30 December 2011

Herrick a Prominent Bird Enthusiast in mid-1880s Vermont

Francis H. Herrick was living in Burlington, Vermont and working at the Rock Point Institute when his series on the fauna of Vermont began in the Burlington Free Press newspaper.

Francis Herrick,
from the Chautaquan, volume 35.

The paper editor, G.G. Benedict noted Herrick's credentials, indicating articles in Scientific American and other publications had "given him a wide reputation." The editor's introduction issued in the April 27, 1883 edition also stated:

"We have gone to large expense in procuring these articles, but we are sure that we will be well repaid in the increased attractiveness and value of our paper. We commend the series to the attention of our readers as well worthy of perusal and of permanent preservation."

A series on flora by George H. Perkins, Harvard Professor of Natural History at the University of Vermont, was also started at the same time.

The fauna columns were primarily limited to birds as a specific topic, though they obviously could have covered a greater variety of animal types. During some of the prose about an outing, rabbits or squirrels and flora may have gotten a brief mention.

This series is important for its breadth of subjects for the period when it was published, and for providing a well-presented personal perspective. The columns also use archaic bird names characteristic of the era.

The newspaper issues - in a digital format - are available in their entirety at the Chronicling America website.

When a particular species was referred to within a title for a section of a column, the scientific name was included, though these are not included in the following column details. Notable in the written is the standard to refer to everyone in the masculine sense, as there was little attention given to bird watching as a pastime for anyone of either gender.

The Fauna of Vermont

I. Studies in natural history - introduction. The bluebird. April 27, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(43): 2.

The bluebird was the first species to receive particular attention by Herrick. He noted they arrived at the end of March as the "true usher of Spring" and said: "In the bluebird the earth and sky meet." Then expressed was lore of their natural history, including their having two-three broods a season, and dislike for wrens and martins. Early settlers called this bird "blue robins." Spring arrival date for several species' ends the column, and are records helpful for bird phenology during this historic period.

II. The robin. May 4, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(44): 2.

First noted at Burlington on March 30th, "it is a bright spring day when the robin comes." It is "unpopular with many ignorant agriculturalists, because he makes a raid on cherries and small berries." Some are slaughtered for eating.

III. The song sparrow. The cow-bunting. The pewit flycatcher. May 11, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(45): 2.

Each of these were abundant to common in the area. This rhyme was included with the song sparrow section:

"The sky is warm, the air is clear.
"The prince of spring is listing near,
"Anon the northeast the pine,
"And 'works of men' begin to shine
"With that prophetic light. The day
"Is ushered by the bluebird's lay,
"The sparrow adds his changes sweet,
"And earth and sky seem now to meet."

For the cowbird, Herrick noted that the nest of this species had not yet been discovered, and whether they ever had or "will ever do so is a mere matter of conjecture." A discussion of its laying eggs in nests of other birds is then discussed.

A relative few words were given about the phoebe.

IV. The return of the birds. The flicker. Other nest-carvers. May 18, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(46): 6.

Spring is the "annual awakening of life in spring," and Herrick wrote poetically about the change of the season.

A variety of names were given for the flicker, including hittock, yucker, yarrup, high-hole and others derived from its coloration, habits or calls. Brief notes are given for the downy woodpecker and other species typical in the region.

This column also ended with arrival dates, listing twenty-five species, and given to "serve as a general guide to those who are watching the mysterious movements of the birds"... .

V. The revolving seasons. The blackbirds. The purple grackle. Red-winged blackbird. The rusty grackle. May 25, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(47): 6.

As the season changes, a New Englander could from a "window or field" may "watch the procession as it slowly crosses the stage." Continuing, Herrick wrote: "The scenes are constantly shifting and new players coming to the front." He then presents a concise view of the weeks.

Accounts for the blackbirds summarize their local habits, including a study of numerous red-winged blackbird nests at a swamp in nearby Lake Champlain during the previous breeding season.

