Programs 2017 – 2018 Season

American Museum of Natural History, 2017 (Digital Art) © Sherry Felix
American Museum of Natural History, 2017 (Digital Art) © Sherry Felix

The Linnaean Society of New York meets on the second Tuesday of each month from September through May, except March, in the Linder Theater on the first floor of the American Museum of Natural History (enter at West 77th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue).

At each monthly meeting there are two presentations, one starting at 6 pm and the other beginning after the Society’s business at 7:30 pm. All meetings are open to the public and without charge. The Society’s annual meeting and dinner is held on the second Tuesday in March in a private venue, and is open only to members of the Society and their guests.

Up-to-date information about the programs can be found here or at

To receive notifications of changes to programs, trips, and news follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter.

See all the dates on our interactive calendar page.

Thanks to Patrick Baglee, Sherry Felix, Alan Messer, James Muchmore, John P. O’Neill, and Barbara Saunders for the use of their artwork. Alan Messer’s artwork courtesy of Nature Walks of Central Park, 2014 edition, by Dennis Burton.

— Programs 2017–2018—

September 12, 2017

Black-shouldered Kite, 2017 © Patrick Baglee
Black-shouldered Kite, 2017 © Patrick Baglee
6:00 pm – Boldest and Most Beautiful: The Traprock Ridgelands of the Connecticut Valley – Dr. Peter LeTourneau

The ridges of basalt lava (traprock) rising high above the Connecticut Valley from New Haven to Northampton comprise the most important natural region in southern New England. The mountainous terrain forms a “green corridor” featuring a mosaic of unique microbiomes, including alpine sedge meadows, talus (scree) barrens, summit balds, vernal pool complexes, and many others. A diverse population of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds find refuge and habitat in the traprock corridor. The most important migratory route for raptors in New England, the traprock hills are again hosting resident Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and others, after nearly one hundred years of extirpation. The traprock highlands of the Connecticut Valley were also the focus of important nineteenth-century landscape artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. Dr. Peter LeTourneau, a recognized authority on the geology of the Triassic-Jurassic rift basins of the circum-North Atlantic region, will discuss current problems and progress in conservation of this special region.

7:30 pm – Birding Without Borders: An Epic World Big Year – Noah Strycker

In 2015, bird nerd Noah Strycker of Oregon became the first person to see more than half of the planet’s bird species in a single, yearlong, round-the-world birding trip. Anything could have happened, and a lot did. He was scourged by blood-sucking leeches, suffered fevers and sleep deprivation, survived airline snafus and car breakdowns and mudslides and torrential floods, skirted war zones, and had the time of his life. Birding on seven continents and carrying only a pack on his back, Strycker enlisted the enthusiastic support of local birders to tick off more than 6,000 species, including Adélie Penguins in Antarctica, a Harpy Eagle in Brazil, a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Thailand, and a Green-breasted Pitta in Uganda. He shared the adventure in real time on his daily blog, and now he reveals the inside story. This humorous and inspiring presentation about Strycker’s epic World Big Year will leave you with a new appreciation for the birds and birders of the world.

October 10, 2017

Barred Owl, 2014 © Alan Messer
Barred Owl, 2014 © Alan Messer

6:00 pm – The Artist, the Musician, and the Birds of America – Fred Baumgarten

Anthony Philip Heinrich was a little-known 19th-century American composer whose life was closely entwined with that of John James Audubon—so much so that he is buried with the Audubon family in New York City. One persona was the “American Woodsman”; the other persona, the “Beethoven of America.” Heinrich’s music, like Audubon’s art, drew inspiration from the wilderness and wild birds of the continent. Recently, new examples of Heinrich’s work have come to light, including one specifically dedicated to Audubon. Using images provided by Audubon and music by Heinrich, Fred Baumgarten, a former staff member of the National Audubon Society and its resident expert on John James Audubon, will share this astonishing connection between an obscure 19th-century composer and Audubon, and what it tells us about antebellum culture in America.

