• Robert DeCandido PhD

Catch them Now before they're Gone: Bird Migration in Central Park in late May

Updated: Mar 1



23 May 2018 - Special [E.P.] Bicknell's Thrush Issue

Schedule Notes: Bird Walks continue everyday through 28 May (Memorial Day Monday). After that, we are taking Tuesday/Wednesday off the schedule! See below for the complete schedule, or check our web site for upcoming walks: https://www.birdingbob.com/birdwalks . Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show birds including Bicknell's Thrush (seen last week in Central Park), Worm-eating Warbler, Rough-winged Swallow and more.

In this week's historical notes we feature information on E. P. Bicknell (1859-1925; his initials, E. P., for Eugene Pintard) for whom Bicknell's Thrush and Bicknell's Sedge (a plant) are named. Since we found a Bicknell's Thrush on the Wednesday, 16 May bird walk in the Ramble of Central Park (thanks to David Barrett), we wanted to provide info on the man who was born in the Bronx (Riverdale) in 1859. He lived there until 1901 at the corner of Riverdale Lane and Old Albany Post Road (now Riverdale Avenue), which is near Riverdale Country School on Fieldston Road. Historical Note (a) was written in 1877 when Bicknell was 18 years old and is an excerpt from his diary for the month of May describing bird migration as well as resident birds of Riverdale such as presumed nesting Hooded Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Field Sparrow and Eastern Phoebe - these all bred in the Bronx back then; Note (b) is a brief 1900 article on the occurrence of Bicknell's Thrush in Queens on 22 May of that year; (c) is an excerpt from a scientific paper on the occurrence of Bicknell's Thrush in NYC written by former Upper West Side native Dr. Chad Seewagen who got his PhD by banding migratory birds along the Bronx River back in 2003-2005; (d) we provide two obituaries of E. P. Bicknell published upon his death in 1925 at age 66. The first is from the Torrey Botanical Club here in NY - Bicknell was more prolific as a botanist than an ornithologist. He was a board member of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx starting in 1910. The second Obit emphasizes his work as a birder/ornithologist including helping establish the American Ornithologists Union (AOU) as well as a local NYC bird club. We highly recommend reading both Obits to get a sense of what he accomplished as a botanist/ornithologist (writings), the respect his fellow scientists had for him - though he never went to College.

As for Bicknell's Thrush, E. P. Bicknell first observed a "hitherto unknown thrush" on Slide Mountain in New York´s Catskill Mountains in mid-June 1881. More than a century later in July 2009, his grandsons (then in their 70s) were on Mt. Mansfield (Vermont) to hold and band the thrush named after their grandfather: https://tinyurl.com/y77snjye .

As for identifying a Bicknell's Thrush in Central Park using field marks only: good luck! Deborah's photos of a known Bicknell's Thrush suggest that there is extensive yellow on the lower mandible particularly the base, more so than on the larger Grey-cheeked Thrush. For more info on the near impossibility of separating the two species in the field using field marks see this article: http://www.sibleyguides.com/bird-info/bicknells-thrush/ - thankfully we heard the bird sing which is the only diagnostic means of separating the two species short of having the bird in the hand and making measurements of the wing chord, etc. (Bicknell's Thrush is slightly smaller.)



Far Right: E. P. Bicknell in circa 1881 when he was about 22 years old.

Left: Two of his grandsons on Mt. Mansfield (Vermont) in June 2003. Holding the Bicknell's Thrush in his left hand is Gene Bicknell Doggett, while his brother, Wick Bicknell Doggett, looks on.

E.P. Bicknell on 5 November 1914 when he was 55 years old





Deborah Allen sends Photos from NYState and Central Park:

Whiteface Mountain, Essex County, NY:

Bicknell’s Thrush in early July 2015 - Whiteface Mountain: https://tinyurl.com/yccke27w and https://tinyurl.com/yajqkw9f

Central Park:

Northern Rough-winged Swallow at the Reservoir:

In flight on Thursday May 17, 2018: https://tinyurl.com/y9krgkat

Perched on Wednesday May 2, 2018: https://tinyurl.com/yadknp53

Cliff Swallows at the Reservoir on Thursday, May 17, 2018: https://tinyurl.com/ybskof4t

Male Common Yellowthroat, the Point, Friday May 4, 2018: https://tinyurl.com/y84bjmkf

