conclusions, and more. Many of these field books include environment description (weather, terrain, vegetation) that may not be needed for a specific type of publication.
"Narciso and Tomas," Peruvian guides and helpers packing the mules to go. The photo was taken by Edmund Heller while on the Peruvian Expedition of 1914-15, which was sponsored by Yale University and The National Geographic Society. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 7179, Box 8, Folder 18.
This expedition is a great example of how materials end up in seemingly unexpected places. Though one would anticipate finding field documentation with National Geographic Society or Yale University, amazingly Smithsonian has 23 field books from this expedition--not from Harry Foote, but from the expedition naturalist, Edmund Heller. Edmund Heller collected for numerous institutions over the course of his career, but for some reason, the majority of his field books reside in various departments of the Smithsonian. Field notes from this expedition can be found in links in the Expedition record and located in three collections.
• Smithsonian Institution Library, NMNH collection Acc. 12-015
• NMNH Division of Mammals collection Acc. 12-212
• Smithsonian Institution Archives collection RU 007179
Specimens prove consistently challenging to track down. One must often know the collector, location, and/or time period. Out of the NMNH’s ten online specimen databases, only 4 have a field to document if the specimen was collected during an expedition. When specimens were found that indicated they came from the expedition, each used a different version of the expedition name.
Related publications found, include:
• Amphibians and reptiles from southern Peru collected by the Peruvian expedition of 1914-1915 under the auspices of Yale University and the National Geographic Society http://biodiversitylibrary.org/part/17888#/summary
• Report on the Mammalia collected by Mr. Edmund Heller during the Peruvian Expedition of 1915 under the auspices of Yale University and the National Geographic Society http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/part/17869#/summary
• The distribution of bird life in the Urubamba valley of Peru; a report on the birds collected by the Yale university National geographic society's expeditions, http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/60345#/summary
• The Andes of southern Peru; geographical reconnaissance along the seventy-third meridian, http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/52102#/summary
USNM 273005. Diglossa lafresnayii albilinea. One of three collected By Edmund Heller during expedition.
The Field Book Project has cataloged in 8 departments of the Smithsonian and is continuing to its work; locating and cataloging books in the stacks of scientific departments, libraries, and archives. Some were located only because Smithsonian staff knew of their existence in departments. There are now more than 7100 field book records from nearly a 100 expeditions and collecting events in Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center with more to come. To date, the BHL is providing free and open access to nearly 60,000 publications, many of which record the outputs of these expeditions. In order to understand the full story from the field work to the published work, one must have all three elements of the [trifecta] available, including the specimens. Many natural history institutions are working hard to provide digital access to their specimen collections, hidden behind closed doors, for researchers and the public. SI has been working for decades to catalog and digitize its scientific specimen collections and they are becoming increasingly more accessible online through efforts separate from the FBP and BHL.
These efforts are all part of a vision shared by the FBP and the BHL to someday involve a cross-disciplinary approach where the complete story of field notes, specimens and publications that make up important scientific collecting events are freely available at users' fingertips. We encourage you to take a look at some of the materials we’ve identified, and see the potential for yourself.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Allen Anderson and Allen Young hold up a Black-footed Albatross. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 230, Folder, 15. SIA2011-1439.
This is a story about a very large collection: Record Unit 000245 National Museum of Natural History, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP), records, circa 1961-1973, with data from 1923. Ask anyone who has cataloged for the Field Book Project and they will tell you, this is a collection that seems to have no end. We have been cataloging portions of it since 2011. It currently includes over 800 item records. That is an amazing percentage of the total 7000 field book records--and we’re still cataloging part of the collection. Keep in mind, the POBSP project ran for 12 years.
The collection is broken down by format. Diaries and notebooks with day to day collecting information were cataloged first. We are now cataloging the field correspondence.
Over the last two and a half years I’ve cataloged my share of field correspondence. This can be fairly dry material. It is also often filled with descriptions of tribulations and challenges: struggles with expenses, permits, travel, shipments, and personnel. One develops a real appreciation for the challenges that come with field work logistics.
The field correspondence for RU000245 is rather unique. POBSP was a project that required coordination of large numbers of staff spread over the Hawaiian Islands and parts of Alaska. There was also the challenge of coordinating activities and travel with the US Military. Letters seem to indicate these challenges brought along a lot of frustrations when trying to complete field work. Lucky for the men in the field (as far as I can tell it was all men collecting), there was someone in the home office that seemed to be well-organized, willing to read their complaints, and offer some needed levity.
When I started cataloging the Project correspondence, I was soon laughing out-loud at the contents. For all the logistical challenges and frustrations, the correspondents seemed to keep their sense of humor, and then I realized all these letters were being sent to the research secretary. It seems to me that a secretary of a department with so many in the field plays a unique role. References in letters describe her dealing with forwarding personal utility bills, negotiating staffing issues, among other challenges. Her letters indicate she did this well and with a good sense of humor that inspired the same in her correspondents.
Several letters I came across indicate that she was sometimes a field collector’s only correspondent and even made sure to send birthday cards. Collectors’ letters sometimes described painful conditions on islands that were isolated, hot, and dusty. They would band birds hours at a stretch in areas inundated with bird guano. Actually, bird guano is a consistent theme in the letters. These challenges appeared to inspire a great appreciation of her letters and cards by the recipients.
I can only imagine this lessened a little of the field collectors’ stress, knowing someone back home had an eye out for them. For me it makes the cataloging of field materials a lot more enjoyable.
Below are a few examples of the field correspondence.
“We are both hale and hearty and covered with Bonin Island Petrel and Fairy Tern you-know-what. The trunk with my clothes hasn’t arrived as yet so this tends to increase the perfume.” [Box 20, Folder 2]
“Will you please send me your fingerprints? If I can’t have a hand to hold please don’t deprive me of your fingerprints, too. Two sets, each on a standard gov’t form, from your nearest military security office.” [Box 20, Folder 2]
“You ask me ‘why no complaints’. Very simple. By the time I get everything straightened out I’m too tired to complain.” [Box 20, Folder 2]
"As on the first trip, only the term "nil" can describe the Navy's knowledge of our operation. Despite the fact that this was pointed out after the first trip, it needs to be pointed out again." [Box 20, Folder 1]
“Incidentally, why 6 sleeping bags when there are only 5 field team official sleepers? How many unofficial sleepers are there? And who is using all those blankets and sheets from the Surplus Store?” [Box 20, Folder 1]
Field work often seems fascinating. Many of our blogs describe field work in places like Macchu Picchu, newly formed Volcanoes (Paricutin), or the seeming ends of the earth like Antarctica. As captivating as field work appears, there are inherent stresses that come with working in far flung locations. I am glad to know people like this secretary were on the home front, making it a little easier.
Wedge-tailed shearwater chick, Lisianski Island, October 1966.This photograph was taken by researcher Patrick J. Gould during his work with the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. SIA2011-1364.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Kenneth C. Balcomb [POBSP participant] banding a young Black-footed albatross on Laysan Island, June 12, 1966. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245. Image # SIA2011-1359.
My blog posts usually start with a question about field book content. This one started with a question about how to define the entity that created the field books. When we catalog field books, we also create records for the creators: persons, expeditions, or organizations. In this instance, I cataloged a collection and couldn't initially decide if the creator was an organization or an expedition. You'd think this would be easy to figure out, and yet somewhere around the mid-twentieth century, there were significant changes in the way major collecting efforts like expeditions were organized and conducted that required me to rethink whether it still fit our definition of an expedition.
When I first cataloged for the Field Book Project, most of the collections were from the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Expeditions of that era sometimes lasted for years. When I began to catalog collections from the early to mid-twentieth century, I noticed that collectors were able to return home periodically during their expeditions because of the advent of air travel. I started finding expeditions that seemed to go out seasonally over a period of years. Some of these are defined as one long expedition with breaks, others as individual expeditions that are part of a series over several years.
