The Linnaean Society of New York
Programs – Trips – Activities – Calendar

Programs ⁄ Lectures 2013 –2014 Season

American Museum of Natural History © Sherry Felix
American Museum of Natural History © Sherry Felix

This season the Society will meet on the second Tuesday of each month from September through May, except for March, in Linder Theater on the first floor of the American Museum of Natural History (enter at 77th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West).

Each month there will be an informal early program from 6-7 pm and then a regular meeting from 7:30-9 pm, featuring an illustrated talk. All these meetings are open to the public free of charge. The Society’s Annual Dinner and Meeting is held on the second Tuesday in March in a private club and is open only to members of the Society and their guests.

Up-to-date information about meetings can be found here or on our Facebook page, Linnaean Society of New York, and on local e-mail birding reports.

The 3 Summer programs start in June

September 10, 2013

6:00 pm — Scientific collecting in the digital age: Recording expeditions spanning the globe for the acoustic and visual archives of the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library

Assistant Curator of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Benjamin Clock is also the author of 31 species accounts of Tyrant Flycatchers in volume 9 of Handbook of the Birds of the World and a sound and video recordist for the Macaulay Library. He writes, “The Macaulay archives have been built by dedicated recordists over the past nine decades. The Library is now the largest archive of its kind, with coverage of over 7,000 species of birds and thousands of amphibians, mammals, fish and insects. My talk, featuring video and sounds recorded across the globe, will take you on a journey through the history of the archives, chronicling recording expeditions from Lab founder Arthur A. Allen’s ground-breaking work in the early twentieth century to today’s efforts to document birds of the world with high-resolution multimedia specimens.”

7:30 pm — A Century of Change in American Ornithology, Chandler S. Robbins

At 95 the undisputed dean of American ornithologists, Chandler S. Robbins recently retired as Senior Scientist at the United States Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. In his sixty years with Patuxent, he conducted many important research projects, most notably on pesticides, forest fragmentation and neo-tropical migrants, his fieldwork on the last of these taking him to wide swaths of North, Central and South America. He was the senior author of the innovative and very popular Golden Guide Birds of North America: a Guide to Field Identification, the originator of the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the author of its protocols, still in effect after almost fifty years. He has received every major award in American ornithology, including the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Arthur A. Allen Award (1979), the American Birding Association’s Ludlow Griscom Award (1984), the American Ornithologists’ Union’s Elliott Coues Award (1997) and the Linnaean Society’s Eisenmann Medal (1987), given for excellence in ornithology and encouragement of the amateur. He writes of his talk, “Having recently attended the Centennial meeting of the Brookline Bird Club at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, I have done much reflecting on the vast changes in human knowledge, in technology, in daily living, in bird populations, in wildlife habitats, and in environmental changes that affect all of the above. It has been my unique privilege to have known most of the century’s American ornithologists, to have given talks in 48 of the 50 states, and to have worked in one way or another (counting, tape recording, measuring, weighing, banding) with nearly all of North America’s breeding bird species. Our challenge for the future is to restore the close connection that our grandparents had with the natural environment so urban young people of the future can appreciate and protect the natural environment in which they live.”

October 8, 2013

Blackburnian Warbler © Alan Messer
Blackburnian Warbler © Alan Messer

6:00 pm — A Talk with Peter Post

The youngest Linnaean member ever up to the time he joined the Society in 1954, Peter Post received a PhD from Columbia University in anthropology, which he went on to teach at several colleges and universities, including the University of Florida and Cornell. His avocation, however, has always been ornithology, and he has long been a member of what Todd Newberry in his book The Ardent Birder calls “the varsity.” His birding trips have taken him to many countries around the world; his photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including Audubon Magazine, Natural History Magazine and Handbook of the Birds of the World; he has published in some of the major ornithological publications, including Bird Banding, The Auk and Ibis; and he was the author of the 1979 Wildlife Management Plan for the Gateway National Recreation Area. He will talk about his life in birding and the changes he has seen over the years.