Worm-eating Warbler, Saturday April 28, 2018: https://tinyurl.com/y9e669z5

Deborah Allen's web site for bird photos: https://tinyurl.com/ydflkdp4



Bicknell's Thrush on 3 July 2015 on Whiteface Mountain NY State by Deborah Allen


Good! Here are the bird walks for late May - each $10*****

All walks in Central Park 1. Thursday, 24 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 2. Friday, 25 May - 9am (only) - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) 3. Saturday, 26 May - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Cafe at 74th and East Drive 4. Sunday, 27 May - 7:30am/9:30am - Dock on Turtle Pond 5. Monday, 28 May [Memorial Day] - 8am/9am - Strawberry Fields at 72nd street and CPW

x. Tuesday, 29 May - 9am (only) - No Bird Walk! x. Wednesday, 30 May - 9am (only) - No Bird Walk! 6. Thursday, 31 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 7. Friday, 1 June - 9am (only) - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) Any questions/concerns send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 ***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 8am/9am or 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/person...you get two for the price of one. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8

The fine print: On Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Dock on Turtle Pond adjacent to Delacorte Theater on the south end of the Great Lawn (approx. 79th street). We also meet here on Tuesday/Wed/Thursday in May but only at 9am. On Saturdays, we meet at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. (It is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= rdcny@earthlink.net). On Fridays, we meet at Conservatory Garden (105th and 5th Ave) at 9am (only). Finally, Monday walks in meet at Strawberry Fields at 72nd street and Central Park West - look for the “Imagine" Mosaic - we meet on the benches nearby at 8am and again at 9am.

If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check the web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk!

We end all our weekend Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). For our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue.


Common Yellowthroat (male) on 4 May 2018 by Deborah Allen (Central Park)

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights).

Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Thursday, 17 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - my goodness what a day for the three of us. Bob had a 7am private bird walk, and then along with Deborah, we covered a private walk for 40 or so people starting at 10am. Meanwhile Jeff took the 9am bird walk meeting at the Dock on Turtle Pond. All Deborah and I heard from folks with Jeff is this: He is kind, knows his bird calls, knows the birds, finds the birds and is a great teacher. He gets an A (for the Aaron Judge of Central Park). That has been our experience from Day 1: Jeff Ward is a quality person who has skills they do not teach in schools...people love him and like listening to him and following his suggestions/ideas. That being said, the birding in the rain today was amazing. Anywhere from Turtle Pond north to the west side of the Reservoir was loaded: wherever I played my bird calls, we brought in anywhere from four to ten warbler species in the same tree. Highlights were male/female Blackburnian Warbler in a shrub at eye level ten feet from the group...and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo brought out of the forest to perch in the open near Sparrow Rock (west 82nd street). Deborah Allen's list of birds for Thursday, 17 May: https://tinyurl.com/y7vnonqt ------------------- Friday, 18 May (start at Conservatory Garden, Central Park at 9am) - overcast skies helped - though did not bring the bountiful we hoped for. It seems a lot of birds left overnite and not much came in...so finding more than 3-4 warbler species in a tree was difficult. Don't get me wrong - we had 15 warbler species in all, but it seemed like a lot of effort and less cruise control. I'd say compare today's numbers to what we saw tomorrow (19 May - Saturday) and the change in abundance/diversity is striking. On the other hand, seeing one Black-capped Chickadee at the Wildflower Meadow today was heartening - perhaps there is a pair here and they will nest? Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 18 May: https://tinyurl.com/ybwl6ly7 ------------------ Saturday, 19 May (Boathouse in Central Park at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - I don't know what was more in your face today, the warblers or the rain? Despite claims of "light rain" on the radio, it was at least moderate if not heavy for the six hrs I was in the park. On the other hand, as we learn time and again, rainy weather brings warblers low (probably because the insects they are after stay low), and the birds stay active for most of the day in cloudy, cool weather. While the Ramble was good for the first walk starting at 7:30am (14-15 warbler species), it was the second half that will go down as one of the all time great experiences of birds in the park. From Delacorte Theater north along the west side of the Great Lawn wherever we stopped to play recorded calls or "pish," birds came pouring out of the nearby trees to come in close and perch in shrubs at eye-level. (Of course it helps to know where to stop the group near appropriate perching areas for these migrators to come close...and no one can pish like BirdingBob either.) With us we had Warbler Al, who helped with the IDs while bob did his best Dizzy Gillespie...I can remember several Blackburnian males and females at eye level about 10 feet away, as well as m/f Bay-breasted (22 warbler species in all). To top it off as we surrendered to the rain were the 150+ mix of Barn Swallows, Chimney Swifts, two CLIFF SWALLOWS, Tree Swallows and Rough-winged Swallows all feeding at ground level at the northeast corner of the Great Lawn. My great thanks to Ben and Jacqui Taylor, Sandra Critelli, Ryan Serio, Kathleen, Marianne, Ginny and several people from out of town that were crazy enough to brave the "light" rain. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 19 May: https://tinyurl.com/y86aaqbs ------------------ Sunday, 20 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - after being grand slammed by the weather for the last week, people looked somewhat confused when the sun came through today. On the other hand, like clockwork, the response of the warblers to my calls also subsided noticeably when the weather warmed and bright sunshine came through...except at two places when the skies became overcast (Warbler Rock and Summer House). We found 20 species of warblers today but in terms of number, if you experienced Saturday's warbler lashing, today just crumbs were left on the table. However, for those who only saw today there were well-seen male Blackburnian Warbler and several Canada Warblers; a very nice Great Crested Flycatcher and our favorites: Cape May, Northern Parula and Magnolia...with a Baltimore Oriole's nest (+ several orioles) and a nearby Common Night hawk (the "Nightjar"). Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 20 May: https://tinyurl.com/y9vjtta4 ------------------ Monday, 21 May (start at Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - sometimes we have zany bird walks, and sometimes we have science fiction bird walks...today we managed to combine both into one - and still only charged $10. We began with a film crew following the group around (two cameramen and a sound person), and they remained with us for the entirety - and if truth be told they stayed out of the way and were 100% professional...but because of them lots of other people took notice. Somewhere along the way while we were watching warblers (Warbler Rock), a very inebriated person took offense that somehow we insulted his girl friend and he wanted to duke it out with us...Bob resorted to his little used diplomatic skills to calm the situation...but he had no luck when singing an aria to "Armando, the Man of the Forest" - a "toy" fox terrier (does anyone know a big fox terrier?) began growling at Bob and tugging at the leash...and baring its fangs. In fact, that was the name of the dog...the well known "Fang." As for birds we missed a male Prothonotary Warbler (found late in the afternoon), but had good luck with Green Heron (thanks Bets Radely), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk, nesting Baltimore Orioles (and several gathering nest material on the ground), and Xander Vitarelli's flyover Osprey (twice but very very high). Add to that 17 warbler species, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher and close Blackburnian (first walk) and Cape May (second walk) - we did ok. Not quite Godzilla and Mothra teaming up to destroy birding as we know it, but even Tom Ahlf and Peter Haskel had to smile at the incongruities of it all. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 21 May: https://tinyurl.com/yd434jpv

