Monthly Archives: January 2016

They Just Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore – Part Two

IMG_3676

Another example of “writing like they used to,” found in one of the books from Witmer Stone’s personal library, is a passage in H.E. Parkhurst’s 1897 book Song Birds and Water Fowl. In the chapter “At the Water’s Edge,” Parkhurst recommends watching the antics of gulls (like the Iceland Gull above) on a winter day at the beach: “The spectator can no more tire of watching the graceful and gigantic scrolls that they inscribe upon the air, or their languishing passage over the sea, than he can weary of the ocean’s ceaseless roll, whose deep incessant undertones are an apt accompaniment for these noble airy beings in their diverting and untiring exhibitions; beings formed, as one might imagine, from the waves’ foamy crests, mysteriously winged and vitalized – the offspring of the sea, and mantled by the sky.”

IMG_2701edIt seems we don’t even think like that anymore, let alone write like that. A description of gulls that includes the musing that they seem to have sprang to life, miraculously animated, from the wave crests and mists over which they fly? Don’t look for any such sentiments in the next article you read about somebody’s “Big Year,” or in any social media gushings about the latest vagrant being ogled by the twitching masses.

Stone’s Restaurant

StoneRest

Last weekend ended yet another Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season. Witmer Stone participated in the very first CBC in 1900; beginning in the 1920s, he was a regular participant in the Cape May CBC, along with his great friend Otway Brown. Just like today, the participants had a “roundup” at the end of the day when they’d get together and combine their lists. Reflecting in Bird Studies at Old Cape May on his “delightful association with men of kindred interests,” Stone gave us a great description of the CBC roundup: “And there have been those gatherings for dinner at the Cape May Court House at the close of the Christmas Census, with one party after another coming in half frozen from boats on the sounds and the Bay, or from stations out on the end of the jetty, or on remote ponds and in dense woodlands, to prepare their combined report.”

I wondered for years just where they all gathered, and during my research I stumbled across the answer in a 1934 letter from Stone to Muriel Fisher, the woman who saw New Jersey’s first frigatebird. Telling Fisher about some recent birding outings, Stone wrote, “At the time of the Christmas Census the DVOC made the usual trip to the Cape May district and 24 men had dinner at Stone’s Restaurant in Court House (no relative of mine!) and made up their combined list, which totaled 93 this time.”

Since reading that letter, I’ve wondered where Stone’s Restaurant was located. It clearly was no longer extant, but I couldn’t find anything online about its location or history. Thanks to Sonia Forry and Bud Corson at The Museum of Cape May County, I now know it was in this building (see photo) on Main Street (Route 9) in Cape May Court House, since altered and home to a barber shop and a bail bond service. The house behind the shops is the old Stone family house. With a restaurant this small, 24 men would have about filled it right up!

If these walls could talk, they’d have a lot of great stories to tell, about DVOC Cape May CBC roundups and many other things. One classic would be from the Dec. 27, 1936 CBC roundup, when 16-year-old Alan Brady, later a DVOC legend himself, approached compiler Witmer Stone sitting in one of the restaurant’s booths to report that he had seen a Merlin earlier in the day. Stone, doubtless with twinkling eyes and a kindly smile, said, “Alan, we don’t see Merlins on the Christmas count,” and, as Alan recounted years later, “that was the end of that.” Those of us who knew Alan could advise that Stone didn’t even know who he was messin’ with.

Bud Corson has graciously provided some firsthand reminiscences about Stone’s Restaurant, which can be accessed with the link below. I’m guessing that most of the DVOC men were “pie” guys.  :)

Bud Corson remembers Stone’s Restaurant

They Just Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore

Mobbing

Birders are familiar with the sight of a perched Great Horned Owl being mobbed by a flock of crows. If the owl sits tight, the crows eventually tire of screaming invective and, one at a time, drift off to find mischief elsewhere. However, if for some reason the owl flies – for example, if a curious birdwatcher stumbles onto the scene trying to find out what all the fuss is about and gets too close for the owl’s comfort – the crows immediately renew their attack with full-throated vehemence. Once the owl lands, if it sits placidly again, the crows gradually move off. That’s my dry, factual description of the commonly encountered event.

I found a much more interesting rendition of it in one of the old books from Witmer Stone’s personal library. Perley Milton (“P.M.”) Silloway, in his 1897 book Sketches of Some Common Birds, described the crows mobbing a hapless owl, then wrote, “At length, having exhausted the corvine vocabulary of epithets and scurrility, and being tired of deriding that which, like Diogenes, would not be derided, one by one the crows would abandon the siege and seek less stoical victims, or less monotonous amusement.” You can look through all the latest bird-related books, listservs, and social media posts you want, and you’ll never come across a sentence containing the likes of “corvine vocabulary of epithets,” or “scurrility,” or a reference to a Greek philosopher who was an influence on the early Stoics.