South Africa, Nkonkoni: George Hughes [AMP participant] collecting trapped mammals and radioing back to camp from Lebombo Mountains, 6 miles north of Mkuze, April 1964. Photographed by A. C. Risser, Smithsonian African Mammal Project collection. Courtesy of Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History.
So imagine my surprise when I found what seemed to be a significant change in naming terminology for collecting trips, around the 1960s. We've come across several collecting trips from the 1960s that might have previously been called expeditions, but instead were called surveys, projects, and programs. Since cataloging materials from the mid to late twentieth century, I've seen little of the term “expedition.” So what changed? I'm still trying to figure that out.
The change seems to correlate with speed of travel and a change in available staff. Many of these "projects" like Pacific Survey Biological Ocean Program (POBSP), African Mammal Project (AMP), and Smithsonian Venezuela Project (SVP), involved large numbers of personnel (often graduate students), over a tremendously wide expanse of territory. Perhaps the structure of these vast collecting events was better suited to new terminology.
Since the 1960s, there seems to be a major shift in how the word “expedition” is used. When doing research for recent collections I've cataloged, I still find expeditions in the literature, but the majority of the organized collecting efforts we have cataloged since the 1960s do not use the term. When doing online research, I've noticed the word “expedition” has taken on a more commercial/recreational meaning. I often get results discussing vacation options with scientists as guides, run by any number of major museums. Whatever the reason for the shift, it appears that the term “expedition” has been adapted for trips that fall, to my eyes, more into the realm of ecotourism.
The Field Book Project has cataloged almost two hundred years of field work documentation. It has been fascinating to see how some aspects of collecting change and others remain consistent. Sometimes the reason for the change is self-evident. Others like my quandary with the apparent change in names, I am only left to ponder.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Many of us enjoy the great American outdoors, going for hikes in national parks or nature walks near home. One prepares for a multitude of possible challenges: adverse weather, a run-in with wildlife, or possible injury. How many people prepare for the possibility of discovering an illegal moonshine still?
February 16, 1923 Entry from A. H. Howell’s field book housed in Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History. SIA Acc. 12-443. Photograph by Lesley Parilla.
While locating biographical information on collectors, I have come across a handful of stories recounting specimen collectors coming across moonshine stills. I enjoyed these stories in passing; however, I recently came across a reference to a still in a field book entry. The entry was terse, and initiated a series of questions for me. How many times had this happened? What wasn’t written down? The more I considered these questions, the more I wondered about the precautions and approaches collectors might take in this kind of situation.
How does one deal with the unexpected discovery of illegal activities in an isolated place and the diplomatic requirements of such a situation?
One of the first stories I came across was told by Ashley Gurney in an obituary for Harry A. Allard. He recounted that when Allard collected in the mountains of Virginia, he was careful to “avoid locations of stills and bring cigars for men with whom he became acquainted.”
How often have scientists come across a still because the user inadvertently harmed the surrounding wildlife, thus attracting government attention?
This question came expressly after I found the journal entry (that inspired this blog) of A. H. Howell who was working for the US Biological Survey (USBS).
[February 16, 1923] Riverton, Kansas, with Mr. Chas. Williams…and observed the ducks on Spring River where the sickness had been. Williams had already found out that the malady was caused by eating sour mash dumped near a bootlegger’s camp.
It turns out that this quote was not the anomaly for the US Biological Survey that I initially thought it was. With a little research, I found there was a surprising correlation between the history of USBS efforts and illegal alcohol.
What challenges did USBS face because of these kinds of activities?
This part of the story begins when the USBS (established in 1885) was put in the role of enforcer of the Lacey Act. The law prohibits shipment of illegally taken wildlife and importation of species across state lines. Additionally, between 1908 and 1918, the Biological Survey took on the responsibility of establishing and running new bird refuges as farmers took over existing migratory bird habitat for new farm land; for more background on this, read our blog post from 2011 on duck bombs. Treaties signed with Canada and Mexico during this time imposed additional restrictions. Then came Prohibition (1920 to 1933) and the Great Depression (1929 – c. 1939).
It turns out that the sites for many of the refuges were appealing not just to wildlife but also to bootleggers and moonshiners. They were isolated and well-situated for hiding from the authorities. During the 1930’s there was a significant increase in the number of refuges as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act also ensured more consistent funding for the USBS and meant they could hire more staff to monitor and maintain the refuges. In fact many of the early field books we have cataloged for the Field Book Project document investigations of proposed or existing wildlife refuges.
So the bootleggers were in the refuges (several refuge museums even feature stills found within their borders), and USBS staff were monitoring their wildlife populations. What now you ask? It seems that the bootleggers realized that they had the infrastructure to move more than alcohol. During the 1930’s they began to bootleg ducks. Yes, ducks. Ducks were killed (out of season and against the statutes of international treaty) and then were transported by bootleggers to restaurants and nightclubs, sometimes also the recipients of bootlegged alcohol. Some of the interactions between bootleggers and USBS staff took a violent turn.
Luckily the vast majority of the references I have found indicate that any exchange between USBS and still owners was usually peaceful. But, for me, it highlights that the challenges and difficulties of collecting in the field are not just finding flora and fauna.
US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Origins of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Retrieved September 6, 2012 from http://training.fws.gov/history/TimelinesOrigins.html
Gurney, Ashley B. (1964). Harry A. Allard, Naturalist: His Life and Work (1880-1963) Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, 91 (2), 151-164. Retrieved February 23, 2011 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2483615
US Department of Agriculture, Office of Information. (December 31, 1928). [Press Release] Secretary Jardire Commends Bravery of Game Protector. Retrieved September 25, 2012 from http://www.fws.gov/news/historic/1928/19281231.pdf
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Larry Huber photographs Noddy tern on East Island, French Frigate Shoals, as part of the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, August 9, 1965. Smithsonian Institution Archives RU 000245. SIA2011-1438.
Documenting biodiversity is an important part of the Field Book Project. I recently came across a more visceral side of biodiversity while cataloging. It demonstrates the “interconnectedness” of nature in a practical sense -- ectoparasites as disease vectors. Ectoparasites are really annoying insects and other arthropods like fleas, mites, ticks, lice that spread diseases…you don’t get more connected than that.
This topic is perhaps more relevant to current events than the typical Field Book Project blog post topic. West Nile virus, N1H1 virus, and Lyme disease are all examples of diseases spread through disease vectors.
The field books that we have cataloged relating to this subject represent one facet of the Smithsonian’s research on disease vectors. The Department of Entomology has had an ongoing relationship with the US Army, Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit (WRBU) since 1961. The two organizations work together to manage and develop the NMNH Mosquito Collection, which has become the largest of its kind at 1.5 million specimens. The collection relates to the Army’s efforts to plan for possible disease vectors at new locations where military are deployed.
Since the beginning of the Field Book Project we have cataloged notes from several collecting efforts that studied disease vectors. In the Division of Birds and Division of Mammals, we came across four Smithsonian projects and field books from the US Army Hemorrhagic Fever Team as well as Naval Medical Research Units (NAMRU). These spanned 1950’s to 1970’s and encompassed impressive amounts of geography. The four projects are: the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP), U.S. Palearctic Migratory Bird Survey, Venezuela Project, and Smithsonian African Mammal Project.
I cataloged a portion of the POBSP collection in the Division of Birds; it was the first time I came across detailed notes on not only wildlife (in this case birds), but also transects of vegetation in habitat, and ectoparasites found on the birds, all in the same journals. This project was one of several that received a portion of its funding from the Department of Defense. I was intrigued by the projects’ similarities in timing, size, and funding; I wondered if the similarities were coincidence or if there was something in common influencing the structure and timing of all the projects.
Survey data sheet from the Smithsonian Venezuela Project. Housed at the Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History. Photographed by Lesley Parilla.