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Tuesday, 22 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - overnite there was an influx of birds, mostly female warblers along with young males. On today's bird walk, we managed to see 15 species (warblers), plus a nice Philadelphia Vireo and a skulking Green Heron. We also had a nice mix of locals and out of town folks (thankfully the British couple that were separated managed to find each other again)...otherwise it seemed like the husband would have become a local. I cannot thank our locals enough: the ever ethical Tom Ahlf (leader of the free world), Peter Haskel (goodness personified), David Barrett ("man of all tweets"), Donna (a NYC premier business owner) and others. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Tuesday, 22 May: https://tinyurl.com/yco7szkm ---------------- Wednesday, 23 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - quite a wonderful day with many out of town folks...The morning began fast with a male Mourning Warbler flying to a nearby Hemlock, and then sitting in the open for two minutes for Paul Curtis and me. Later with the group we added 16 additional warbler species including a lovely male Nashville Warbler, a female Blackburnian...and the first good evidence that some Central Park birds are getting ready to nest: Cedar Waxwings gathering nesting material near the Dock on Turtle Pond; a pair of Eastern Kingbirds hanging around there too...and lone female Eastern Towhee and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds near the Summer House in the Ramble...and a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers perching together.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Wednesday, 23 May: https://tinyurl.com/y73gwovz



