A Bird Studies Bash for the Birthday Boy

Shortly before the 152nd anniversary of the birth of Witmer Stone, a DVOC-sponsored celebration of Bird Studies at Old Cape May (BSOCM) was held at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Bill Uhrich, a writer and photo editor with the Reading Eagle newspaper, had the wonderful idea of reuniting the first three sets of BSOCM for the first time since December 15, 1937. (Each of the 1,400 2-volume sets has a unique identification number, 1–1,400, on the last page of volume 2). On that long-ago evening, Stone hosted several of the artists and photographers who contributed to the book, then hot off the presses. Stone signed set #1 to his wife Lillie, and sets 2 and 3 to artists Earl Poole and Conrad Roland. Set #1 was recently donated to the Berks History Center, and earlier this year set #2 was donated to ANSP and Bill purchased set #3. So the stage was set for Bill’s idea for the “reunion.”

Matthew Halley, Bob Peck, and Jennifer Vess at ANSP really pulled out the stops by filling some cases with original BSOCM artwork. One case had numerous drawings by Stone’s lifelong friend Herbert Brown:


One of my favorite BSOCM illustrations is Brown’s rendering of an Osprey rising from the water with a fish. Brown captured that moment so perfectly that I think of it every time I see the age-old drama play out in coastal New Jersey:


The evening also represented the long-delayed debut of some Roland illustrations made for BSOCM that Stone, for whatever reason, decided not to use. He used Roland’s Black Skimmer and Dunlin, but not his Semipalmated Sandpiper (lower right; photo by Gregg Gorton):


Bill Uhrich’s recently-purchased copy of set #3 had Roland’s original Herring Gull drawing tipped in…


…along with a wonderful Roland illustration of Stone that I had never seen before:


Joe and Charles Poole, sons of BSOCM artist Earl Poole, recently made a very generous donation to ANSP of a collection of their father’s artwork, the manuscript of Poole’s unpublished Days With the Birds, and, as an added and unexpected bonus, Earl’s set #2 of BSOCM. One case had a nice sampling of Poole’s typically elegant bird drawings, some of which appear in BSOCM:


The Berks History Center is the home of set #1 of BSOCM, as well as the original of Poole’s Osprey frontispiece, and the center’s executive director, Sime Bertolet, very graciously brought both along for the event. Here are Sime (L) and Bob Peck, curator of art and artifacts and senior fellow at ANSP, standing next to Poole’s Osprey, with the first 3 sets of BSOCM laid out in front of them:


Kudos to Matthew Halley and Greg Cowper for pulling some Stone material from ANSP’s world-famous collections, including some Orthoptera collected by Stone during his last summers in Cape May; a display about the history of “Stone’s Locust,” named for him by ANSP colleague James A.G. Rehn


…and some juvenile terns that are associated with one of my favorite Cape May Stone stories.  He visited a Common Tern nesting colony on Ephraim Island, New Jersey (next to Wildwood Crest) in August 1928, and discovered it had been washed out by a recent storm. He picked up 14 dead juveniles and took them back to the house he and Lillie rented each summer at 909 Queen Street in Cape May. There, he worked them up into study skins for ANSP’s collections. Pioneering bird-banding ornithologist Frederick C. Lincoln later wrote to Stone, “I can imagine the highly scented condition of at least part of your house after the ‘tern episode.’” The people who owned 909 Queen could have expected as much for renting to an ornithologist. Here are three of the young terns collected by Stone:


Many thanks to the people mentioned here who were responsible for the event, especially Bill Uhrich, whose passion for BSOCM led to a great evening for the ~40 people who attended. Below, Bill (far right, being introduced by Matt Halley) is about to give his  talk about his research into BSOCM‘s history and artwork. Alas, this is probably the last time I will see the lovely old Academy reading room, where I spent so many hours watching Witmer Stone’s story come to life through the Academy’s outstanding Stone archival material. Sadly, the room, whose walls respire with Academy history, is being “modernized,” and one more locale from another time is eliminated in the name of “progress.”


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A Bird Studies Bash for the Birthday Boy

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