But first I’d like to talk a little more about the type of information recorded in field notes for these projects. The study of ectoparasites constituted a significant portion of the African Mammal Project’s field books I recently cataloged, and unlike POBSP, notes on host animals and ectoparasites were recorded in separate catalogs. Often entitled “bug books,” collectors would record the presence of ectoparasites collected from the mammal specimens, and note the presence of fleas, mites, ticks, lice; as well as genus of host. The Smithsonian Venezuelan project yielded even more detailed information per mammal host. These included survey data sheets that recorded per mammal specimen recording:
These also included an additional 18 other pieces of information about the mammal host. When I started cataloging in entomology, I spoke with one of the scientists who informed me that some of the collected ectoparasites are in the Smithsonian entomology collection.
I had a chance to speak to Pam Henson, Director of the Institutional History Division at the Smithsonian Institution, about these projects. It turns out these projects came at an interesting time in the history of the Smithsonian and federally funded research. The Smithsonian houses and cares for national collections of the United States; the institution maintains long term relationships with the agencies that contributed to these collections. Scientists who work for the Smithsonian historically conduct pure science research. When we find field books relating to applied science research (usually of economic or medical importance), the work was typically completed by federal agency like US Department of Agriculture, US Geological Survey, and US Biological Survey; specimens from the organizations were transferred to the Smithsonian who became caretaker of the collections. This is how NMNH came to include the NAMRU and Hemorrhagic Fever Team field books. The military team field books are from conflict zones during the 1950’s and 1960’s and document collecting of mammals and insects to study sites of disease outbreaks among troops, like work completed by the US Army Hemorrhagic Fever Team. The resulting mammal specimens were given to the Smithsonian along with the field books as documentation.
The four Smithsonian projects mentioned earlier were major undertakings involving applied research conducted by Smithsonian staff. It seems that all of these projects garnered significant funding from DOD, partly because of growing concerns about disease vectors affecting troops in new locations. By the beginning of the 1970’s, the Smithsonian decided for several reasons that this type of research was outside its scope. Smithsonian staff returned their focus to pure science research, whose results could be shared without restriction.
These studies offer an amazingly clear example of interconnectedness of nature at work. The resulting documents can delineate relationships across types of flora and fauna to a specimen and its collecting site. Additionally these projects offer a unique glimpse into the history of scientific collecting approaches and our Institution history.
by Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
So where do poo, our field books, and the history of our nation meet? I found two connections: Alexander Wetmore during his work in the Pacific islands for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Vernon Bailey during work in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, for the US Biological Survey.
Laysan Island before the introduction of rabbits, 1902. Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 7006, Alexander Wetmore Collection, Box 143, Folder 3. SIA 2011-0839.
One of the first collections I cataloged was that of Alexander Wetmore. Wetmore was an ornithologist (all-around great guy) who worked for the USDA and was later Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He took part in the Tanager Expedition (1923); my blog post on this expedition discusses the ramifications of the guano industry in the Hawaiian Islands, but it wasn’t until after I wrote the article that I learned about the Guano Act of 1856.
Pelagic birds migrating across the Pacific Ocean return each year to the Hawaiian Islands and leave their guano behind. Guano, at one time, could be found multiple feet in depth. Harvesting bird guano from these islands was a major industry during the late nineteenth century. In fact, the US Congress passed the United States Guano Act of 1856 that allowed a US citizen who,
Discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States. (R.S. Sec. 5570 derived from act Aug. 18, 1856, ch. 164, Sec. 1, 11 Stat. 119. Taken from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, US House of Representatives)
Through this law, citizens could legally take possession of “unclaimed” islands on behalf of the United States. Islands like Midway, Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands, among others became part of the Unites States in this way. Alexander Wetmore’s notes, maps, and materials from the Tanager Expedition give a graphic depiction of the inadvertent environmental aftermath of human activities of these islands.
Collecting Guano, Laysan Island. Image is taken from Walter Rothschild's The Avifauna of Laysan and the neighbouring islands with a complete history to date of the birds of the Hawaiian possession (London: R.H. Porter, 1893-1900). It is part of the Smithsonian Institution Library's Digital Collection 2003. SIL6-3-007a.
If you want to know more about the history of Laysan Island and its guano industry, Smithsonian Institution Archives also has the family journals of Maximillian Joseph August Schlemmer who worked with the North Pacific Phosphate and Fertilizer Company, which mined guano. During his time on Laysan Island, Max introduced rabbits as a food source. These rabbits later populated at such a fast rate that they decimated the island flora and fauna over the next twenty years. Ironically, Wetmore recruited Max's son Eric to be part of the Tanager Expedition in 1923, during which expedition participants were finally able to successfully eradicate the rabbit population and allow the island ecosystem to recover.
Back on the mainland…
Interest in the uses of guano was not just in the Pacific. There are references to its uses in some of Vernon Bailey’s field notes for the Biological Survey. Bailey studied bats across the United States, documenting populations, habitat, and interviewing local inhabitants about their observations of bat populations and utilization of guano. While in the southwest United States investigating bat populations in 1924, interviewing locals about bat roosts etc., he wrote:
Dr. Campbell says he gets about 2 tons a year of guano from this roost and give it to his wife for pin money. She sells it in 10lb bags at $1 a bag to florists, gardeners, etc.
Vernon Bailey spent time studying bats in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in 1929. He also published about his time in Kentucky, giving some great background and history on the caves. This is how I found the connection to guano that helped make Mammoth Cave famous. Bat guano does not just make for a great fertilizer; it is also a source of saltpeter, an important ingredient in gun powder. Mammoth Cave was an important source of this ingredient during the War of 1812. To learn more about it, check out the National Park Service website.
Poo, for all its less than pleasant characteristics, can be a powerful tool for natural history study, agriculture, and (at one time) national defense. Its importance to the world economy may have changed, but it has influenced world history in significant ways, and will continue to be a source of new and important information about the natural world.
By Carolyn Sheffield, Field Book Project
As part of the Beyond the Field Book Project section of this blog, we have been talking with Smithsonian scientists to learn about the significance of field books in their own research. I recently spoke with Dr. Storrs Olson, a paleornithologist based at the Smithsonian Institution whose research has focused on studying extinct birds, mainly on islands including those in the South Atlantic, the West Indies, Hawai’i and Bermuda. In addition to creating his own field books as part of that research, Dr. Olson also frequently consults field books in archives for historic accounts of research conducted in those same areas. He shared the following story about one field book in particular:
One of the most exciting things that I discovered was going back through a field journal, or a diary, of Andrew Bloxam who was on an official British government expedition in 1825-26. I got into this because he’d been to Hawai’i so I wanted to see what significance his Hawaiian field notes might have. He collected a fair number of birds for that time, which was very early in Hawaiian ornithology. That expedition also went to a few other places, such as Mauke in the Cook Islands. I had printed a copy of Bloxam’s journal from the microfilm in the British Museum archives, and was reading it one night in England and came across a passage about collecting on Mauke in the Cook Islands. He mentioned a bird that he had shot that day and gave an exact description of it. I recognized this right off and said to myself, ‘That’s the mysterious starling!’
|Aplonis mavornata Buller from McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/species.asp?id=8293, last accessed August 15,2012.|
The “mysterious starling” was the more or less informal English name given to a specimen at the British Museum that was considered mysterious by virtue of the fact that no one knew where it had come from. It was thought possibly to be from the Pacific but the details on who had collected it, and when and precisely where, had been lost over time. This was a particularly significant specimen, too, as it was the only specimen of that species, now extinct, in existence.
Dr. Olson told me that he couldn’t wait to get back to the museum the next morning to compare the description in the field book with the specimen itself. And then of course it turned out to be a perfect match. “Without those field notes, we would have never known. So that was a real breakthrough.”
Reflecting on the significance of such a discovery made me wonder what other kinds of long lost information has been rediscovered in field books. Do you have a story about making an exciting discovery in a field book? Let us know in the comments.