American Redstart female in Michigan by Doug Leffler



HISTORICAL NOTES


The Birds of Riverdale [Bronx] [1877]. Our excellent friend, Mr. E. P. Bicknell, sends us a transcript from his diary during May [1877 - when Bicknell was 19 years old] at Riverdale [the Bronx], a beautiful village on the east side of the Hudson just below Yonkers. It seems to be a peculiarly favorable place for birds, such varieties as the cross-bill having been found breeding there, yet is not 20 miles from our office, and almost, within the limits of New York City. It is not necessary to go a long distance to find facts in ornithology; it very often happens in birds, as in many other matters, that the best is nearest us. Mr. Bicknell writes as follows: May 1. Cool; temperature 32f. Northwest wind and slight fall of snow. May 2. Cool; south wind in afternoon. Cat-bird and White-crowned Sparrow noted. May 3. The Wood Thrush has arrived; also the yellow warbler and least flycatcher. Buttercups in bloom. Warm south wind all day, veering to east in the afternoon. May 6. Rain during the night, followed by a line, fresh morning, enlivened by the sound of the wood thrush from the dripping woods. The Baltimore Oriole, Bobolink and Ruby-throated humming-bird were seen for the first time; all males. The orioles may generally be seen among the scarlet blossoms of the Pyrus japonica [Asian Quince] on their first arrival; as are the humming-birds. Trees and vegetation have made rapid progress toward their summer dress during the day. Pear trees are in blossom. May 7. Very warm: temperature reached 87f on the north side of the house. Conspicuous among the arrivals are the Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird and Yellow-breasted Chat; the three vireos: White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo and Warbling Vireo; the Maryland [Common] Yellowthroat; and Solitary Tattler [Solitary Sandpiper] are also here. A few apple and dogwood blossoms out. Saw two water snakes about 2.5 feet in length, and several dragonflies. May 8. Southerly wind, partly cloudy. Another very warm day. Innumerable warblers have arrived during the night, and the woods and trees are now alive with them. Among the new arrivals I noticed the Blackpoll Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler and [Northern] Water-thrush. Shot a Rose-breasted Grosbeak which are very uncommon here, rarely more than one or two being seen every year; heretofore the first arrivals have invariably been males. May 10. Saw one Scarlet Tanager and a male Orchard Oriole in immature plumage, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler. May 11. Clear; north to west winds. Olive-backed Thrush [Swainson's Thrush] abundant; Blackburnian Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and Cape May Warbler all made their first appearance. May 12. Several Nashville Warblers. Robin's nest with two eggs; this is the first day I have heard the call of the quail. May 13. Worm-eating Warbler seen. Green Black-capped Flycatching Warbler [Wilson's Warbler] and [American] Bittern, and a flock of about 135 White-Bellied Swallows [Tree Swallow]. May 15. Cloudy all day with east wind. Red-eyed Vireo and Bay-breasted Warbler noted. The Hooded Flycatching Warbler [Hooded Warbler] has made its appearance in a piece of woodland, where it is generally common; its presence was betrayed by its lively notes. May 16. [Eastern] Wood Pewee first heard this morning. Wood Thrushes and Red-winged Blackbirds are building. May 17. The Blue-winged Yellow Warbler [Blue-winged Warbler] and Wood Pewee are moving about with building materials. The indigo-bird [Indigo Bunting] one of our latest migrants, appeared to-day. May 19. A brood of five [Eastern] Blue-birds are able to fly. May 20. Canada Flycatching Warbler [Canada Warbler]; Yellow-Winged Woodpecker [Northern Flicker], four eggs. Azaleas in blossom. May 21. Least Bittern seen; nest of Chipping Sparrow with two eggs; first egg of the Cowbird this season found in the nest of the Phoebe bird [Eastern Phoebe]. May 22. Clear, strong west wind during the night. Several Tennessee Warblers noted. Heard the notes of the Acadian Flycatcher which are with us every summer in three pieces of shady woods. Found a Cowbird's egg in the empty nest of a Catbird. May 23. Cloudy; cool; high wind from the northeast. Bay-breasted Warbler abundant and Yellow Warbler building. The Cowbird's egg which yesterday encumbered the nest of the cat-bird is missing to-day, and an egg of the rightful owner substituted. May 25. Several Traill's Flycatchers [Willow or Alder Flycatcher] noticed near swampy ground; here they appear to have a great preference for elm trees. Yellow-winged Sparrows [Grasshopper Sparrow] seen for first time this season. May 28. Nest of the Spizella pusilla [Field Sparrow] containing two eggs. The Maryland [Common] Yellow-throats are building. May 29. Mourning Warbler seen; the only one noted this spring; a single specimen was also seen last spring, the date being May 22nd. May 30. Shot a fine male specimen of the Kentucky Warbler in full song. Nests of the Wilson's Thrush [Veery] with three eggs, the Brown Thrasher, on the ground, with four eggs and of the [Eastern] Towhee also with four eggs, were found; all the eggs were fresh. May 31. Cool; temperature 42f; A Maryland [Common] Yellow-throat's nest with two eggs; one of the Yellow-breasted Chat, with three eggs, and a nest of the [Eastern] Towhee with four eggs containing well-advanced embryos, were found. E.P [Eugene Pintard] Bicknell ===================================

A Spring Record for Bicknell's Thrush on Long Island [1900]. In looking over the series of Gray-cheeked Thrushes in the Brooklyn Institute Museum a few days ago I noticed one specimen that seemed very small. A careful examination showed it to be a typical example of Bicknell's Thrush. It is a male in nuptial plumage and was collected by the writer on the divide north of Jamaica, May 22, 1900. Geo. K. Cherrie, Brooklyn, N.Y. ================================= Historical Accounts of Bicknell's Thrush in New York City and a New Record for Bronx County by Chad Seewagen and E J. Slayton

Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) is a long-distance Neotropical migrant first discovered in New York’s Catskill Mountains by Eugene Bicknell in 1881 (Rimmer et al.2001). Long considered a sub-species of the gray-cheeked thrush (Catharus minimus), Bicknell’s thrush was eventually recognized as a distinct species in 1995 (AOU 1995). The classification of Bicknell’s thrush as a separate species has resulted in increased interest in the species and concern over its conservation status. Yet, much remains to be learned about Bicknell’s thrush natural history, particularly its stopover ecology, migration routes, and migration timing (Rimmer et al. 2001). Rimmer et al. (2001) recommend a thorough study of available banding and specimen data to help establish migratory routes and timing, and to identify important stopover habitats.

In the field, Bicknell’s thrush cannot be reliably distinguished from gray-cheeked thrush visually (Beals and Nichols 1940, Pyle 1997). This partially accounts for the dearth of information on the species relative to those migratory birds that can be readily identified by field marks. Identification of Bicknell’s thrush during migration requires examination of handheld birds or specimens so that morphological measurements can be taken (Pyle 1997, Wilson and Watts 1997, Rimmer et al. 2001). Information obtained from banding stations is therefore critical to better understand the migratory ecology and behavior of Bicknell’s thrush (Wilson and Watts 1997). Here, we report our capture of a transient Bicknell’s thrush during Fall 2005 in Bronx County, New York. Although our data represent only one individual, the general lack of information on the species’ migratory behavior, especially in urban areas such as New York City, warrants its presentation. Such information, when compared with other available data, may prove useful in future studies of the species.

History of Bicknell's Thrush in New York City

New York State’s Catskill and Adirondack Mountains represent a significant portion of the Bicknell’s thrush breeding range (24%; Lambert et al. 2005), but transient occurrences of the species in other parts of the state are less well-documented. Historically in New York City, Bicknell’s thrush has been recorded in Queens Co.(Howell 1893, Wallace 1939, Beals and Nichols 1940), Kings Co. (Howell 1893, 1899; Cherrie 1909, Wallace 1939), Liberty Island, Manhattan (Howell 1893, Wallace 1939), and Bronx Co. (Wallace 1939). In each case, the birds of record were either captured at a banding station or collected as specimens.

We presume these birds were identified as Bicknell’s thrush using morphological measurements, although some of the above authors did not specify their method of identification. The fact that morphological measurements are today considered the most reliable method of distinguishing gray-cheeked and Bicknell’s thrush (aside from molecular techniques) (Pyle 1997, Wilson and Watts 1997, Rimmer et al. 2001) is in large part due to George Wallace’s (1939) seminal study of the two species. Prior to 1939, the measurements presented by Ridgeway (1881) were universally used for identification of Bicknell’s thrush (Wallace 1939). However, Wallace (1939) concluded that Ridgeway’s (1881) measurements were unsatisfactory and had led to numerous erroneous identifications of the species. Therefore, records of transient Bicknell’s thrush prior to the publication of Wallace’s research may be considered less certain than any records post-1939. Regardless of this uncertainty, if the historic accounts of Bicknell’s thrush in New York City are accepted as accurate, the last record for the city was nearly seven decades ago (Beals and Nichols 1940). The last record for Bronx Co. in particular was in the late 19th century (Wallace 1939).

Seewagen, C. and E. Slayton. (2006). Historical Accounts of Bicknell's Thrush in New York City and a New Record for Bronx County. Kingbird 56(3): 210-215 =============================

Eugene Pintard Bicknell (1859-1925) John Hendley Barnhart

The death of Eugene P. Bicknell, at his home at Hewlett, Long Island, on February 9, 1925, marks the passing of one of the most careful observers among American amateur botanists. Throughout his active career, he was engaged primarily in banking, yet from the number and value of his contributions to botanical literature one might reasonably have inferred that he was by profession a scientific worker. Eugene Pintard Bicknell was born September 23, 1859, at Riverdale-on-Hudson, then in Westchester County but long since swallowed up by the expansion of the City of New York. Through his father, Joseph Inglis Bicknell, he was descended from Zachary Bicknell, who settled at Weymouth,

Massachusetts, in 1635, and from Gregory Dexter, who settled in Rhode Island in 1643 and was president of Providence and Warwick in 1653-54. His paternal grandmother, Emeline Valeria Pintard Inglis of Philadelphia, came from the old Pintard family of Monmouth County, New Jersey, whose progenitor, Anthony Pintard the Huguenot settler of 1691, was a benefactor of the old French Church of New York. Through his mother, Maria Theresa Pierrepont, he was descended from Sir Robert de Pierrepont, who fought at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and Rev. James Pierpont, who was more than any other man actively concerned in the establishment of Yale College. He was also related to the Jay, McVicar, and other well-known old New York families, and was a member of various patriotic societies, such as the St. Nicholas Society, the Huguenot Society, the Sons of the Revolution, and the Society of Colonial Wars.