7:30 pm — The Warbler Guide: The Overlooked ID Points that Make Identifying Warblers Easy, Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

Tom Stephenson was joined by Scott Whittle, his co-author of the recently published The Warbler Guide. Tom Stephenson is a musician, a lecturer, a photographer whose work has appeared in many publications including Birding and Handbook of the Birds of the World, a leader of bird tours in the Unites States and Asia, and most recently the co-author, with Scott Whittle, of The Warbler Guide, published by Princeton University Press. The book has been receiving enthusiastic reviews in birding publications, including one that begins, “The Warbler Bible has come forth!” He writes of his talk, “Our warblers are some of the most beautiful birds in the world, but their beautiful colors often blind birders to many of their most important ID points. This problem is compounded by the often brief and obstructed views we have in the field. This talk discusses many of these very important but often overlooked ID points such as overall contrast, subtle facial features, color impressions, feather edging, rump contrast, and foraging style, location, and behavior. And fortunately, viewing a warbler from below can reveal some of the most important ID points for many species. Learn how many tail and undertail covert patterns are, in fact, diagnostic alone or when combined with one other ID point. Individual species, especially the most challenging to identify, will also be discussed with outlines of the important ID points, comparisons with similar species, and illustrations of how even partial views can be used to identify many of even the most challenging warbler species.”

November 12, 2013

6:00 pm — Concert: “Islands in the City”

Linnaean member Elijah Shiffer is a senior at the Manhattan School of Music, a composer, and a virtuoso performer on flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone. Since he was thirteen he has been performing his own and others’ compositions in numerous venues around the city, including Jazz at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He won DownBeat magazine Student Music Awards in 2009 for original song and original extended composition and received the Young Jazz Composer Award in 2008 and 2010 from ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and was a finalist in 2012. For tonight’s concert, he will be joined by several other Manhattan School students. He writes, “We will be playing pieces that I have written that are influenced by the nature of NYC parks; they present musical portraits of Riverside Park, Central Park, Jamaica Bay, and Orchard Beach/Pelham Bay Park. The images and events I am influenced by focus on the small insights the parks offer into, respectively, the river, the woods, the ocean, and the Sound. Each piece is also influenced by a change of season, especially as it relates to bird migration; together the pieces represent a year in the life of the natural areas of New York City. I will be explaining what each piece represents, and how I translate my influences into music.”

7:30 pm — The Unfeathered Bird, Katrina van Grouw

Katrina van Grouw, whose early work appears under her maiden name, Katrina Cook, is a licensed taxidermist and bird bander, a natural history illustrator for magazines and books, an author and a successful fine artist. She graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art, spent seven years as a curator of birds at London's Natural History Museum and left to work on the book that became The Unfeathered Bird, the subject of tonight's talk. Twenty-five years in the making, the book, in her drawings of birds without their feathers and in her text, makes clear how birds’ “appearance, posture and behavior influence, and are influenced by, their internal structure.“ The Editorial Reviews section of the book's Amazon page lists excerpts of reviews from 42 publications, containing such words and phrases as “extraordinary,” “fascinating,” “captivating,” “simply superb,” “genuinely new insights into the behavior of living species,” “an adventure,“ “a remarkable blend of science and art,” “a treasure trove of 385 stunning anatomical drawings,“ ”haunting,“ ”seductive,“ ”magnificent,“ ”a monumental achievement,“ ”wonderful and enlightening,“ ”a classic,“ ”a precious thing,“ ”utterly unique,“ ”gorgeous,“ ”truly a magnum opus,“ ”astounding,“ ”[u]nsettling and irresistible.“ She writes, "Originally intended as a tool for artists, The Unfeathered Bird gradually evolved into something more ambitious, and every day my eyes were opened to some new discovery. The book became a work intended equally for scientists and artists, but also for anyone with an appreciation of birds or an interest in their adaptations and behavior. Its 385 illustrations of 200 species were made from actual skeletons, virtually all of which were prepared and reconstructed at home from specimens donated from zoos, wildlife hospitals and conservation charities. In this talk I will explain my aims and inspirations and share what I've learned about birds beneath their feathers, from where to find a toucan's nostrils to why it is that birds have proportionately longer necks than almost any other animal."

December 10, 2013

Scarlet Tanager © Alan Messer
Scarlet Tanager © Alan Messer

6:00 pm — Morning Flight

The program originally scheduled for 6 pm — "Fall Migration Round-up" with Angus Wilson — has been postponed until the fall of 2014. The program originally scheduled for January 14, 2014 at 6 pm has taken its place.

Benjamin Van Doren is a sophomore at Cornell University, studying biology, and he spent time this summer helping to record Kirtland’s Warblers for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. When he was a senior in high school, his research project on morning flight in birds won him fifth place (and $30,000 and a visit with President Obama) in the national Intel Science Talent Search in Washington, D.C. He writes, “Many songbirds that migrate at night also use the early morning hours to move in large numbers, but, interestingly, they often head in directions that bring them away from their ultimate destinations. These ‛morning flights’ occur regularly and can be quite impressive in areas where topography concentrates migrants. However, much remains to be learned about this fascinating phenomenon. I will discuss my research project that focused on better understanding morning flight using a team of observers, Doppler weather radar, nocturnal flight calls, and winds aloft.”