7:30 pm – Why Do Birds Sing? How Do They Learn Their Songs? And How Can Birders Learn Them Too? – Tom Stephenson

Black-and-white Warbler © Alan Messer
Black-and-white Warbler © Alan Messer

It takes energy to sing. So why do most birds spend so much time vocalizing? What are the different functions of songs and calls? Are songs learned or innate? And how do we know? Tom Stephenson, author of The Warbler Guide and several important birding apps, will present an overview of the kinds of vocalizations that birds make, how they are acquired, and how the song-learning process unfolds. He’ll discuss why you might hear very odd songs from common species in early spring, and what that tells us about the singer. Stephenson will also cover the many different kinds of vocalizations one individual bird might make, what they may mean, and discuss species that sing only one song across the US compared with other species that have hundreds of different songs. He’ll explore some strategies to use when we hear a song we don’t recognize and see why traditional field guides aren’t much help. Finally, he’ll discuss general memorization theory and outline a simple and very effective technique for memorizing many bird songs. So, if you’ve ever had any questions about why birds are singing or wanted better ways of learning their songs, this is the lecture for you!

November 14, 2017

6:00 pm – Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion for Birds – Bernd Brunner

Fox Sparrow, 2017 © James Muchmore
Fox Sparrow, 2017 © James Muchmore

In his riveting book (published in October 2017), Brunner explores some fascinating stories of people who devoted their lives to birds. He provides a unique perspective on why we are attracted to birds and how we encounter and describe them, and yields insights into the long and convoluted history of a passion. Along the way, Bernd Brunner touches upon the history of ornithology. In his presentation, accompanied by vintage artwork, he will focus on some not-so-well-known bird lovers and provide vivid proof that people who love birds, whether they are amateurs or professionals, are as captivating and varied as the birds that give flight to their dreams.

7:30 pm – Chimney Swifts and People: Past, Present and Future – John Connors

In 1682 a swift was found nesting for the first time in a chimney at a colonist’s cabin in Maine. This event forever changed the relationship between this species and people. From the journals of early explorers through the efforts of the largest all-volunteer research project to study the migration of a single species of bird, to Jesuit missionaries in a far-off land, it’s a remarkable story. And it’s not over: the next chapter will be written by us. John Connors, a Long Island native who currently manages the Chimney Swift Research Project with Audubon and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, will share his experiences and research on this incredible, high-flying species.

December 12, 2017

6:00 pm – America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake – Ted Levin

Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, 20009 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders
Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, 2009 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders

Having spent more than seven years studying both the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) and snake advocates, former Bronx zoologist and nature writer Ted Levin will present a portrait of the snake, its place in America’s history—and of the heroic efforts to protect it against habitat loss, climate change, and the human tendency to kill whatever we fear. Reading from his new book America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake, Levin discusses the joys and frustrations of befriending a venomous reptile. He takes us from labs where the secrets of the snake’s evolutionary history are being unlocked to far-flung habitats in locations that are fiercely protected by biologists and dedicated amateur herpetologists.

7:30 pm – My Life with Cranes – George Archibald

Sandhill Cranes in Flight, 2006 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders
Sandhill Cranes in Flight, 2006 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders

Hear Dr. George Archibald, Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, tell his story beginning with the early years, when dreaming big depended on taking risks and the audacity to follow his visionary path. Over the past 50 years, George Archibald’s life has been dedicated to the study and conservation of endangered cranes, and has led him to some of the most remote areas on five continents and to meetings with Indira Ghandi, the Emperor of Japan, and other world leaders. George Archibald’s message of hope and encouragement helps others live their own versions of dream and action. The beauty and charisma of cranes, time and again, have brought people together because they are symbolic ambassadors of harmony and peace, flying free across many borders and inspiring people around the world to work together to protect our natural treasures.

January 9, 2018

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, 2006 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders
Black Guillemot, 2015 © Alan Messer

Members’ Photos and Bird Photo Identification Quiz Revised

Curious about what some of fellow members of The Linnaean Society of New York have been up to over the past year? Want to play stump-the-birder? Come to our first meeting of the year to find out. Interested in sharing your photos of birds and other wildlife, local and exotic?