He was a very modest man, always reticent concerning himself, and the writer, although enjoying his acquaintance for more than thirty years, is not well informed concerning the details of his life-history. He was not a college graduate, yet it is evident from his early scientific papers, published several years before he attained his majority, that his education was a thorough one. He was long connected with the firm of John Munroe & Company, foreign bankers of New York City, and was eventually a partner in that firm as well as the affiliated Munroe & Company, of Paris. After many years of bachelorhood, he married Edith Babcock, at Riverdale-on-Hudson, October 9, 1901, and they had two daughters, Eleanor Franklin, who, after two years with the class of 1926 at Vassar College, gave up her course to be with her father but has been transferred to Teachers College, Columbia University, and Edith Evelyn, a freshman at Vassar. His home had always been at Riverdale, but soon after his marriage he settled in southwestern Nassau County, where he lived the rest of his life.

But it is with his career as a scientist that we are chiefly concerned. His interest in birds and flowers began early, and he was then more ornithologist than botanist. His first technical published paper was on "Evidences of the Carolinian fauna in the lower Hudson Valley." This was published in the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club in 1878, when he was only eighteen years old, and was followed by several others before his first contribution to botanical literature. In the same year, 1878, he was one of the group of ten naturalists who organized the Linnaean Society of New York, and he was the president of this society from 1879 to 1887. It was during his presidency that this society published its two volumes of Transactions, and in the first of these appeared one of the most important of his earlier scientific papers, "A review of the summer birds of a part of the Catskill Mountains, with prefatory remarks on the faunal and floral features of the region." While this was based chiefly upon his own observations, he also made use of the notes of others, among these being his brothers Pierrepont Constable Bicknell and George Augustus Bicknell. He was one of the founders, and a life fellow, of the American Ornithologists' Union.

It was at the meeting of January 13, 1880, that Eugene P. Bicknell was elected to membership in the Torrey Botanical Club, and in the club's Bulletin for May of that year appeared his first botanical papers. These were the first of fifty-seven contributions from his pen to the pages of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, the last in 1919.

In 1894, students of the local flora of the vicinity of New York were startled by a paper in the Bulletin, which called attention to the fact that there were two species of Helianthemuim [Frostweeds] in this region, both well-known but always hitherto confused with each other. This was followed in quick succession during the two following years by others on Sanicula, Sisyrinchium [Blue-eyed Grasses – Irises], Scrophularia [Figworts]. and Agrimonia. Local botanists began to rub their eyes, and wonder whether they were themselves blind, or Bicknell was possessed of abnormally acute vision. His descriptions were so clear that it was easy for anyone else to convince himself of the accuracy of the newly-published observations, and the reputation of E. P. Bicknell was securely established as one of the most discriminating of observers.

His interest in Sisyrinchium led him to careful study of material from all parts of the United States, resulting in a series of ten papers devoted to this genus. Later he became particularly interested in the flora of the island of Nantucket, which he had visited in 1889 and 1899, and where he spent as much of his time as he could spare from business from 1904 to 1912. This resulted in a flora of Nantucket, printed in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club in twenty installments from 1908 to 1919. This flora contains, incidentally, his principal published references to his earlier collections at York Harbor and Mount Desert, Maine.

In 1896, he became an annual member of the newly organized New York Botanical Garden, his name appearing in the first printed list; and in the same year he was elected a corresponding member of the Philadelphia Botanical Club, organized five years earlier. He was a member of the corporation of The New York Botanical Garden from 1910 until his death, and a member of the board of scientific directors from April 24, 1913, to January 8, 1923, when his resignation on account of ill-health was accepted by the board of managers. His last contribution to botanical literature seems to have been the text accompanying the plate (no. 205) of Hypopitys insignata [Pinesap] in Addisonia, in 1921. Although his health had been failing for several years, news of his death came as a surprise to his botanical friends. Mrs. Bicknell has presented her husband's extensive plant collections and botanical books to the New York Botanical Garden. ============================

IN MEMORIAM: EUGENE PINTARD BICKNELL, 1859-1925.