You can learn more about the mysterious starling and other birds from the Cook Islands in:
Olson, Storrs L. (1986): An early account of some birds from Mauke, Cook Islands, and the origin of the "mysterious starling" Aplonis mavornata Buller. Notornis 33(4): 197–208. PDF fulltext
By Richard Jerome, Cataloging Intern, Field Book Project
Invasive species have become a serious environmental problem of late. As someone who enjoys swimming in upstate New York lakes, I often have to deal with one such species—zebra mussels. Not only are their shells so sharp that you have to wear water shoes when swimming, zebra mussels can cause more serious problems like the clogging of water filtration pipes and suffocation of other native species. All across New York people try hard to keep these animals away because it seems like once they enter a lake or waterway, it is impossible to get rid of them.
After doing a little research I’ve found that there does not seem to be a solid consensus about exactly how zebra mussels, or many other invasive species, enter new areas. This may be because invasive species are rarely observed at their point of entry—they just tend to start showing up. Of course it is a different story when humans purposely introduce a foreign species for a reason such as pest control, but generally the question of invasive species’ point of entry can be a tricky one.
While I was cataloging a field notebook of Alexander Wetmore, ornithologist and 6th Secretary of the Smithsonian, I came across an amusing anecdote in which, for one species, he found an answer. Wetmore had been observing mockingbirds (more specifically Mimus gilvus tolimensis) in the Canal Zone of Panama during 1956 and wondering how they got there. One night his neighbor E. J. Husted told him a story. Wetmore recounted it in his journal:
Between September and November, 1935 about 200 live mockingbirds in cages were brought from Colombia on a ship that docked at Pier 18 in Balboa, and were disembarked on a baggage truck that Mr. Husted was handling. The birds were intended for sale in the market in Panama, but the authorities demanded a dollar import duty on each bird. As the importer had expected to sell them at $1.50 each he became disgusted, opened the cages, and released the entire lot at Pier 18. [Mr. Husted’s] account is definite in detail and I have no doubt that this is the explanation of the establishment of the species in the Canal Zone.
22c Mockingbird single, 1987, National Postal Museum, http://arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=2&cmd=1&id=35803
The story is not verified by anyone else, but Wetmore has no problem accepting this as the likely solution to his question. If true, it shows how new species can be introduced in surprisingly strange and unpredictable ways. While mockingbirds may not be considered as destructive or as unwanted as zebra mussels, it is hard to imagine anyone being so careless with a foreign species today. Wetmore himself was not troubled to learn of these events; he just seemed satisfied to be able to find an answer. Stories like this are the kind of gems that pop up over and over when reading through old field books. We may fight hard to stop the introduction of non-native species to new areas today, but back in 1956 Wetmore heard this account and his reaction was simply, “Of course! Now it all makes sense.”
For more on Alexander Wetmore and field work with invasive species check out the following related blog post: The Dangers of Bunny Rabbits
|Edgar A. Mearns, c. 1900. NHB-21452, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 17, Folder 1.|
Edgar A. Mearns: Explorer
Edgar A. Mearns: Naturalist
Edgar A. Mearns: Doctor
Edgar A. Mearns: Daddy
By Sonoe Nakasone, The Field Book Project
Although little is available on the free web on the relationship between Edgar Alexander Mearns and his son, Louis di Zerega Mearns, there is evidence through Mearns’s field notes that the two were close. The small amount of literature I’ve found on the internet seems to confirm this, but you may judge for yourself.
Louis’s name appears many times within the over 200 field books from the Edgar Alexander Mearns Papers, circa 1871-1916, 1934 and undated (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7083) housed at SIA and the Division of Birds. It is clear that much of his early years were spent in the company of his father, travelling and collecting as a family. Five of Edgar Mearns’s field books contain notes from Louis. Like his father, Louis’s interests in collecting ranged widely from various zoological disciplines to botany. These field books date from 1891 to 1903, meaning that Louis began collecting with his father as early as 5 years (possibly earlier). These dates, very roughly correspond to the dates of Louis’s publications, the first of which he published in 1897 at the tender age of 11, and the last in 1903, at age 16 or 17. Mearns’s collection also includes eight notebooks belonging to Louis and containing notes that were probably the basis for many of his publications.
|Both pages are from "Field notes on mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, etc., observed at Fort Clark, Texas, June 14, 1898, to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, April 4, 1903". National Museum of Natural History, Division of Birds, Edgar Alexander Mearns field books, Box 9, folder 10.
||The image on the left is the title page Mearns provided for this field notebook. As you can see, the notebook belonged to Edgar Mearns. Yet, Edgar includes notes on specimens recorded by his son, who is at this time 12-17 years old.
Although I cannot read between the lines of the scientific notes in Edgar Mearns’s notebooks, I felt there was an aura of closeness between father and son. Interesting details culled from publications have strengthened this impression.
A memoir written by Charles W. Richmond published in the January 1918 issue of The Auk, reveals that Mearns was a kind, sympathetic, loyal friend with a serene temperament. This promotes my impression of Mearns as a doting father. Richmond exposes other interesting facts. Like his son, Edgar himself was intrigued by natural science from a young age. Alexander Mearns, Edgar’s father, encouraged his son’s interests, purchasing a large illustrated book on native birds when Edgar was three. Furthermore, just as Edgar would one day traverse the familiar east coast and expanding western frontiers with his son close at hand, Alexander enjoyed many a collecting adventure with his son Edgar. Richmond writes, “[Edgar and his father] would shoulder their arms and wander through the fields together, close companions.” It is the similarity between Edgar Mearns and his son as children and Alexander Mearns and his son as fathers that convince me Edgar and Louis were close kin and colleagues in the field.
|Mearns with woman and child, probably wife Ella and son Louis, during the Mexican Boundary Survey, 1892-1894. This is just one example of the field trips on which Louis accompanied his father. SIA2012-7705, Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU007083, Box 4, Folder 5.|
In the April 1915 issue of The Auk, Edgar eulogized Louis, who had died young of dyptheria in 1912. In the article, Edgar expresses profound respect and admiration for his son’s achievements, praising him in part thusly:
His observations were recorded with fedility [sic] and clearness. In the field he was a delightful companion, an accurate and quick shot with shotgun or rifle, and a clever and successful mammal trapper.
Above, Edgar's reference to his son as a "delightful companion" sums up the kind of bond the two seemed to share.
Mearns seems to have proved that “the child is the father of the man,” although that’s perhaps not what Wordsworth meant. I like to think that as an adult, Edgar was still able to relate to his experiences from youth. I like to think that is what made him a great father.
Richmond, C. W. (January, 1918). The Auk, 35(1), 1-18. In Memoriam: Edgar Alexander Mearns.
Retrieved from http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v035n01/p0001-p0018.pdf .
|C21_3411 White-browed shortwing (Brachypteryx montana), 2012, by Naturelly, Retrieved from Flickr (The Commons): http://www.flickr.com/photos/51995830@N02/7062972975/
By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
Deep within the forests of Luzon, Philippines, lives the Brachypteryx, a bird so wily that even an experienced naturalist like Edgar A. Mearns (1856-1916) named it “one of the most elusive birds that I have met with”. Although Mearns generally refers to this bird as Brachypteryx in his field book from July-August 1907, he was possibly describing Brachypteryx montana poliogyna, a sub-species noted throughout the volume. What made this bird so elusive?
|Cover, Field notes, September 29, 1906 - August 4, 1907 : volume 6, National Museum of Natural History, Division of Birds, SIA RU007083.|
Mearns conducted extensive field work in the Philippines from 1903 to 1907 while serving in the Military. According to this website, Mearns described two of the 14 species of Brachypteryx montana (malindangensis and mindanensis), which he found in the Philippines. The Brachypteryx montana poliogyna, however, had already been described by William Robert Ogilvie-Grant (1895).
Before reading what Mearns had to say about Brachypteryx, I did a quick internet search on “Brachypteryx,” “Brachypteryx montana,” and “Brachypteryx montana poliogyna.” Most of the initial search results retrieved little information other than taxonomic hierarchy and records of bird sightings. The best resource I found during my brief search was the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) page for the Brachypteryx montana. From EOL I learned that the Brachypteryx montana is found in various parts of Asia, inhabiting high elevation montane forests, and often living and traveling on the forest ground. I also learned what typical Brachypteryx montana poliogyna males and females look like.
