DVOC Main Page > History > Street Article > Field Trips
A History of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, The First One Hundred Years
by Phillips M. Street (as published in Cassinia No. 63 1988-1989 Centennial Edition)
The first Club trip of which there is any record was to Tinicum in 1890 to a Barn Owl's nest. Beginning in 1891 there were boat trips from Atlantic City on Norris DeHaven's catboat. We read in the Twenty-year Souvenir Program that "those who enjoyed his hospitality on board the 'Widgeon' and explored the shores of Great Bay and Breeches Thorofare will long remember this period in the Club's history. Oh! what a slaughter of Sharp-tailed Sparrows there was in pursuit of Nelsons and Acadians, and who shall forget the savory stews in which Mud-hens and Least Sandpipers figured and even an occasional Great Blue Heron".
Another frequent gathering place was the Catoxen Cabin, built by five Club members at the western edge of the Pine Barrens on the bank of the Rancocas Creek near Medford, New Jersey. Two papers in the 1908 Cassinia describe it. One by Morris tells of choosing the location and erecting it, and another by Stone describes the bird life of the region.
Two or three outings a year, usually on Washington's Birthday and Decoration (Memorial) Day were the rule in the early years, with access to public transportation being of prime importance. Automobiles were still scarce, but a network of rail and trolley lines blanketed the Delaware Valley. Two tokens for fifteen cents took one to any part of Philadelphia, and the railroads featured week-end and holiday excursions.
Commencing in 1915 three trips became the norm, with Good Friday being the third. February outings were to such places as Beverly, Haddonfield, New Lisbon (where Scoville and Street had a cabin on the Rancocas), Mantua Creek and Mays Landing in New Jersey and Crum and Darby creeks in Pennsylvania. There were Good Friday trips to the Catoxen Cabin, Mt. Holly and Taunton Lakes in New Jersey and to Baily's home in Ardmore, the Chester and Ridley creek valleys, Tinicum Island, and West Chester in Pennsylvania and to Delaware City, Delaware. There were Decoration Day trips to Beverly, the Catoxen Cabin, Haddonfield, Mt. Holly, New Lisbon and along the Delaware River from Riverton to Fish House in New Jersey and to Ardmore, Rushland on the Neshaminy Creek, Norristown, to visit Ray Middleton's banding station, and the Pennypack and Tacony creek valleys in Pennsylvania.
Cape May became the favorite destination in the twenties with a ferry to Camden and excursion train to the shore. The round trip fare was one dollar! Two February and five May trips went there in a five-year period. Other shore excursions during the late twenties and early thirties were to Barnegat, Brigantine, Avalon and Stone Harbor.
The number and scope of the field trips increased markedly in the postwar years, with as many as a dozen outings in some years. A winter trip to the Shark River area and the nearby ponds became a January fixture. The first Pocono winter trip was in 1955 with a Boreal Chickadee and Pine Grosbeaks the best finds. These trips occurred irregularly until 1976, when they became an annual event with our Saturday night headquarters being the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) at Dingmans Ferry. Then came Washington's Birthday (later President's Day) weekends at Montauk or Cape Ann, with Cape Ann's more boreal avifauna soon making it the destination of choice and Montauk being relegated to only an occasional visit. A late April weekend trip to the Delmarva Peninsula, an early fall trip from Bamegat to Cape May and an early November visit to Bake Oven Knob also became fixtures.
There were occasional sea trips on fishing boats, usually out of Cape May, in hopes of finding Cory's and Greater Shear-waters, Wilson's Petrels and an occasional surprise. One of these was an Audubon's Shearwater, found on a trip from Asbury Park in 1951. It was not until 1973, when a trip on the "Super Cat" from Sandy Hook went all the way out to the Hudson Canyon, that an entirely new vista to pelagic birding opened up. Alan Brady has been leading joint trips with the Umer Club ever since, most of them from Barnegat on the "Miss Barnegat Light," with a much broader understanding of the occurrence and distribution of pelagics the result. They recorded the first presence of the South Polar Skua in the North Atlantic, established the first record of a Buller's Shearwater in the Atlantic Ocean, have seen Northern Skuas and all three jaegers, and determined that Northern Fulmars were much more common offshore than earlier believed.