VI. The belted kingfisher. The loon. The red-throated diver. June 1, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(48): 3.

General notes on habits were given for these three species.

VII. Bird haunts. The thrushes. The veery. The hermit thrush. The olive-backed thrush. The mocking-bird. Oven-bird. June 8, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(49): 6.

Someone had inquired about where to look for birds, so some briefs comments were given on local, interesting habitats. "June is the month in which the student of ornithology will reap his richest harvest," Herrick wrote.

Brief notes were given on the local thrushes and mockingbird.

Spring arrival date for sixteen additional species ended this column.

VIII. The catbird. Brown thrush. The goat-suckers. The night-hawk. June 15, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(50): 6.

The catbird was a "parodist" that occupied a "conspicuous place in the rural life of New England." The brown thrasher was a "welcome tenant of the early morning saluting the day, or offering his love song at evening."

The common nighthawk and whip-poor-will were the two representative goatsuckers.

IX. A good season for the birds. The whippoorwill. June 29, 1883. Burlington Free Press 56(52): 7.

The season had "proved exceptionally favorable to bird-life" according to this column. The whip-poor-will was discussed in this installment.

X. Ruby-crowned kinglet. Chipping-sparrow. Purple grosbeak. Indigo-bird. Scarlet tanager. July 13, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(2): 3.

A few paragraphs were written about each species.

XI. The flycatchers. Kingbird. Wood pewee. Least flycatcher. Great-crested flycatcher. Traill's. Olive-sided flycatcher. July 27, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(4): 2.

Short notes on the habits of these bug-eating birds. Only a few words were written about the olive-sided flycatcher.

XII. Bird-flights. The swallows. The martin. Barn swallow. Eave swallow. Sand martin. Purple martin. August 3, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(5): 3.

This is one column which discussed a mammal, the bat with its "tumbling flight."

The swallows - with five species in Vermont - were noted for the "untold benefit they confer to agriculture," and that they "form a feature in the landscape which none of the feathered tribe could supply."

The martin was the "white-bellied" swallow. The barn swallow was abundant in the area. The eave swallow was an old-time name for the cliff swallow, with sand martin referring to the bank swallow. Purple martins were only "occasionally seen in small parties occupying an artificial house or cupola."

XIII. A double tragedy. The sparrows. Grass-finch. Savanna sparrow. Field-sparrow. Swamp-sparrow. Other sparrows. August 17, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(7): 2.

The tragedy was a black snake caught in the midst of swallowing a sparrow. The reptile was slain by Herrick, certainly making it a double tragedy.

General notes of their natural habits was given for the seasonally resident species and four migratory congeners. Also mentioned was the non-native English Sparrow, first introduced in New England at Portland, Maine, with the refrain "going up all over the land: the Sparrow must be blotted out!"

XIV. Bird notes. Chimney swift. Humming-bird. The cuckoo. August 24, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(8): 3.

After a general perspective on bird songs and calls, the swift was discussed. This "little winged stub" was noted as having formerly nested in old hollow trees, but developed a preference to human chimneys, despite the hazards of rain and smoke. A large hollow elm near Middlebury was "nightly tenanted by 'millions' of chimney 'swallows'" until it was "lopped off by the wind in 1791."

Verbiage on the hummer and cuckoo seemed to be a missive on the two species as derived from another bird book, as no unique or distinct features were mentioned.

XV. Birds' nests. American goldfinch. The vireos. Warbling vireo. Red-eye. September 7, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(10): 3.

The distinctive character of nests for each species sums up the comments on this topic. General notations about the vireos.

XVI. Birds' eggs. The warblers. Summer warbler. Chestnut-sided warbler. Redstart. Maryland yellow-throat. September 21, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(12): 2.

Coloration and size were discussed, apparently while viewing a collection of eggs from different species. Nests had been founded for the four particular species mentioned, and the features were presented.