6:00 pm – Understanding and Conserving Hawaii’s Avifauna – Jacob Drucker

The Hawaiian Islands are the most remote archipelago in the world. This has shaped their natural history in innumerable ways, and led to some of the most dramatically unique bird communities in the world. Isolation has also been the island's downfall, and Hawaii is now considered by many the “extinction capital of the world.” Jacob Drucker, who has worked as a field ornithologist on the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project, will provide a bird-centered overview of Hawaii's natural history, the flagship conservation efforts there that are the final hope for many species on the brink, and the American Birding Association's decision to add the archipelago to its list. 

7:30 pm – A Birder’s Perspective on Global Warming with Notes on the Conservation of Climate – Alan Messer

What is additional arctic warming, and how does it affect the jet stream?  How does the Cooper Island Alaska Black Guillemot colony inform that question?  What is the status of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets?  With the aid of his “great big climate poster”, artist and illustrator Alan Messer will draw on his notes from his time as the Society’s Recording Secretary and his work locally in environmental education, to present a refresher guide on climate mechanics, science communication, and strategies for conservation on a rapidly changing planet.

February 13, 2018

6:00 pm – Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything – Anita Sanchez

Carolus Linnaeus, the great eighteenth-century naturalist, named and classified more than twelve thousand species of plants and animals. As a physician, he saw the need for a clear and simple system of nomenclature and classification for plants used for medicine, and then went on to set himself an ambitious goal: naming all the living things in the world. His classification of humans as just another species of mammals was highly controversial; his use of a “sexual system” to classify plants based on their reproductive parts was outrageous. But the obstinate and outspoken scientist battled his critics fiercely, all the way to the Vatican. He also became a beloved teacher, leading eager students on rowdy field trips into forests and gardens. Today Linnaeus’s work is the basis of the classification system used by scientists worldwide. Author Anita Sanchez will discuss her research on Linnaeus’s life, who began his career as a curious little boy fascinated by the bugs and flowers in his father’s garden, and the process of writing a book for young readers about the great naturalist’s turbulent career.

7:30 pm – Tracking Whimbrels: Movement Toward Full Lifecycle Conservation in a Migratory Shorebird – Bryan Watts

Whimbrel in Flight, 2010 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders
Whimbrel in Flight, 2010 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders

Maintaining migratory species that depend on many countries scattered over large geographic areas is one of the great conservation challenges of our time. Success depends on 1) identifying the network of critical sites and 2) managing site-specific threats. Prior to the development of size-appropriate satellite telemetry, very little was known about migration pathways or connectivity for Whimbrels using the Western Atlantic Flyway. Since 2008, Bryan Watts and his research team have deployed 50 satellite transmitters on Whimbrels throughout the flyway to identify migratory routes and critical staging areas, and to link specific breeding and winter territories. The extreme flight capability of this species allows for the reliance on relatively few staging sites making these sites of high conservation value. The tracking effort has:

  1. illuminated the annual cycle of this declining population
  2. identified unknown migratory pathways
  3. suggested some possible causes of ongoing declines

Watts and his team have used this information to build a prioritized blueprint for conservation. The clear, emergent message of this work is that Whimbrels connect many locations and cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere and that their recovery depends on our ability to bring this community of cultures together around a single goal.

March 13, 2018

ANNUAL MEETING AND DINNER ~ 6:30 pm – open only to members and their guests (details will be in the invitation)
Elusive Antpitta, 1966 © John P O'Neill
Elusive Antpitta, 1966 © John P O’Neill