Perhaps the first official club trip by plane to fly overseas to a foreign land was the June 1968 trip to Iceland. Participants were Art Bergey, Ernie Choate, 24 Joe Jacobs, Phil Livingston, John Mcllvain, Will Middleton, D'Arcy Northwood, Gene Stem, three wives and Bergey's son. Ornithological highlights were seeing a Gyrfalcon; three House Martins, a rare straggler there; and the visit to Lake Myvatn with its one hundred thousand pairs of nesting waterfowl, including Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Tufted Ducks and Barrow's Goldeneyes, while the fiords, glaciers, waterfalls and thermal areas delighted the photographers.
No participant will ever forget the field trips taken in "The Three"-a thirty-year-old DC-3 owned by the Revyuk Foundation. Steve Wylie, then of the Philadelphia Zoo and now the director of the Oklahoma City Zoo, remarked to me at a Club meeting in early 1973 that this plane was available for the use of non-profit scientific groups, the only expense being the cost of fuel, and where should we go. I suggested Churchill, a date was set, the plane reserved, and Jim Meritt carried the ball from there with detailed plans, contacts and reservations. Lucky D.V.O.C.ers on this June 1973 trip were Alan Brady, John Evans, Joe Jacobs, Al Kronschnabel, John LaVia, Ed Manners, Meritt, John Sawyer, Bob Sehl, Gene Stern, Les Thomas, Street-and Wylie. Memories include the strange sight of Bonaparte's Gulls, Lesser Yellowlegs and Hudsonian Godwits perched in trees, Arctic Loons, Lesser Golden-Plover and American Pipit at their nests, Willow Ptarmigans, Smith's Longspurs, Harris' Sparrows and one Hoary Redpoll. And of course the Beluga Whales and pack ice. Meritt arranged a stopover at Brandon, Manitoba, on the way back, where Jack Lane showed us Sprague's Pipits and Baird's Sparrows on the prairie and LeConte's Sparrows in Douglas marsh.
While flying home, Thomas suggested a trip to Alaska, so the following June we went. Newcomers on this expedition were John Billings, Ernie Choate, Bob Garner, Frank Hubbart and Will Middleton. We visited Nome; Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island; Hooper Bay, at the recommendation of Howard Brokaw; Fairbanks; and Mt. McKinley National Park. The many highlights included an unforgettable morning at Savoonga watching countless thousands of seabirds at their breeding cliffside colony, two days at Gambel with the view from Chibukak Point of the rugged coastline of Siberia only fifty miles away and the parade of constantly passing seabirds, with Steller's Eiders the prize find; the high country north of Nome with its Yellow-billed Loon, Wandering Tattlers, Wheatears, Arctic Warblers and a Gyrfalcon eyrie; the Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, Emperor Geese, Spectacled Eiders and Sabine's Gulls at Hooper Bay; and the pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers, new to all of us, the Hawk Owls, a Canada Lynx, Caribou, Dall Sheep and Grizzly Bears at Mt. McKinley. Again we visited Brandon coming home, with Lane taking us to a marsh alive with Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks and Black Terns.
March 1975 found us in Guatemala and Belize with John Yrizarry, an expert tropical birder, as our guide. First-time participants were Art Bergey, Harry Franzen, John Mcllvain, Frank Moody and George Reynard. Landing at the rough and rocky Tikal airstrip was a white-knuckle experience. We marvelled at the great temples recovered from the jungle and revelled in our four days of tropical birding. Orange-breasted and Bat falcons on the temples and Oscellated Turkey, Crested Guans and Emerald Toucanets in the jungle were exciting. Then it was on to Belize for three days of both highland and lowland birding with Dora Weyer, including a boat trip to the Crooked Tree Lagoon.