When I finally read Mearns’s notes on Brachypteryx, I was delighted by his playful and informative description. Mearns writes:
One will dart across the trail and alight in one of the tangles of brushwood and fallen timber that it delights to inhabit. The instant it alights it hops to a lower level where its flitting tail appears for an instant like the parting twitch of a prarrie [sic] dog’s tail as it changes end and salutes as it disappears into its burrow. One awaits in vain its reappearance; for the chances are in favor of its being far down the hillside inspecting the hollow of some decayed stump. Most of my specimen have been taken in small traps baited for mammals with a [pinch?] of [?] usually placed in hollows of decayed trees or among cavities of rocks. It is crepuscular, its sweet high notes shrilling up and down the scale at dusk, when it is much more apt to appear abroad than during the hours of sunshine. I have never seen one more than a yard above the ground, on which it runs at an amazing pace.
|Notes on Brachypterx, 1907, National Museum of Natural History, Division of Birds, SIA RU007083.||Specimen list of birds collected, 1907, National Museum of Natural History, Division of Birds, SIA RU007083.|
Although briefer than the description EOL provides, this account contains a more colorful illustration of the Brachypterx’s tendancy to live and travel on the ground, a fact that is further highlighted when Mearns explains the necessity to use small mammal traps to capture specimens. These notes also told me something I didn’t find in my internet searches: the Brachypteryx is crepuscular—a creature most active in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. Finally, Mearns’s description of the Brachypteryx’s song motivated me to find this example.
Mearns lived another nine years after he granted Brachypterx the honor of being one of the most elusive birds. Did Mearns meet with other birds during his remaining years that presented him with even greater challenges? Then there is also a question that begs to be asked—if Brachypterx was one of the most elusive birds, which was the most elusive? Will we ever know which bird holds this highest honor? If I find the answer, I’ll tell it to you.
By Emily Hunter & Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Whoever said that field books aren’t romantic? Accounts of affection can be found among the pages of botanists, ornithologists, and mammalogists alike. Some include accounts of trips for 50th wedding anniversaries (Lawrence Walkinshaw), or honeymoon plans (Pacific Ocean Biological Survey).
Once you begin to look, you may see that signs of love are all around. To observe the mating ritual of the Laysan Albatross one must acknowledge the care and attention that goes into wooing one’s partner. It’s inspiring! Perhaps that is how scientists working for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey felt, when they encountered this enamored duo on Midway Island:
If you think it’s only the birds feeling the Valentine’s day spirit, look below at some of the other expressions of affection in the field.
SIA2012-3233, RU7293, Primate and tiger cub photographed during the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937.
SIA2012-3236, RU7293, Unidentified child with tiger cub photographed during the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937.
SIA2012-3234, RU7293, Tiger cub being fed by Lucile Mann, during the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937.
SIA2012-3237, RU7293, Pangolin, photographed during the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937.
From all of us here at the Field Book Project: Happy Valentine’s Day!
by Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
(1)Map of Michigan, United States Geological Survey.
Geography is an important element for cataloging field books. We are mindful that geographic information needs to be entered accurately and in a predictable manner to assure expected search results in the future. For this reason, I began to wonder about the geographical descriptions of the Lawrence Walkinshaw’s materials (Smithsonian Institution Archive Acc. 93-079). Walkinshaw was an ornithologist who did the majority of his field work in Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. His manner of indicating locations initially left me at a loss.
Most collectors I’ve cataloged record location with country, state, town, or places like mountain ranges and national parks. In more challenging cases they may refer to territorial boundaries that are no longer used, or list a property owner. Walkinshaw was the first in my experience to consistently refer to county. Initially I considered this to be an idiosyncrasy, something not uncommon in archival materials. I have since learned of several examples of this type of location recording.
Paleontologist G.A. Cooper often listed counties in New York State because he organized his findings by “quadrangles”. Similarly paleontologist Charles Elmer Resser noted locations by county when working in the Rocky Mountain region. This practice, however, is not limited to paleontologists, nor is it limited to a particular region. But as I mentioned earlier, this was my first run in with this occurrence.
Scientists’ recording methods are often unique to them. Field books are usually meant for the creator’s own use, so information can vary in its detail and completeness. Some notes are extremely precise. When cataloging the field notes of Ichthyologist Isaac Ginsberg (SIA RU 7187), he recorded streams and bridges I could identify through our geographical authorities, finding places like Bohemia Bridge in Cecil County, Maryland. In others, we struggle to narrow down what and where a location is. Behaviorist M. Moynihan (SIA Acc. 01-096) worked at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and throughout South America during his career. He was wonderful about listing locations at the top of each entry. Unfortunately he did not always specify enough for me to determine the location with assurance. He once listed only “Santa Rosa”; a name like this could be a town, province, mountain range, and in one of several countries.
But back to my original thought…
Walkinshaw listed most locations in Michigan by county, and then sometimes specified the corresponding town. This habit had me confused for a while, thinking it was peculiar to him. Eventually I came up with a more likely theory.
Much of his work was completed on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This area is similar to locations near where I’ve lived, places like Aroostook County in Maine (known as “the county”) with very low population density and economies built around agriculture or forest management. Towns can be so small that it proves infeasible to manage services at the town level, and thus government services are taken on by the county or state. Because of this, people may find it more useful to identify location by county than would be the habit of individuals from denser population centers. Residents of large cities like New York City may be more likely to refer to their neighborhood than their town.
While cataloging field books, we strive to be consistent in our methods, but still record the information in a way that accurately reflects the type of information in the field book. So if you were taking field notes, how would you define where you are?
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Martin Moynihan (SIA Acc. 01-096) was a behaviorist that studied behavioral evolutionary biology. He covered a wide range of fauna during his career, including primates, squid, and birds. Moynihan’s collection cataloged by the Field Book Project through his association with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He worked at the Barro Colorado Island research facility as a Resident Naturalist in 1957, and became the founding Director when the research facilities were consolidated as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in 1966. He played a pivotal role in its growth, 1966-1974.
Moynihan appears to have been a dramatic and dynamic person. Articles written after his death by colleagues and major newspapers paint quite a picture, even if only a portion is accurate. The New York Times stated:
“He swam along with the reef squid in the warm waters of Atlantic Panama off the San Blas islands, with a waterproof notebook dangling from his belt.”
Neal Griffith Smith, a colleague of 36 years, wrote:
“When I first met him, he looked like Salvador Dali, for he sported an almost 5-inch waxed mustache, wore a Bond street suit, and carried a proper British umbrella. He remained an elegant though less dandy figure for the rest of his life…He had a reputation for rages and sudden changes of mood. In the early years he was always firing off his resignation because things were not going his way. It was pure theater. Martin was a gentleman in the true sense of the word, and perhaps the most intelligent person I ever met.” (p. 758)
It should come as no surprise that he created detailed, exuberant, and challenging field notes. Each entry is headed with location, date, often with type of fauna being observed. Most of his notes are carefully indexed by type of animal and behavior. Illustrations of animals are throughout the notes, and often lovely drawings. He took great care to highlight text with colored pencil and varying patterns along the left-hand columns, usually indicating a specific animal or couple being observed. Even the page layouts appear pleasing to the eye. When writing observations, Moynihan used a plethora of exclamation points and questions marks. There is no question, Moynihan loved his work.
SIA 2012-1880, SIA2012-1872. Field notes of Martin H. Moynihan on Cyanerpes (Honeycreepers) observed in Barro Colorado, Panama, 1958.
His notes have been some of the most challenging to catalog for this project, both in content and organization. This is not to say that Moynihan’s notes are not organized. They are very well arranged. The challenge came with balancing the kind of information collected for each record, and what to include.
So what were some of the challenges?
