Rick Mellon

Author of "A Dichotomous Key to the Shorebirds of North America", 1980 Includes a key to all species with known North American records, plus a few likely future visitors.

Positions and Achievements

Fellow of the DVOC

Life Member

Ecology isn’t rocket science. It’s much more complicated.

I’ve always been interested in birds and it seems like I’ve always been a DVOC’er. My first DVOC trip was incredible. A week after our first DVOC meeting, Barry Sauppe (16 years old) and I (15) got a ride from Joe Cadbury to the Pocomoke Swamp in southern Delaware, where Joe dazzled us by identifying every bird by ear as we drove through the swamp at 50 mph with the window cracked. At the end of the day he dropped Barry and me off in the swamp, telling us that Ray Hendrick would meet us in the morning. So the situation was Joe Cadbury, who we didn’t know, dropped two teenagers, whom he never met before, in Pocomoke Swamp somewhere in southern Delaware (or was it Maryland?) to be picked up by Ray (who?) the following morning. Just the type of thing we would do today with someone (who we never met) else’s kids. The night was terrific with Barred Owls calling and then the morning chorus in a new habitat for both Barry and me was unforgettable, with the beautiful sunlit pools of black cedar water sprinkled with mounds of dazzling Sphagnum where the Hooded and Prothonotary Warblers were flitting among the hummocks, sparkling like jewels. We ended the trip with 139 species for the weekend. What an exciting introduction to the DVOC.

Alan Brady sponsored my membership when I was 16 and was my primary mentor along with John McIlvain and Les Thomas. Most of the DVOC’ers I birded with were hard core birders, pushing the knowledge base beyond the Peterson and Robbins field guides – teasing out those subtle identification characteristics of the peeps, terns, pelagics, jaegers and other difficult species, that allowed more precise ID’s at greater distances. These are the field marks that help make today’s books so much better. Alan was especially driven to find the latest ID information, whether it was from books or magazine articles (many from England) or examining the skins in the bird department and then field verifying the information. Being part of that process was invigorating and invaluable. And Alan didn’t just show us the species; he challenged us to be the first to identify the bird correctly. The game was on. Out-do the gunslinger.

Former President Les Thomas gave me my first job: working as a naturalist at Silver Lake Nature Center. He, Ed Manners and Vince Abraitys taught me those bird perches had names – like Red Maple and Silky Dogwood. So I decided to learn the plants and got a summer job at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve while attending Penn State where I majored in biology. After college, I worked at Bowman’s Hill and discovered if you want to understand bird habitats, you need to understand plant habitats, which requires knowledge of soils and geology. My passions were diversifying.

I also learned I could starve being a naturalist at a nature center, so I launched Mellon Nature Tours (MNT), whose clientele included many DVOC’ers. In seven years we recorded over 630 species of birds on trips that ranged from Dry Tortugas to Washington State, Maine to the Salton Sea, plus prairies and taiga in Manitoba. MNT also conducted nearly 100 whale trips; plus wolf trips to Algonquin; ecology trips to the Pine Barrens; wildflower trips to the Smokies and southeastern Arizona; one day trips to Amherst Island, Ontario where 10 species of owls gorged themselves on meadow voles and natural history trips to many other locations.

In 1986, realizing I could also starve being a tour leader and having a growing family, I moved into full time ecological consulting (Mellon Biological Services, LLC), primarily conducting wetland delineations and endangered species surveys.

Although I still love birds, my passion is a holistic understanding of ecosystems, habitats and all the individual parts and how they fit together.

Many thanks DVOC.

Committees