Maunsell Shiefflin Crosby

EUGENE PINTARD BICKNELL, the youngest founder of the American Ornithologists' Union, died at his home at Hewlett, Long Island, N.Y., on February 9, 1925. He was born at Riverdale-on-Hudson on September 23, 1859, being the sixth son of Joseph Inglis Bicknell and Maria Theresa Pierrepont. He was descended from Zachary Bicknell and his wife Agnes, who came to Weymouth, Massachusetts from England in 1635 bringing with them one son, John. John had five sons and from these are said to be descended all the Bicknells in the United States. Another paternal ancestor was Gregory Dexter, who came to Rhode Island in 1643 and was president of Providence and Warwick in 1653-1654. Still another member of this family was the Reverend Charles Inglis, who was Rector of Trinity Church, New York, during the War of the Revolution. He was a Loyalist and insisted on praying for the king, although the patriots marched a company of Continental soldiers into the church to intimidate him. After the Revolution he was forced to flee to Canada where he became the first Bishop of Nova Scotia. On his mother's side Mr. Bicknell was descended from Sir Robert de Pierrepont who fought under William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066. The Pierreponts came to America in 1640 and settled at Roxbury, Massachusetts. One of the early members of the family, the Reverend James Pierrepont of New Haven, was a founder of Yale College and gave all his books to the infant institution during his life time, forming a nucleus around which the Yale College Library was built. Mr. Bicknell was a member of the Sons of the Revolution, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Huguenot Society of America and the St. Nicholas Society. He did not go to college, but nevertheless received a thorough education, which is evident from the ability shown in his first writings. He went into business at an early age and for many years was connected with the firm of John Munroe & Co., foreign bankers, eventually becoming a partner. On October 9, 1901 he married Edith Babcock at Riverdale and they had two daughters, Eleanor Franklin and Edith Evelyn. The same year he removed his home to Long Island, where for a number of years he served as Vestryman of Trinity Church, Hewlett, and several times as delegate to the Diocesan Convention.

From his early youth he was interested in natural history, and he was one of very few ornithologists of his time who habitually used the field glass more than the gun and kept daily lists of every species seen. His hearing in those days was especially acute and discriminating, so that he was often able to pick out a low lisping note from a loud medley of bird song. His Riverdale diaries were kept with great faithfulness and care and are extremely interesting to us, showing as they do the conditions existing about New York City fifty years ago before the natural bird haunts had been destroyed by the grasping tentacles of civilization. (It is planned to publish an abstract of these records at an early date.) But he also made an interesting collection of local birds, which has been presented to Vassar Institute, Poughkeepsie, N,Y. During the spring migration period he sent a postcard almost daily to Dr. A. K. Fisher, who lived about twenty miles to the northward, giving the species seen for the first time on that particular morning. In the autumn migration the compliment was reversed and he would receive a notice of the species which he might expect to see the following day.

Through his activity over the area which he studied, he from time to time made very interesting records. For years, however, he was unable to find the Yellow Rail, until one morning while hurrying to the train he found a beautiful specimen, lying in the middle of a narrow path, killed by striking telegraph wires. In the month of April following the severe winter of 1874-75, which brought many northern birds to the lower Hudson Valley, he found close to his house the nest and eggs of the erratic Red Crossbill. On one occasion he and Dr. Fisher spent the night in a rickety shack on Slide Mountain, in the Catskills, so as to be present at the chorus of bird song at dawn. On the way up the mountain they had seen several dead porcupines along the trail and Mr. Bicknell was indignant that the helpless animals should be wantonly killed. The scary part of the night was enlivened by a violent thunderstorm. Towards morning Dr. Fisher was awakened by a loud racket and in the dim light witnessed the demise of a porcupine which had persisted in trying to climb across Mr. Bicknell's face, and little was said thereafter when dead porcupines were encountered.