Over all these are amazing field notes to see. They include photographs, sketches, spectrograms, correspondence, and last but not least, Moynihan’s undeniable passion.
Wolfgang Saxon. (December 15, 1996). “Martin H. Moynihan, 68, an Authority on Animal Behavior.” New York Times access on December 1, 2011 at http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/15/world/martin-h-moynihan-68-an-authority-on-animal-behavior.html
Neal Griffith Smith. (July 1998). “In Memoriam: Martin Humphrey Moynihan, 1928-1996.” American Ornithologist’s Union. Published by University of California Press. Accessed December 1, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4089423
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “Highlights: Important events in the history of Barro Colorado.” Accessed December 1, 2011 at (http://www.stri.si.edu/sites/forest_speaks/english/about_forest_speaks/history/index.html
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Smithsonian Institution Archive Image 75-16337. Edward F. Rivinus, Acting Director of Smithsonian Institution Press, with the egg of a barn owl he found in the Northwest Tower of the Smithsonian Institution Building (SIB), or "Castle," for the Audubon Society's Christmas bird count.
By now most people know how they will be spending their holidays, but for those still deciding, here is a novel alternative.
While cataloging the work of ornithologist Lawrence Walkinshaw (1904-1993), I came across something that seemed familiar—a list of references to bird counts 1923-1953 from the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). I remembered seeing a reference to the CBC before, but in field notes that were much older.
To give some context, the Christmas Bird Count was started Christmas of 1900 by Frank Chapman, an ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History and member of the newly forming National Audubon Society. It was in response to concerns about diminishing bird populations. It also offered an alternative to the Christmas "Side Hunt", a holiday tradition during which participants would compete to see who could shoot more birds. The first count occurred across Canada and the United States (click to see the results of the first count). The “side hunt” tradition has died out, but the CBC continues.
The earlier materials I remembered that referred to the CBC were from the childhood of Alexander Wetmore (1886–1978), ornithologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1945 to 1952. After doing some checking, I found that as an adolescent, Wetmore participated in the first Count. Below is a picture of Wetmore two years later. Wetmore’s bird observation field notes begin around age eight. Only a few years later, he participated in a brand new venture that took place in a hand full of locations in the United States.
SIA2011-2231. Jim Seely, Alexander Wetmore, Clarence Cook, and Art Rudy in North Freedom, Wisconsin, February 22, 1902.
The CBC, directed by the National Audubon Society, is now entering its 112th year. The count is the result of the international efforts of amateur bird enthusiasts, and is a wonderful example of the power of “citizen science.” Since its inception, it has made contributions to ornithology; there are several examples of its use in Smithsonian collections and on the Audubon website.
The National Audubon Society has made the CBC data available online. See what you can find about the history of birds in your area. Or, for those of you looking for another way to give back this holiday season or enjoy the winter weather, take part. The count begins tomorrow, December 14th.
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, 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 an associated specimen collection and professional training of the creator. First, 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 his 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 (the 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.”
July 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, […].”
August 9, 1980: “[…] 1 flicker, 1 no. oriole. My brother, Carl Eike, Jr., died this afternoon at his home at Woodbridge, of two heart attacks—would have been 83 on 8/31 […].”
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 January 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 the way she believed Eike would have wanted.
Eike’s personality, constancy, dedication and love of bird watching did not go unrecognized or 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.
By Lesley Parilla
SIA2008-3196. Alexander Wetmore Standing Next to Jeep at Rio Las Tablas, Panama, 1948. After a number of visits, correspondence in the collection indicates that Wetmore was using the same Jeep during successive visits. Eventually they painted SM-INS in the front bumper marking it for Smithsonian Institution use (see SIA2008-3201).
While working on natural history and institution archive collections here at the Smithsonian, I have come across a lot of projects involving the collaboration between the Smithsonian and other federal agencies. Some of these relationships are short term, lasting months or years. Others extend for decades like that of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). In the case of federal agencies working with NMNH, the agencies are often involved in natural resource management. The Bureau of Fisheries (later merged to create the United States Fish and Wildlife Service) contributed material in several collections at Smithsonian Institution Archives. One relationship that surprised me was the recurring collaborations between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Smithsonian Institution.
The structure of the work with DOD varies, and is usually based on a shared topic or geographic focus. The Department of Entomology has had an ongoing relationship with the US Army, Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit (WRBU) since 1961. WRBU coordinates with NMNH’s
Department of Entomology, to manage and develop the NMNH Mosquito collection, which has become the largest of its kind at 1.5 million specimens (http://wrbu.si.edu/WhatWeDo.html).
Usually what I find relates to specimen collecting trips in the form of expeditions or surveys. These seem to come about for two reasons—the Smithsonian Institution is, in many cases, the repository for national collections, cultural and biological. The US Military has a myriad of bases, outposts, and equipment around the world. When the US Government decides it is in the national interest to collect, circumstances have brought these two together. This has produced a string of expeditions, surveys, and informal relationships over the last two centuries. Below is an overview of just a few we’ve cataloged thus far.
It is exciting to find, as I catalog, that what initially appeared to be isolated projects between agencies really demonstrates an understanding of the benefits of working together. Additionally, information on specimens and when they were collected is often in unexpected places. Information from the vessel Tanager may be located at a DOD archive, National Archives, the Smithsonian, or the Bishop Museum. The Field Book Project works to make those connections easier to find.
Social media has become a large part of the Field Book Project’s efforts to promote and increase awareness of our project. Following the lead of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Field Book Project began posting photo sets to Flickr’s The Commons in March 2011 as part of the Smithsonian Institution's Flickr sets. Currently, we have uploaded three Flickr sets and plan to continue uploading sets quarterly.
Shortly after our first Flickr set, Albert Spear Hitchcock Field Books, was launched, the Field Book Project Blog featured an article summarizing the success of those Flickr images. Since then, two more Flickr sets were launched, Field Book Lantern Slides and Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. Both sets have received much attention, and one, Field Book Lantern Slides, was highlighted in a Wired.com article.
In just two months, these two most recently Flickr sets have been viewed a total of 21,294 times. Additionally, these images have been “favorited” 287 times, and received a total of 29 comments. One commenter even added one of our images to a relevant Wikipedia article:
“Nice photo for scale of the beast. Added to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephas_imperator Thanks for posting these!”
In total, all three Flickr sets have been viewed 43,257 times. Thanks to all who have been making our Flickr sets a success. Continue viewing, “favoriting”, and commenting on our images on Flickr’s The Commons. Also be sure to check out other fun and educational Flickr sets from the Smithsonian Institution.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Alexander Wetmore’s collection (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7006) was one of the first I cataloged for the Field Book Registry, and by far the largest. His collection is unusual in a number of ways, and from the very beginning I knew it was going to be interesting. You see, Wetmore began keeping field books at age eight.
The first field book is quite simple in structure, and has limited detail. The contents is much what one might expect from an eight year old, including sketches of dogs, squirrels fishing, short plays, and notes about a fishing trip to Florida. However, Wetmore quickly became habitual in recording his observations. The next set of field books document his observations of nature during ages 12-16. These took me by surprise.
In just a few years, his notes start to include detailed counts of sometimes more than 30 types of birds. By age 14, his writing fills the last edge of the last page of the notebooks. Halfway through the field books I had to double-check his age when I discovered the detailed indexes that corresponded with the hand-numbered pages carefully sewn into the front or back of each notebook.
As I surveyed these notebooks, invariably my mind slipped to my friends’ children, many of whom are near the same age. I was amazed at the quick evolution of Wetmore’s work, seeing his personality and his approach to the world become so definite. I have watched my friends’ and family’s children over the years as they discover the world around them and how they want to interact with it. I struggled to imagine working with a child like Wetmore, who at such a young age had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do and how to do it.
This, for me, is why Wetmore’s collection is a great example of why item-level cataloging is such an important part of the Field Book Project. The collection level description in the finding aid lets a researcher know the childhood field books are present. It doesn’t provide details about organization of the material or what kind of data he collected in his observations.
