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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 D.V.O.C Today

How drastic some population changes have been during the lifetime of the Club can be illustrated by two items. Stone reported in the Auk that George Stuart shot a Passenger Pigeon at Canadensis, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1895, the last one taken in eastern Pennsylvania. Conversely, it was reported in Cassinia that "Mr. S. N. Rhoads exhibited a Starling obtained at Audubon, N.J. on Nov. 24, 1910, and presented it to the Club." Gone or nearly so are the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Sedge Wren and Henslow's Sparrow as breeding birds in our area, while in have come the Starling and the House Finch. Shorebirds and some granivorous species have increased, while many insectivorous species and waterfowl have declined. Assisting in the assessment of population trends is where the Club excels today.

The founders made their identifications with the gun or through opera glasses and consulted Nuttall's Ornithology, Chapman's Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America or Warren's Birds of Pennsylvania for the written word and plates. Today's members have binoculars and telescopes of a quality not dreamed of even fifty years ago. They have a choice of field guides and an array of books and periodicals which delve deeply into plumages and the differentia- tions between similar species. Tapes of songs and calls have added still another dimension to field identification. George Reynard, a research associate at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, is our expert in this field. With all these tools todays members have much more expertise in field identification than did their predecessors.

The fun of competition has always played a part in the field work but never more so than today. Some has its scientific value; other is simply for pleasure. National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Counts have contributed important statistical information, yet there has been enjoyable competition. When the Cape May counts started, there was competition with New York; then Bombay Hook came along to challenge Cape May and occasionally won. Last year Club members participated in at least 23 different counts in the Delaware Valley. There has been active participation in the Fish and Wildlife Service Breeding Bird Censuses, and the cumulative data from these are important indications of changes in our populations. The recently completed Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas, under the direction of Frank Gill and Dan Brauning brought out the best in the D.V.O.C., with persons not only censusing blocks ocally but also in many distant parts of the state where coverage was otherwise lacking. Among those whose efforts were outstanding in this regard were Barbara and Franklin Haas, Ed Fingerhood, Paul Schwalbe and Chris Walters.

The Big Days, started in 1928 to see how many species could be seen in a day, are just for fun. So, too, are the annual Spring Round-ups, but there can be some lasting value here if the same area is covered each year and the numbers seen per species given. The first Round-up was held in 1933 with fifty persons comprising twenty groups participating. A specific May date was chosen for the event each year, but this was changed in 1979 to allow each group to select its own date anytime between May 5 and 20. New Jersey Audubon's World Series of Birding was inaugurated in 1984, with teams from all over the country competing.; D.V.O.C. sponsored teams have competed each year, and the 1985 team of Alan Brady, Kate Brethwaite. Chris and Michael Danzenbaker and Armas Hill was the winner with 189 species, a great achievement against blue ribbon adversaries.

Listing is a sort of competition and many members enjoy this game to the fullest. There are world, foreign areas, American Birding Association (ABA) area, A.O.U. area, state, county and even local or back yard lists. Our Delaware Valley Birdline, a joint endeavor of the Academy and the Club, has been in operation since December 1974. Keith Richards manned it for five years, and Armas Hill has done so since then. Its weekly report is eagerly awaited. A North American Rare Bird Alert, upon reporting a rarity, will cause the big list birder to drop everything, board a plane and go for the bird if it is on the want list. Attu has become the must destination for Club members seeking to break the 700 species barrier in the ABA listing area. The indefatigable John Danzenbaker is second among the top world listers with 6814 species, the top lister in the A.O.U. area with 1549, and second in New Jersey with 376. Art Bergey's 744 is tops among Club members in the ABA listing area. Paul Dumont's 338 species is high in Delaware, while Barbara Haas has the largest Pennsylvania list with 330, one ahead of her husband, thanks to a Yellow Rail.

In 1905. 30 out of 77 active members (39 percent) were members of the A.O.U. Today that ratio has declined to 11 percent, and nine percent belong to the Wilson Society. By far the most popular second bird organization is the ABA, with 21 percent of our members on its roll. This is understandable with its emphasis on the sport side of birding, lists and identification, the three areas in which our membership is most interested.

The Delaware Valley Ornithological Club has had an illustrious one hundred years. Its next century presents many problems which must be met if the pleasure we get from birds is to continue on anywhere near its present level. Air and water pollution must be arrested and habitat preserved both here and in the tropics, where so many of our birds spend over half of their lives. These are the paramount concerns we face. We must be active politically as individuals and generous in our support of organizations devoted to protecting the planet and its wildlife if we are to give those who follow us in birding the opportunity to enjoy it as much as we do.

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