In 1878 his first technical paper, "Evidences of the Carolinian Fauna in the Lower Hudson Valley," appeared in the 'Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club,' when he was only eighteen years old. In the same year he was one of ten naturalists who organized the Linnaean Society of New York and he was its president from 1879 to 1887. In 1882 this society published his “Review of the Summer Birds of Part of the Catskill Mountains." It was at this time that he discovered Bicknell's Thrush, described by Ridgway in the 'Proceedings of the United States National Museum' (IV, 374-379). When the American Ornithologists Union was formed he was elected temporary secretary of the first meeting and was appointed to the committees on Migration of Birds and on The European House Sparrow, and received a resolution of thanks for his services on the Committee on Arrangements. The next year he was appointed a member of the original committee on Bird Protection and in 1885 became secretary of this committee at its reorganization. In 1884 and 1885 "A Study of the Singing of our Birds" appeared in six installments in volumes I and II of 'The Auk.' By degrees he spent more and more of his time in the study of botany and in consequence he devoted less to ornithology so that, although he remained a keen observer, he made no contributions to ornithological literature between 1895 and 1917. Instead he published a number of important items in 'Addisonia,' 'Rhodora' and 'Torreya,' and in the 'Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club.' On January 13, 1880, Mr. Bicknell was elected a member of the Torrey Botanical Club and in the Club's bulletin for May of that year appeared his first botanical papers. In 1896, he became a member of the newly organized New York Botanical Garden and also of the Philadelphia Botanical Club. He was a member of the corporation of the New York Botanical Garden from 1910 until his death and of its board of scientific directors from 1913 to 1923, resigning at that time on account of ill health. He also became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Botanical Society of America. Mrs. Bicknell has presented his extensive collections of plants and his botanical books to the New York Botanical Garden.

Dr. Barnhart, in the 'Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club for April, 1925, calls him "one of the most careful observers among American amateur botanists" and states that "from the number and value of his contributions to botanical literature, one might reasonably have inferred that he was by profession a scientific worker." He discovered and described many new species of plants, and between the years 1908 and 1919 published in the 'Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club' "The Ferns and Flowering Plants of Nantucket" in twenty installments, which was his magnum opus in botany. Dr. Barnhart's bibliography lists 74 titles and installments on botanical subjects and 26 on ornithology and general natural history, a total of exactly 100.

In Mr. Bicknell's early ornithological work there is frequent mention of the flora encountered so that his botanical achievements did not indicate a change of hobby, but rather the fruition of a taste he had always possessed to a high degree. "Evidences of the Carolinian Fauna in the Lower Hudson Valley" is a brief discussion of the now well-known extensions of this faunal division up the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers and includes, among the breeding species considered the Acadian Flycatcher, the Rough-winged Swallow and the Blue-winged, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers. "A Review of the Summer Birds of a Part of the Catskill Mountains," on the other hand, impresses one with the strong Canadian fauna found between two thousand and four thousand feet of altitude on and near Slide Mountain. Here the typical breeding species are: Northern Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Purple Finch, Red Crossbill, White-throat, Junco, Blue-headed Vireo, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Myrtle, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Mourning and Canadian Warblers, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Bicknell's, Olive-backed and Hermit Thrushes. This is by far the best ornithological study of the Catskill Region that has ever been printed. "A Study of the Singing of our Birds" is based on a consideration of song in relation both to nesting and moulting, silence being usual during moult and a second but inferior song season being noted in many species after the renewal of the plumage in late summer. Another article is an account of Bicknell's Thrush as he found it on its breeding grounds. His remaining papers are chiefly concerned with the status of one or another species either near New York or on the south shore of Long Island.

In his later days Mr. Bicknell returned again to the pursuits of his youth and made a careful study of the birds of Long Beach, Long Island, spending whole days there with great regularity whenever his business permitted, usually Thursdays. These observations have been made available for students, as he generously permitted their inclusion in Griscom's' Birds of the New York City Region.'

It was when he was on one of these trips that I met him accidentally, having motored down to the beach from Camp Mills for a swim on a hot June day. Mr. Bicknell was looking over a large flock of Sandpipers with a telescope, and I had the hardihood to introduce myself to him. He was very skillful in the use of telescopes, carrying a 40-power for still subjects and using a 20-power for birds in flight, picking up and following flocks of wild fowl with ease as they sped along the coast. His ability to identify a live bird in the field often seemed remarkable. He was an indefatigable walker, and in spite of his mature years and none too robust health, he on more than one occasion made younger men work hard to keep up with him over the soft sand and wet marshes of the twelve-mile round trip from Long Beach Station to the eastern end of the beach and back. Mr. Bicknell was very modest and retiring, seldom went to scientific meetings or mingled with his fellow naturalists, and cared nothing for clubs and social diversion. Low voiced and quiet, his manners would be described as courtly and old-fashioned by the present generation. While reserved, he was nevertheless of kindly disposition and was helpful to many younger students. His system of tabulating his records was a model of accuracy and lucidity and I adopted it at once for my own use. He intended to publish his Riverdale notes, but unfortunately did not live to have this hope fulfilled.

I am indebted to Dr. Barnhart for much of my information, gleaned from his memorial in the 'Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club,' as well as for the bibliography of his ornithological writings appended hereto, and also to Dr. Fisher, who was his neighbor for many years.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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E.P. Bicknell's residence on Hewlett, Long Island in 1915



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@2020 ROBERT DECANDIDO, PhD