7:30 pm — Evolution for Birders: A Guide for the Perplexed, Douglas Futuyma

Douglas Futuyma is Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University and the author of two standard college textbooks, Evolutionary Biology and Evolution, as well as a popular classic, Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution. He has received numerous awards for his teaching and for his research, including in 2012 the Joseph Leidy Award for Research Achievement given by the Academy of Natural Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright Fellow, has served as president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Society of Naturalists, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. He writes of his talk, “Birders frequently face questions that fall within the province of evolutionary science. What are species? Are they real or arbitrary? How confident can we be about which species belong in which families? What are the differences between ‛phases,’ ‛morphs,’ ‛races,’ and ‛subspecies’? Why do some birds lay many eggs and some few? What accounts for odd geographic distributions of some families? I will talk about some of these and other issues, and I plan to open the floor to discuss any other questions about the evolution and ecology of birds that audience members may wish to raise.”

January 14, 2014

The program originally scheduled for 6 pm — “Morning Flight” with Benjamin Van Doren — will be presented at 6 pm on December 10, 2013.

6:00 pm — Paul Sweet

Paul Sweet is the Collection Manager in the Ornithology Department of the American Museum of Natural History (in charge of the department's many different collections) and the author of the recent book Extraordinary Birds, the second in the museum’s Natural Histories series, which traces the entwined histories of art and science through illustrated works from the museum’s Rare Book Collection. He will discuss his book, which features bird illustrations from 40 rare volumes with accompanying essays (the boxed set also contains these illustrations as separate frameable prints). He writes, “I examine the history of ornithological illustration from the Renaissance to the 20th century, tracing the development of printing techniques, world exploration and scientific thought, and tell the stories of important figures from the history of ornithology.”

7:30 pm — Birds are more colorful than they look, Bob Montgomerie

Bob Montgomerie received his PhD at McGill University, followed by a 10-year research fellowship at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he is now Professor and Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology. In 2010 he received the American Ornithologists’ Union's Elliott Coues Award, which “recognizes extraordinary contributions to ornithological research.” The citation for his award reads, in part: “Bob Montgomerie is a Canadian behavioral ecologist, best known for his wide-ranging studies of sexual selection and parental care in birds. His research program is noteworthy both for the broad diversity of species and topics in which he and his students have made important contributions and for his creative insights and questions.... He is widely recognized as a leader in the study of plumage color, and here, too, he has studied a wide variety of species. The overarching theme is to understand plumage evolution in a broad ecological and life-history context.... He is a Fellow of the AOU and has received numerous awards for both research and graduate teaching.” Prof. Montgomerie writes of his talk, “Recent technological advances have allowed us to measure accurately the colors that birds display, and to estimate what they see when they look at each other. The surprise is that they are much more colorful than they look to us, and that they can detect subtle differences in coloration that are invisible to us. Over the past 20 year my research group has studied the colors and displays of fairywrens and bowerbirds in Australia, ptarmigan and buntings in the high arctic, robins, swallows and goldfinches in Ontario, and feral peafowl in LA, NY and Toronto. I will use these studies to address what I think are some fascinating questions about the evolution of bird colors. Why are they so colorful? What do they look like to each other? Why are some colors so common and others so rare? How does the color of their plumage influence mating and social interactions? Why are females of some species so brightly colored? How do they use ambient light to enhance their colorful displays? Why do so many species lay colorful eggs?”

February 11, 2014

Woodpecker sp. © Alan Messer
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker © Alan Messer

6:00 pm — Wilderness Tracking

A Lipan Apache elder named Stalking Wolf passed on his knowledge of wilderness tracking to Tom Brown, founder of the legendary Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and Brown has passed on that knowledge to Bill Marple, Director of Operations at the school and founder and head instructor of his own wilderness school, Earth Voices. He will show how much can be learned from the tracks of birds, other animals and humans and from other signs of human and animal presence in the wilderness.