Dr. John O’Neill – A Modern-Day Explorer – talk given by Daniel Lane

At the Annual Meeting and Dinner, Dr. John O’Neill will receive the Eisenmann Medal, the Linnaean Society’s highest award, given for excellence in ornithology and encouragement of the amateur. Most of us know about the biological explorations of the Victorian era, with names such as Darwin and Wallace coming to mind when the topic is brought up. But biological exploration is not a thing of yesteryear; it is still very much a present-day endeavor! In the world of ornithology, one man astounded the world in 1964 with the discovery of a new genus of tanager in Peru that heralded a resurgence of interest in biological exploration in the Neotropics. That man is John O’Neill. Among his many explorations, in the late 1980’s Dr. O’Neill led an ornithological expedition to Peru’s Cordillera Divisor, an extremely remote and unexplored region deep in the Amazonian rain forest. That adventurous trip, chronicled in Don Stap’s 1990 book A Parrot Without a Name, culminated in the discovery of a parrot species that was new to science. Now with 15 species, including three new genera (Conioptilon mcilhennyi, Xenoglaux loweryi, and Wetmorethraupis sterrhopteron), described since he began his fieldwork in 1961 (the most recent published in 2017), Dr. O’Neill is renowned as someone who has an excellent eye for sites where new bird species may yet be found. He has largely worked in Peru, but his interests are far wider, including the avifauna of his home state of Texas. He is an accomplished bird artist, author, and has been instrumental in invigorating the field of ornithology through his example and his kindness.

April 10, 2018

6:00 pm – Citizen Science in the Information Age: Improving the Quality and Usefulness of Crowd-sourced Datasets – Shaibal Mitra

Black-crowned Night-Heron, 2014 © Alan Messer
Black-crowned Night-Heron, 2014 © Alan Messer

Digital technology has revolutionized the ways in which natural history observations are collected and shared. Public participation has been vastly expanded, and remarkable advances have been achieved for historically difficult questions regarding the distribution and abundance of wild organisms. At the same time, observers’ practices have been changing rapidly, for many reasons, both intended and unintended, with a wide range of consequences for data quality and usefulness. Shai Mitra, an evolutionary biologist, will critique several areas in which the relationships between methods and results have become confused, such as the selection of sampling sites, distance and duration of effort, completeness of samples, independence of samples, and treatment of taxa above and below the species level. Mitra will show that current practices—including some that have been strongly advocated—are yielding negative consequences for data quality and overall usefulness, and will propose several simple improvements.

7:30 pm – Birding for Conservation in Colombia – Alvaro Jaramillo

Anna’s Hummingbird, 2017 © Patrick Baglee
Anna’s Hummingbird, 2017 © Patrick Baglee

Many birders have heard that Colombia is the most bird-rich nation on Earth! So why is it not full of birders? It’s on an incredible upswing, coming out of a decades-long conflict, political as well as the illegal drug trade. Those days are becoming history. The country has gone through a sharp turnaround turnaround in regards to travelers’ safety. The birding is astounding, and there are some wonderfully unique spots to visit. Among these is the Santa Marta mountain range, separate from the Andes, that has an incredible level of endemism—species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Santa Marta, the nearby dry forests, the coastal desert, and the Perijá Mountains to the east make northern Colombia an amazing way to begin to dip your toes in the unbelievable birdlife of this country. Then there are the three different ranges of the Andes, and valleys rich with endemics. Alvaro Jaramillo has been involved in a large project with National Audubon over the last couple of years that aims to promote conservation through economic development. How? Well, by creating the infrastructure and guide training to increase birding tourism in the area. When people earn a living from birding, they will preserve the birds and habitat. Come learn about this innovative program, and discover the richness of birds and birding in Colombia.

May 8, 2018

Common Grackle, 2014 © Alan Messer
Common Grackle, 2014 © Alan Messer

6:00 pm – Wild Green Heart – Ken Chaya

Throughout the seasons, Central Park plays host to a wide diversity of life forms, including birds, trees, wildflowers, and insects. While many residents and visitors alike enjoy the Park as a place of active recreation and passive relaxation, it is the birders and botanists, entomologists, urban naturalists, and nature lovers who—through their observations and study—deeply engage with the Park as a living green space. Through photography and illustration, Ken Chaya’s presentation will highlight some of the magnificent landscape and local flora and fauna that can be found in Central Park, the wild green heart of Manhattan.