The Field Book Project captures information that allows researchers to have a clear picture of the item, hopefully even its nuances. By including details about the types of characteristics Wetmore recorded, and how he chose to organize that information, the researcher can see and appreciate the evolving style and work of the child/man-yet-to-be. These types of details are often ones that only people (like our wonderful reference staff) know after working with the collections for years -- details that are now available in the form of item-level abstracts for experienced researchers and the momentarily curious alike.
Unidentified individuals and members of A. Wetmore’s scientific expedition with bird specimens at María, Coiba Island, 1956.
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
After cataloging the majority of correspondence and written materials documenting Alexander Wetmore’s collecting efforts, cataloging his photo albums feels a bit like a reunion. I see images of people and places whose names I have read over the weeks. Wetmore was from all appearances a very personable individual; the photo albums reinforce this feeling documenting scientific efforts and friendships with colleagues, staff and acquaintances. Toward the end of Wetmore’s tenure as Secretary of the Smithsonian, he began traveling to Panama to study the native birds. These visits became an annual tradition, continuing after his time as Secretary, when he became a Research Associate. His work culminated in the book The Birds of the Republic of Panamá.
This pasture, where animals can be seen grazing, is in Catival on Coiba Island, Panama. Secretary Alexander Wetmore while on a scientific expedition in Panama to Coiba Island, while completing field work for his four volume work, The Birds of Panama.
A police officer goes ashore pickaback, Coiba Island, 1956
In 1956, Wetmore went to Coiba Island in the gulf of Chiriqui to study native birds. Coiba Island was the site of a penal colony established in 1919. When Panama’s political climate shifted during the military regimes of 1968-1989, the penal colony earned notoriety as a place of political repression and violence.
Guard house and cell-block, la Central, Coiba Island, 1956
It is striking to see a place documented before such infamy. The photographs conjure a mix of emotions. During the course of Wetmore’s visit, he depicts aspects of daily life -- arrival of new prisoners, immaculately kept grounds, daily role-calls-- as well as vegetation, cultivated land, and the birds that live there. Coiba Island’s isolated nature and limited development made it a good collecting location during Wetmore’s time and in the present. After its closure in 2004, interested parties began to push for the establishment of a national park on the site, which occurred later that year. A year later, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) selected Coiba National Park as a World Heritage Site.
Smithsonian's connection with the area continues to the present. Smithsonian Troprical Research Institute (STRI) staff have worked with, UNESCO, the United Nations Foundation and Conservation International and efforts of Smithsonian staff, helping advise outreach and resource management for the national park.
Smithsonian Newsdesk. (2009). “Putting Smithsonian Science to Work: A New Plan for Panama’s Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site”. Retrieved August 31, 2011 from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/putting-smithsonian-science-work-new-plan-panama-s-coiba-national-park-and-world-heritage-s
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History. (2011). Celebrating 100 Years: The Birds of Panama: Alexander Wetmore and Watson Perrygo in Panama, 1940s-1960s”. Retrieved August 31, 2011 from http://www.mnh.si.edu/onehundredyears/expeditions/birdsPanama.html
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization .(2011).“Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection”. Retrieved August 31, 2011 from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1138
Detail image of duck bomb during demonstration conducted by Alexander Wetmore and his assistant
Until I started working for the Smithsonian, I had no idea the extent of working relationships between the Smithsonian and other federal agencies. At National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) I was fascinated to learn that the Smithsonian works closely with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Geological Survey (USGS), among others. These relationships extend to sharing of collections, specimens, expertise, and have existed for decades. Many of the field books we are currently cataloging were originally created by USDA scientists. It is through this connection that I started to appreciate the scope and impact of the USDA’s role, while working on Alexander Wetmore’s materials created during his time with the USDA, Bureau of Biological Survey.
During 1915-1918, Wetmore was working with farmers, companies, and local officials across the western United States to manage ducks and other birds that were damaging rice crops. His field books document discussions with individual claimants, observations of field damage, months of observations of damage caused by waterfowl and birds of the area, and correspondence with state gaming and fishing departments. Looking through these materials it became increasingly clear how serious the damage and financial impact on farmers became.
Wetmore included news clippings and political cartoons discussing the issues, as those affected became more emphatic about finding a solution. •
Gun clubs and farmers increasingly called for the right to shoot ducks damaging an important local crop. Wetmore, worked with local authorities to find solutions that would balance wildlife and hunter rights, as well as public opinion.
Wetmore's assistant demonstrating how to set a duck bomb.
Wetmore's assistant demonstrating how to set a duck bomb.
One of these possible solutions was the “duck bomb.” It was an alternative investigated by Wetmore and the USDA: an attempt to discourage waterfowl from crops with minimum physical harm. Notes discuss application and safe placement; Wetmore’s assistant demonstrates these methods in photograph. His notes also indicate that this was not a totally nonlethal deterrent, but as the tone of the article titles imply, the ramifications of crop damage became extreme, and all plausible methods had to be considered.
Wetmore’s field notes don’t explain how things were resolved, so I did a little research, and found the back-story quite compelling. At the time, rice was a recently introduced commercial crop in the United States. According to US Census of Agriculture, it was virtually nonexistent as a commercial crop before 1900. Acres planted nearly tripled across the country from 1900 to 1920. Places like California that struggled with the migratory birds only began commercially planting after 1910. With World War I in progress, the United States became an increasingly important food supplier.
In many cases the wetlands appropriate for cultivating rice were already destinations for migratory birds. The harvest timing correlated too well with migrating birds’ movements. According to a report by the US Rice Federation, in 1917, “the total loss of grain to ducks was estimated to be worth $1 million.”
Since then, these crops have become important parts of the agricultural production in the states Wetmore investigated. Methods of cultivation and conservation have been established to work with bird populations, rendering methods like “duck dombs” unnecessary. For more information, see http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Rice/links.htm on the USDA site.
John M. Eadie, Chris S. Elphick, Kenneth J. Reinecke, Michael R. Miller. (2008). Conservation in Ricelands of North America. p. 9.Retrieved from http://www.usarice.com/doclib/198/4712.pdf.
United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. 1920 Census of Agriculture.p. 771. Retrieved from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/Historical_Publications/1920/Individual_Crops.pdf
Summer is drawing to a close for interns at the Smithsonian Institution. Our own interns, Jenny Mathias and Emily Hunter, have left us with well over 600 catalog records, blog posts, and two spectacular sets of images now available to view on Flickr's The Commons. These sets were created using images Jenny and Emily encountered during their internship. We asked Jenny and Emily what inspired their selections of the images in their Flickr sets. Here is what they had to say.
Field Book Lantern Slides by Jenny Mathias, MLIS Candidate, Pratt Institute
The first collection I cataloged for the Field Book Project consisted of lantern slides. Who knew these beautiful 3.25 x 4 inch, hand painted, glass objects were also field notes? Imagine my delight at seeing with my very eyes exactly what collectors saw in the field on the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition of 1909 (Smithsonian Institution Archives Acc. 06-093). The next collection I cataloged at SIA was a collection of lantern slides documenting the work conducted by Division of Vertebrate Paleontology (SIA RU424). These slides include images of Barbour, Wortman, and Gidley, and countless other unnamed field researchers collecting and preparing fossils of dinosaurs and large mammals for display in the museum. My flickr set contains just 19 of the 115 glass lantern slides I saw during the first 2 weeks of my internship. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Pacific Ocean Biological Survey by Emily Hunter, MLS, University of Maryland
After cataloging textual field notes by over 40 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey scientists, I was delighted to find two manuscript boxes of photographs, offering visual depictions of species I had read so much about. Most of the photographs in the collection are of birds, representing the major focus of the biological survey to observe and band sea birds. In creating this grouping of images, I was inspired by the range of species represented, the beauty of the photographs, and of the birds themselves. Images include photographs captured up-close of birds in their natural habitats, as well as interesting nest constructions, and eggs, and a couple of illustrations by researchers in the field.