7:30 pm — GFP: Lighting Up Life, Martin Chalfie

Martin Chalfie received his PhD in neurobiology from Harvard in 1977, joined the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University in 1982, and last spring was named University Professor, Columbia’s highest honor, a title held by only thirteen of Columbia’s faculty. Because Alfred Nobel in his will left money for prizes in only five categories — peace, literature, physics, chemistry, and “physiology or medicine” — biologists who make revolutionary discoveries receive the prize in one of the last two categories, and Prof. Chalfie shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of GFP: Green Fluorescent Protein. In its announcement of the award, his department said, “GFP has become a fundamental tool of cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, neurobiology, and the medical sciences.” Prof. Chalfie writes of his talk, “Yogi Berra once said, ‘You can observe a lot by just watching.’ Unfortunately, before the early 1990’s observations in the biological sciences were usually done on dead specimens that were specially prepared and permeabilized to allow entry of reagents to stain cell components. Those methods allowed a glimpse of what cells were doing, but they gave a necessarily static view of life, just snapshots in time. GFP and other fluorescent proteins revolutionized the biological sciences because these proteins allowed scientists to look at the inner working of living cells. GFP can be used to tell where genes are turned on, where proteins are located within tissues, and how cell activities change over time. Once a cell can be seen, it can be studied and manipulated. The story of the discovery and development of GFP also provides a very nice example of how scientific progress is often made: through accidental discoveries, the willingness to ignore previous assumptions and take chances, and the combined efforts of many people. The story of GFP also shows the importance of basic research on non-traditional organisms.”

March 11, 2014

ANNUAL MEETING AND DINNER (open only to members and their guests)

See the news report about the Annual Dinner-Awards Meeting

Wildlife of the Eastern and Central Tropical Pacific, Sophie Webb

At the Annual Dinner, Sophie Webb will receive the Eisenmann Medal, the Linnaean Society's highest award, given for excellence in ornithology and encouragement of the amateur. She is a lecturer, illustrator, author, artist, field biologist and ecologist of world-wide range as well as an ornithologist, and her work runs the gamut from cruise ships to research vessels and from children’s books to scientific papers. A co-founder and board member of Oikonos, which has conservation projects in many countries, she is perhaps best known as the co-author (with Steve N.G. Howell) and illustrator of A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, the standard field guide since its publication by Oxford University Press in 1995. She writes of her talk, “About twelve years ago I started to spend up to seven months a year working on a variety of research cruises, censusing seabirds. These ranged from cruises of a few weeks to longer cruises that lasted up to five months. My talk will be about the latter. The long cruises were run by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), a lab of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration based in La Jolla, California. The main purpose of the expeditions was to census marine mammals in the Central and Eastern Tropical Pacific, but, given the unique nature (and expense) of where the cruises were going, the researchers at SWFSC created an interdisciplinary program that included oceanography, turtle, fish and squid sampling and seabird censusing, the last being my contribution to the overall picture of the ecology of the region. My talk will focus on the wildlife (mainly birds and marine mammals) we encountered. Many species of seabirds, some little known, migrate to or through the region from remote Pacific islands. The data gathered on the cruises have increased our understanding of seabird ranges away from their breeding colonies and marine mammal distribution and recovery (or lack of recovery) in the Pacific. Mostly I will talk about the birds and the mammals but will briefly touch on some conservation issues in the region.”

Mexican Robin © Alan Messer
Mexican Robin © Alan Messer

April 8, 2014

6:00 pm — Kimball Redux

Jeffrey Kimball, whose film originally called The Central Park Effect has been a resounding hit among both birders and non-birders, will lead participants in the film in a discussion of the making of the film and of the film itself and show some memorable outtakes.

7:30 pm — The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, Julie Zickefoose

After graduating from Harvard, where she studied art and biology, Julie Zickefoose worked for six years as a field biologist for The Nature Conservancy. She is now a columnist (Birdwatcher’s Digest), blogger (three a week, averaging about 24,000 hits each), lecturer, wildlife rehabilitator, bird tour leader, artist and author of several books, and she recently completed a five-year stint as a monthly commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The American Ornithologists’ Union and the Academy of Natural Sciences chose her as one of the primary illustrators of their 17-volume The Birds of North America. Her talk is based on her latest book, of the same title, which is illustrated by 320 of her pencil drawings and watercolors, about which Scott Weidensaul says in his Foreward, “More than almost any other contemporary artist, Zick has the ability to capture the spark of the living creature — the gift for translating motion and color into line and form while retaining the essence of the bird.” The book is likely the only nature book ever to have been reviewed favorably in the New York Review of Books (by Linnaean past president Robert O. Paxton) and to have been chosen Book of the Week by Oprah Winfrey. Ms. Zickefoose writes, “The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds is about what happens when, by virtue of raising it when it's orphaned or helping it when it’s hurt, you are taken into the confidence of a wild bird. It’s about the unexpected mental and emotional capacities of birds, especially songbirds, which we tend to underestimate and overlook. Everyone knows that crows, ravens and parrots are intelligent, but have you thought about hummingbirds? I have a unique perspective, having been mother to six. And chimney swifts, cedar waxwings, mourning doves, cardinals and rose-breasted grosbeaks, to name a few. Join me for an intimate, eye-opening look at the rich mental and emotional landscape of birds.”