XVII. The fall departure. American starlings. Bobolink. The oriole. Meadow-lark. October 3, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(14): 2.

Autumn migration in the area would begin by the end of August, with the gathering of swallows a notable occurrence. None of the species discussed were true starlings, but at the time were considered to have similar characteristics sufficient to be grouped into a common category. Migration times and nesting lore were presented for the readers to consider.

XVIII. Egg suckers. American crow. November 9, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(19): 5.

Egg suckers referred to predators. The crow, with its air both of antiquity and mystery" had its dialect, behavior, nesting and other habits well presented in a short format.

XIX. Shifting the scenes. Autumnal pictures. The hen of the woods. November 16, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(20): 5.

Seasonal migration was a time of change, and "autumnal pictures" were presented for an outing on August 21, September 16 and 30 and October 15. The ruffed grouse was the hen of the woods, the "favorite gamebird of Northern New England." Notes on its natural history as observed in October and early one May were included.

XX. The features of fall. Cedar-birds. Bohemian waxwing. November 30, 1883. Burlington Free Press 57(22): 4. Number 20.

Views from outdoor jaunts were used to present perspectives of the season, including a brief mention of the golden-crowned kinglet and brown creeper.

A monthly view for the cedar waxwing was conveyed. Winter notes for the larger waxwing were given, along with notes on its plumage and behavior.

XXI. November notes. A sure sign. The duck. The dusky duck. The sheldrake. Vermont water fowl. January 25, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(30): 2.

Notes for the "battle-ground" of winter and fall. A poetic presentation of an outing on the 3rd was a good part of this week's column. The sure sign of the cold times were the arrival of flocks of the Canada goose. Ducks also readily convey the changing seasons.

Sheldrake is another archaic name, referring to the merganser.

A summary list of twenty species of waterfowl were those typical to the state, but only about "one-half" of the species noted in the New England states.

XXII. November notes. I. II. Nature. III. Birds of prey. The hen-harrier. February 8, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(32): 6.

The text of this column was very light, making it difficult to read, otherwise the many-lined rhyme given for the section on Nature would be included in its entirety.

Section III was an account of a days outing on the 10th of an undesignated month.

Brief notes on the two eagles, owls, the goshawk and northern harrier were written for the paper.

XXIII. The inroads of the cold. December days. The hearty snowbirds. The merry chickadee. Offended nature's revenge. February 29, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(35): 1.

About the slow advance of winter and how the cold influences the occurrence of birdlife. This is primarily a free verse perspective of the season and exquisite tidbits of the birds enjoyed during crisp, outdoor jaunts.

XXIV. Winter waifs. The pine grosbeak. The nuthatches. March 7, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(36): 2.

This article started with a paragraph describing the study of birds:

"The student of nature need never be idle. Each season reveals a new order, every day a new fact. But the secrets of nature are revealed in no sluggish sense. He must be ready to gather the hints dropped carelessly here and there, to improve the chance opportunity when it comes. There is the constant challenge to couple fact to fact, to bring the hidden to light."

The forest and fields about Burlington, provided many a varied scene to consider and describe. Sleet was even a suitable topic. The grosbeak was mentioned in the context of noting a flock, as were the white-breasted nuthatch and its diminutive cousin, the red-breasted nuthatch.

XXV. Snow tracery. The snow-flake, the red-poll, and the crossbill. March, 28, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(39): 3.

Snowy New England meant a different palette upon which to place words of apt description. The snow-flake refers to the exquisitely colored snow bunting of the northlands, with the redpoll mentioned as the "waif from the boreal regions."

Both the red-billed and white-winged crossbills occurred, thought the latter only rarely.

XXVI. The glaciated landscape. Winter waifs. The impatient jay. April 11, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(41): 2.

A brief discussion of the local land forms, was followed by an encore of attention to the chickadee, pine grosbeak, before getting to the raucous blue jay. The Canada jay was noted to occur in the mountainous region of northern New England.