I was struck by the level of detail of the markings on a Fairy term egg that seemed almost to be scribbled on with a magic marker like a modern work of art. A Black-footed albatross looking down towards the egg at its feet is kind of...well, moving. A photograph of birds swirling over building ruins on East Island freezes a moment of blissful chaos. Perhaps my favorite image, however, is a photograph of a Leach's storm-petrel specimen, held by its captor, and cropped square to show only the outstretched arm and hand holding the dead bird. There is something both gentle and sad about this image. The cropping, the soft background, and the warmth of the hand contracted with the sharp focus and stiffness of the specimen intrigued me. The content is scientific, but the photograph is quite artistic.
By Emily Hunter, Cataloging Intern
Allen Anderson and Allen Young hold up a Black-footed Albatross.
My introduction to field notes came five short weeks ago, when I started my work as Cataloging Intern for the Field Book Project. I began by cataloging the field notes in the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program in the rather large Smithsonian Institution Archives collection Record Unit 245.
The Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (or POBSP for short), was a Department of Defense grant-funded project led by the Smithsonian Institution to survey plants and animals in an area of the Pacific Ocean dotted with islands and atolls. Much of the project focused on observing and banding pelagic birds.
Working through the loose manuscripts containing the field notes of Smithsonian Institution staff researchers, I began to imagine what life in the field was like. As a budding librarian and archivist, I allowed the records themselves to begin to build the story for me. As I cataloged each item (“items” ranged from a single field book to a folder of manuscripts or photographs) I skimmed, stopping here or there to read full entries and connect the dots. Reading the field notes of over 40 researchers allowed me a window into the daily lives of the researchers, and a taste of the diversity of personalities of the project staff.
From their narrative journal entries to their to-do lists and poetic observations, the researchers came alive as real people doing similar work, but with different outlooks, experiences, and perspectives. Minor differences of opinion made me laugh now and then, for example, while some researchers captured the elegance of birds in pencil sketches, another declared, “this is the ugliest bird I have ever seen!”
Kenneth C. Balcomb banding a young Black-footed albatross on Laysan Island, June 12, 1966.
I began to understand what life in the field in the 1960s was like. Or I like to think so. That’s the beauty of reading primary sources—feeling like you’re in someone else’s shoes.
Surely it isn’t so difficult to relate to these young men—at the time of the survey they were roughly my age, camping on Pacific islands I could only dream of, covered in bird droppings (several field books were plastered with the hard evidence), camping, sweltering in the sun, or spending sleepless, sometimes nauseating, nights at sea. They observed birds at all hours, banded them, collected specimen, and explored burrows looking for eggs, and chicks.
An entry by Patrick Gould, October 1966, was so poetic and descriptive, that I couldn’t help but feel I was on Laysan Island myself:
A large donut lying on its side in the Blue Pacific. It’s edge a broad belt of off-white coral sand, its rim a bright Scaevola green, low and lush greeting abruptly to sand and clumps of bunch grass, to bunch grass and narrow dense covering of Spomoea, to a brackish lagoon. Blue sky, pock-marked with out of focus white clouds, dotted with black Great Frigatebirds, white Red-tailed Tropicbirds and black and white Red-footed and Blue-faced Boobies. In the evening the air is filled with the [calls] of Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Bonin Island Petrel. Black and Common Noddy Terns are everywhere.
(Entry in the field book of Patrick J. Gould Leewards Survey 17, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, Laysan Island, October 1966)
Cataloging field notes is challenging and rewarding. I’ve learned a great deal in my attempts to read messy handwriting, decipher cryptic symbols and notations. I’ve experienced several minor “Aha!” moments, one of which was when I realized that “RT” means Ruddy turnstone while “RTTB” means Red-tailed tropicbird. As a non-expert, it was interesting to read observations of bird behaviors, roosting patterns, or nest construction. More than anything though, I liked getting a glimpse of what life was like for these researchers, doing what they love—alternately exciting, boring, hot, serene, difficult, or extremely beautiful—out in the field.
By Eric Snajdr (Science Librarian, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) and
Ellen D. Ketterson (Distinguished Professor of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington)
Val Nolan Jr. in the Philippines during World War II
|Prairie warbler (Dendroica discolor)
Val Nolan Jr. (1920-2008) led an extraordinary life. As a self-taught scientist he was unrelenting in his drive to pursue bird research despite the many paths his life would take.
Val was born in Evansville, Indiana, where both his grandfathers served as mayor. He later moved to Indianapolis, where his father was appointed U.S. Attorney. Fostered by one of his teachers, Val developed a strong interest in birds during his senior year at Shortridge High School. After high school, Val attended Indiana University, where he chose to major in history. After graduating in 1941 he served as Deputy U.S. Marshall, and then in the U.S. Secret Service as a bodyguard to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and became a language specialist in Japanese and served in Intelligence in the Pacific under James Roosevelt, the president’s son.
After World War II ended Val had hoped to turn his focus on bird biology. However, a professor in this field discouraged him from this path so Val decided to pursue Law instead. After graduating first in his class from Indiana University School of Law (now the Mauer School of Law), he joined the faculty and became a highly respected and influential teacher, serving twice as Acting Dean.”.
Val’s enduring interest in birds ultimately led him to pursue biological research on his own accord. Between 1952 and 1965, while working as a Professor of Law, Val conducted extensive fieldwork on the prairie warbler (a migratory songbird) in Bloomington, Indiana. He was extremely dedicated to his goal of studying this single species in detail, learning as much about its life history and behavior as he possibly could. His work resulted in the publication of a monograph, the Ecology and behavior of the prairie warbler Dendroica discolor (595 pages), for which in 1986 he received the American Ornithologists' Union’s Brewster Award (for the most meritorious work on birds of western hemisphere in the last ten years).
Bound volumes of Val's "Prairie Warbler Notes" Indiana
In 1957-1958, Val received a Guggenheim Fellowship for two projects (one legal and one biological). He became a research scholar in Zoology and ultimately Professor of both Biology and Law from 1966-1985 at Indiana University, continuing work as professor emeritus 1985-2008. In Biology he trained 22 Ph.D. students and authored more than 100 scientific papers.
His many years of research on the prairie warbler generated nineteen bound volumes of field notes (approximately 200 to 350 pages per volume). He was meticulous, highly organized in his note taking, and had the foresight to have the notes typed and bound so that others could easily read and make use of his data.
The notes contain not only a rich documentation of prairie warbler behavior during the breeding season, but also include general observations about natural history. For example, his notes include details of daily weather, the timing of the emergence of leaves and flowers of plant species in the spring, as well as observations of a variety of animal species including arrival dates and behavior of bird species during spring migration.
April 20, 1957 excerpt from “Prairie warbler field notes 1957 Bloomington, Indiana”
Val’s volumes of field notes on the prairie warbler were digitized by the Indiana University Digital Library group and mounted alongside the work of other university-affiliated scholars into IUScholarWorks, Indiana University’s online repository . Because his notes were typed, the digitized versions could be processed using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) making the text searchable and thus allowing a reader to find particular words or phrases throughout the volumes.
His notes are not only a rich source of information, they also document the research process, how systematic fieldwork on a single species can be conducted and translated into a body of scientific discovery. The original (paper) copies of his notes are privately owned and, therefore, were not readily discoverable or accessible by others. Making them available through the IUScholarWorks digital repository ensures that they are available to the entire scientific community and beyond so others, like Val Nolan, can pursue their own driving interests in nature and learn more about the natural world and the processes of biodiversity research.
About the authors:
Eric Snajdr worked for many years as a research associate with Val Nolan Jr. and Dr. Ellen D. Ketterson before becoming a science librarian.
Dr. Ellen D. Ketterson was Val Nolan Jr.’s wife and research partner.
April 20, 1957 excerpt from “Prairie warbler field notes 1957 Bloomington, Indiana”