May 13, 2014

Palm Warbler © Alan Messer
Palm Warbler © Alan Messer

6:00 pm — Photo Quiz

Angus Wilson, Vice President of the Linnaean Society and Chairman of the New York State Avian Records Committee, will be the quizmaster. He writes, “One of the best ways to learn to identify birds is to study as many photographs as you can, building mental images and learning to zero in on the shapes and color patterns that matter. This will be a light-hearted quiz where you can test your knowledge and, I hope, learn a trick or two. The quiz will feature species that every birder worth his or her binoculars should know and perhaps a few that will stump even the experts in the audience. Sometimes the common birds can be tricky and the rare birds quite obvious. Join us and see how well you will do. Prizes for the top young birders.”

7:30 pm — The History of Natural History: A Naturalist's Perspective, Rick Cech

An active field naturalist since childhood, presently a natural history author and photographer, Rick Cech has led nature trips since the early 1980's and makes regular presentations to birding and butterfly clubs and natural history and botanical organizations. He is a curatorial affiliate in entomology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the principal author and photographer of The Butterflies of the East Coast: An Observer’s Guide (Princeton, 2005). His recent work includes editing and photography for the iPhone app Audubon Butterflies — A Field Guide to North American Butterflies and development of the FieldGuides regional butterfly series. He is a past president of the Linnaean Society and played a formative role in originating the Sibley Guide series and the National Audubon Society Interactive CD-ROM Guide to North American Birds. With Peter Alden, he was co-author of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida, covering over a thousand species of the flora and fauna of that state. He writes of his talk, “Older than science! More powerful than scholastic allegory! Able to span arcane systematics in a single bound! It's natural history, a folk tradition dating from the early Renaissance, whose durable guiding principles have descended through the ages by word of mouth. Often considered a benign personal distraction — or an effete pastime of aristocrats — nature study is in fact a rigorous avocation that has played a significant role in shaping our modern view of the world. In this talk I will reflect on my participation in this long tradition. Come celebrate our membership in this noble pursuit, which must rank among humanity's more unlikely — and yet most splendid and enjoyable — master-strokes.”

Summer Programs 2014

Three programs, led by experts in their fields, will be held on the third Tuesdays of the summer months. The venue for each will be Central Park, with the meeting places and times as indicated. The programs will take place in drizzle but not in rain. For the July and August programs please bring a flashlight if you can. No registration is needed for these programs.

June 17, 2014 — Horticultural Walk in the Ramble

Black-throated Green Warbler © Sherry Felix
Black-throated Green Warbler © Sherry Felix

Leslie Baglio is a graduate of the School of Professional Horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden. She worked four years as Foreman Gardener at J. Mendoza Gardens, and for the past two years has been a horticulturalist at Blondie's Treehouse, the horticultural firm that absorbed J. Mendoza Gardens in a merger. She will lead a walk in her favorite spot in Central Park, the Ramble, discussing, among other things, the original design of the Ramble and how it has evolved for good and bad, the question of non-native versus native plants and animals there, and the benefits of the Ramble's flora for its fauna.

Meet at the northeast corner of 81st Street and Central Park West at 6:30 pm.


July 15 , 2014 — Mushrooms in Central Park

Over 500 species of mushrooms have been found in New York City, nearly 200 of them in Manhattan alone. Gary Lincoff, author of The Joy of Foraging, The Complete Mushroom Hunter, Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Mushrooms, and National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to [North American] Mushrooms, will lead a hunt for them in the Ravine. He cautions that mushroom abundance is dependent on the amount of recent rainfall — the wetter, the better — but he adds that even in a dry July we should see oysters, turkeytails, inky caps, reishis, and more.

Meet at 103rd Street and Central Park West at 6:30 pm.

August 19, 2014 — Mothing in Central Park

"On any given August night, hundreds of species of moths are on the wing in Central Park. Harry Zirlin will attempt to attract as many as possible — especially the numerous species of the large, colorful moths of the Underwing family, which are a late summer specialty — using light and his own recipe for the moth delicacy called ‛mung’: a mash of fermented fruit, sugar and beer." This was the write-up for the first Linnaean moth crawl, held on August 21, 2012, which, because an announcement of it had appeared in the "Spare Times" section of the Times, drew a cumbersome crowd of 84 people. For this second try, there will be no announcement in the Times and Mr. Zirlin will try some new ingredients in his mung. We hope to attract many fewer people and many more moths.

Meet at 103rd Street and Central Park West at 7:45 pm.