XXVII. Bird fare. The case of the English sparrow. May 9, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(45): 2. Number 27.

The primary topic issued from the writer's pen, was the feeding habits of birds, using a few species as examples.

Regarding the introduced English sparrow, Herrick mentions that the American Ornithologists' Union had issued circulars, "inquiring carefully" into the status of "this little wretch" with the moniker used in the column as given here, based upon the author's view of the species.

XXVIII. The gulls. The peet-weet. The rail of the marsh. Woodcock. June 13, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(50): 8. Number 28.

The herring gull was the prominent species in the vicinity of Burlington, and the only one mentioned.

The peet-weet was the pectoral sandpiper. Rails known for the state were the sora and Virginia rail. Feeding and flight habits of the American woodcock were noted.

XXIX. Birds and their study. I. II. III. IV. Conclusion. June 20, 1884. Burlington Free Press 57(51): 5. Number 29.

The apparent end of this feature, provided an opportunity to convey a general perspective on nature and its close study. In New England, it "often runs to the very threshold of the towns, and a short journey in any direction will bring you to what is as good almost as the primitive woods."

"Nature is found to be everywhere a secret and retiring goddess, not to be wooed by forced marches over land and sea, who recedes the faster we advance, like the rainbow's arch.
"The study of birds opens up a new field, full of wonders and delights, to every intelligent person who has the eye to see. It is a perpetual source of profit alloyed with recreation. The more the student knows the more he wishes to learn, and nature has ever a surprise awaiting him at every step. It supplies a means of change from the real business of life, giving zest and an object to every step we take, to every hour spent in the open air, and the field of observation in nature can never be swept clean. There is always the chance of discovering something new, new at least to ourselves."

Further along in the words, Alexander Wilson is given credit as a pioneer of American ornithology. He went through New England twice, and had even visited Burlington on occasion, including during September, 1812.

"The student learns the characteristics of his feathered friends by degree."

In his conclusion, Herrick said the notes given in his columns were "largely the records of a year's experience with the birds." One of his goals, was to reproduce as best he could, "freshness" in his descriptions.

The series ended with a note that about two hundred species had been noticed in Vermont, and that a supplemental list had been prepared as a supplement. Perhaps this was available at the office of the Burlington Free Press.

His study of birds continued, and evolved with the methods available for their study. He eventually became a professor of Biology at Western Reserve University. In 1901, he was the author of "A New Method of Bird Study and Photography" which includes numerous pictures which he'd taken, including many of nesting birds.

Bird Records

There were nineteen articles which had specific details of bird occurrence, especially the date observed, mostly during 1883. A mention of the Pileated Woodpecker from the fall season, is the only one from 1881. There are four from 1882, with three from Lake George, in New York, south of Lake Champlain. Ten records correlate with 1884, as based on Herrick's details of days afield, primarily in February.

Among the 117 specific records, there were 106 with a specific date of occurrence.

Overall, there were 71 species represented, not including any mentions of generic sorts of birds such as ducks or woodpeckers. Specific types of woodpeckers were mentioned, but not for any particular date. Proper names in the following list have been updated to reflect modern taxonomy.

Species Noted in Herrick's Articles

Ruffed Grouse
Common Loon
Northern Harrier
Virginia Rail
American Woodcock
Spotted Sandpiper
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Great Crested Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Bank Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
House Wren
White-breasted Nuthatch
Gray Catbird
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
American Goldfinch
Common Redpoll
Purple Finch
Pine Grosbeak
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Myrtle Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
Brown-headed Cowbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Indigo Bunting

Ten species were noteable three times each. Forty-three were only mentioned once in a manner that provided a date of occurrence. Nearly fifty records were derived from the lists indicating spring arrival.

Herrick did effectively convey the magic of our feathered friends and captured an essence of observing their behavior in an appreciative manner, whenever seen in the birdly habitats of New England.