7:30 pm — Studying Birds in the Context of the Annual Cycle: Carry-over Effects and Seasonal Interactions – Peter Marra

Black-necked Stilt, 2017 © Patrick Baglee
Black-necked Stilt, 2017 © Patrick Baglee

Migration is one of the most engaging phenomena of the animal world and one that is epitomized by birds. Migratory birds spend different parts of the annual cycle in geographically disparate places. The conditions and selective pressures during each period are likely to affect individual performance during subsequent periods. This simple fact presents us with considerable obstacles to understanding how agents of global change (i.e., climate, land use) will influence the ecology, evolution, and conservation of migratory birds. Such interseasonal effects are poorly understood within most avian migration systems, in large part because it has been difficult to follow individuals and specific populations year-round (i.e., migratory connectivity). In addition, for most species there exists an extreme research bias toward breeding over nonbreeding season biology. Furthermore, the limiting factors and regulatory mechanisms that determine abundance remain poorly understood for most bird species. Pete Marra, Director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, uses long-term research on redstarts in Jamaica to show how conditions on wintering grounds, such as climate and habitat, affect both arrival time and body condition of individual birds on breeding areas, and how these parameters are likely to have important consequences for breeding events and annual survival. Understanding how global change will influence migratory organisms requires the study of biological phenomena in the context of the entire annual cycle.

— Summer Programs 2018 —

Yellow-throated Vireo, 2014 © Alan Messer
Yellow-throated Vireo, 2014 © Alan Messer

These programs, led by experts in their field, are held in Central Park, with the meeting dates, times, and places as indicated. The programs will take place in drizzle but not in rain. Check the LSNY website as well as Facebook and Twitter for updates and changes. Insect repellent is advised. For evening walks bring a flashlight. Please note that for summer 2018 there is no scheduled June program, and that there are two programs in August.

These three programs are also listed in LSNY field trips.

Saturday, July 21 – Orienteering in Central Park – Sherry Felix

Orienteering Compass
Orienteering Compass

When you head into regions unknown in search of a special bird, you may think you can rely on your cell phone’s map and compass apps—but batteries die and GPS signals fade. This is why finding one’s way using an orienteering compass and understanding how to read topographic maps is still vital. Join former urban park ranger and Audubon environmental educator Sherry Felix in the Ramble and and learn how to navigate with a compass—plus a few ways to navigate without any aids at all. See how to get around an obstacle and try the new three-legged compass walk.

Please bring an orienteering compass with a transparent plastic plate and download and print the map (PDF).

Leader and registrar: Sherry Felix — or 646-339-0138
Registration opens: Monday, July 9
Meet at 77th Street and Central Park West at 6:00 pm

Wednesday, August 8 – Central Park for Bats, Crickets, and Katydids – Paul Keim

Sanderlings, 2017 © James Muchmore
Sanderlings, 2017 © James Muchmore

Birdwatcher, watercolorist, and naturalist, Paul Keim will lead us on a discovery of the creatures of the twilight and night sky from fireflies to flying mammals. Using an echolocator to hear the local species of bats by their otherwise inaudible high-frequency chirps, we will follow their movements with a flashlight as they zip by quickly hunting for insect food. We will also share Paul’s growing interest in crickets and katydids as we try to track the different species making the evening’s choral cacophony.

Meet at 103rd Street & Central Park West at 7:00 pm.

Saturday, August 11 – Central Park Horticultural Walk – Regina Alvarez

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, 2006 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, 2006 (Digital Art) © Barbara Saunders

Join botanist Regina Alvarez for a walk in the North Woods and the Wildflower Meadow for a late summer look at the flowering plants and shrubs of Central Park’s north end. Along with fellow botanist Daniel Atha, Regina has been collecting herbarium specimens of every species growing wild in the Park. Already they have discovered new botanical records and have rediscovered plants not seen since the 1850s. Regina is a former director of horticulture and a woodland manager for the Central Park Conservancy. Currently she is an adjunct professor of botany at the City University of New York.

Meet at 103rd Street & Central Park West at 10:00 am.