Message from the President...
Hello my friends!
I hope your holidays are going well and you are staying warm. I do love cooler weather, but this isn't really what I had in mind when I left Alaska for South Carolina! However, at least down here, I know the serious (relatively) cold won't last and we'll be back with the glorious, bright, cool days of winter.
If you are paying any attention to any sort of media at this time of year, I'm sure your being bombarded by ideas for New Year's resolutions. I'm not particularly big on those, myself---I've rarely made it to Valentines Day with any of my official "New Year's Resolutions" intact. However, I do like to reflect on the past year, and think about how I'd like things to go in the coming year. One of the things from this past year I've noticed, and commented on to you previously, is how being a Master Naturalist has changed my view and appreciation of the world around us.
Another thing I've recognized is how I've also been inspired to dig deeper into different aspects of things I've been exposed to through Master Naturalists. The particular things that have captured my attention and led to me acquiring new knowledge haven't all been organisms, or "outdoorsy", but were all discovered through CMNA activities. One of my new discoveries occurred at the Stono Preserve Walk and Talk. I learned how that property had belonged most recently to John Henry Dick, an "internationally famous wildlife artist" who had lived right here in the Charleston area. Hmm, really? Why didn't I know of him? Clearly something was missing from my knowledge, both local, and ornithological. Our leader, Dr. Mark Rutter, mentioned a book, Other Edens: The sketchbook of an artists-naturalist, by John Henry Dick, which talked about his transformation from a big game hunter to a dedicated conservationist. Just this bit of information was enough to send me down a rabbit-hole of inquiry into the works of John Henry Dick. I learned a lot about him, about the early days of bird-watching and the leaders who made possible so much of what we think of as common-place. You can read more of my finds at the bottom of this post.
Before I drag you too far down the J.H. Dick rabbit hole, I wanted to share another great resource for delving deeper in galls: Gallformers.org. This is a really intriguing site that has a tremendous amount of information of things that form galls, host plants for those galls, and what the galls look like. It is another opportunity for us to be citizen scientists, since they need more help finding, identifying ranges of galls, etc. They also need help with other things, so it might be a fun service project.
Lastly, as I leave you to pursue some of what I learned about John Henry Dick, I'd like to close by challenging you to dig deeper over the upcoming year into some aspect of what you've learned as a Master Naturalist. It could be anything that captures your interest, but I challenge you all to keep learning on your own. Then think about sharing what you've learned with the rest of us!
Happy New Year!
John Henry Dick, an artist-naturalist
Being a curious fellow, I did some snooping on the internet after the Stono Ferry Walk and Talk, and found the book previously mentioned at Abe Books (a great used book resource, if you need one) and ordered it. It was $15.00 well spent. In this book, I read of John Henry Dick's travels around the globe with companions such as Roger Peterson, Alex Skutch, and similar luminaries. The book is a delight, well written, charmingly illustrated with sketches, and covers excursions to the tropics and both poles. It provides a historical peek into the beginnings of the modern environmental sensitivity and perspective, and of the people who would become leaders in the natural history field.
In addition, Dick illustrated numerous bird guides, two of which I also ordered from Abe Books (yeah, I like books, what can I say?). Below are some illustrations from the Warblers of North America and A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent.
The warbler guide is wonderful to browse and read, not only because of the paintings of warblers, all drawn by Dick from his observations and sketches of live birds, as well as reference museum specimens, but also for the scientific descriptions of the different species. Those descriptions are written by a veritable who's-who of American ornithologists at the time. You can see them listed in the cover image:
The book intrigued me also since it was motivated initially by Dick's desire to paint all the North American warblers. He felt that something should be said about them, too, so approached his friend Alex Sprunt, Jr., and that started a whole process going, where more and more experts were brought in. I enjoyed the description of how the project evolved and especially the product, as seen in the beautiful plate of the Blue-winged/Golden-winged Warbler complex:
Another thing that was quite interesting to me was to see how the status of birds may have changed. For instance, Swainson's Warbler and Bachman's Warbler are illustrated on the same plate
because they were both extremely rare, hard-to-find species; both initially discovered near Charleston, South Carolina; and both lost to science for around 50 years before being rediscovered. Interestingly enough, nowadays, it isn't too hard to hear and see a Swainson's Warbler during springtime near us, but Bachman's Warblers are generally considered to be extinct. The last uncontested sightings of them were in the 1960s. Take a good look at the above picture and pay close attention to every Hooded Warbler you see in the spring---perhaps you'll be the one to rediscover the Bachman's! [Aside: Bonus points to whoever can ID the flowers in that photo in the comment section below!]
The India book is also of historical significance because it was the first book to illustrate every species of bird in the Indian subcontinent. Many illustrations were done from sketches from the field, but others had to rely on museum specimens. You can see some of the beautiful illustrations and birds below. It looks like a great place for a Walk-and-Talk, who's in?
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