The next year it was Texas in May. Enjoying their first trip on "The Three" were Jim Akers, Dick Bell, Julian Boryszewski, John Danzenbaker, Armas Hill, Rick Mellon, John Miller, Frank Neumann, Keith Richards, Harry Todd, Bill Tucker and Steve Wing. En route we ticked off the Eurasian Tree Sparrow at St. Louis and the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler on the Edwards Plateau near Austin. Then came McAllen and a late afternoon visit to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park with, just before dark, an Elf Owl popping out of its hole to the delight of thirty or so birders gathered below awaiting this nightly event. A red-letter day at Santa Ana gave us the two Hook-billed Kites which were there that spring. Then came a day upriver at the Gonzales ranch and Falcon Dam. Three days at Big Bend completed our trip. Ro Wauer, the Park naturalist, was our guide. While we found Scaled Quail, Poorwill, Lucifer Hummingbird and Crissal Thrasher, the principal goal was to see a Colima Warbler. This entailed a four-mile ride on horseback to Boot Spring. Here we found singing Colima and Townsend's warblers and enjoyed the marvelous vista which the top affords.
This, sad to relate, was our last trip on "The Three." The Foundation encountered hard times and disposed of the plane. Those of us who enjoyed one or more of the four expeditions will always have vivid memories of some incredible birding experiences. Seven members enjoyed all four trips-Evans, Jacobs, Kronschnabel, always the provider of food and drinks aboard, LaVia, Meritt, Street and Thomas. Four others missed but one-Brady, Sawyer, Sehl and Stem.
In spite of the loss of our plane, we now had tropical birding in our blood, and a trip to Costa Rica was planned for March 1978 with Yrizarry again the leader. Our first Resplendent Quetzal at Monteverde drew a spontaneous cheer as it flew over our heads. There were two days of incredible birding at LaSelva and a final day in the high mountains of the Cerro de la Muerte where we found Barred Parakeets, Fiery-throated and Scintillant hummingbirds, Flame- throated Warblers and "Big Foot," as we dubbed the Large-footed Finch, which we finally succeeded in finding.
Armas Hill arranged another Costa Rica trip for June 1979. A planned boat trip to Cocos Island had to be cancelled, but we did sail from Puntarenas to Golfito, near the Panama border, through wild seas, wind and rain which soaked us all. Here we found a Short-tailed Nighthawk, not even on our Costa Rican checklist, as we waited for the plane which was to fly us over to the Corcovado National Park. It never came, so we chartered a boat to take us across the bay, hired a truck in Puerto Jiminez, and set out for the mountains When the road ended at a stream too swollen to ford, we started walking upstream, met a native who led us on upriver on one of the most exhaustive walks any of us has ever taken. Alternately walking and wading and then climbing a steep mountain trail, we reached the park border. Our aim was to see a Scarlet Macaw. Ironically, it was only after all our exertions and we had circled back to almost where we started that we found them! On our drive north to San Jose, we stopped at the Cerro 'de la Muerte again and saw the elusive Wrenthrush and six Quetzals, their long tails missing at this season To top off another great trip, we had time to find the Mangrove Cuckoo and Black- whiskered Vireo in Miami between planes on the way home.
There has been even more travel in the last decade,
some of it Club oriented and some simply groups of persons, mainly club members
traveling together to bird in the western states, Canada, South and Central
America or other exotic parts of the world. To list them all, the participants
and the highlights, would be too lengthy and will not be attempted here. Some
of those organizing these trips have included Alan Brady, Annas Hill and Phil
Street to such foreign places as Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela,
Mexico Costa Rica, Australia, Spain, India and Nepal, while Brian Moscatello,
Rick Mellon and Hart Rufe have been active in leading trips to many parts of
the Unlted States and Canada. Favorite destinations for Club trips in this country
have been the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, California and Texas. Fellow members
Joel Abramson, Pete Dunne, Brian Moscatello, and Tom and Margaret Southerland
organize and conduct bird tours professionally to many parts of the world, and
D.V.O.C members have participated in several of their trips Besides the club
field trips that have become annual affairs, some others which have been offered
frequently in recent years include Shark River in winter,, an owl trip in March,
Pedricktown for the Ruffs in April, Bombay Hook and Little Creek refuges in
July, Long Beach Island in both winter and Summer' and a warbler trip to the
Poconos in early June with Bill and Naomi Murphy.
DVOC Main Page > History > Street Article > Field Trips