E.P. Bicknell and the Bird named for Him: Central Park Birds Late Spring 2022

Updated: Jun 1

Bicknell's Thrush by Aniket from our Saturday, 21 May bird walk in Central Park.

Bicknell's Thrush on 21 May 2022 in Central Park by Anindya Sen PhD

Schedule Notes: Bird Walks continue full time through 30 May (Memorial Day Monday) = = bird walks Fridays through Mondays inclusive. Looking Ahead: The SUNDAY, 12 JUNE walk meets uptown at Conservatory Garden - it is the day of the Puerto Rican Parade so the lower park is crazy with security/police and people - see here (click on that link!) for complete bird walk schedule.



25 May 2022 to 6 June 2022


Bicknell's Thrush and E.P. Bicknell


With this issue we present some context behind the uncommon migrant, Bicknell's Thrush, that passes through Central Park and the region each spring and fall. In the field it closely resembles the more common Gray-cheeked Thrush, except a bit smaller in the hand, and the song is different. Thankfully, our own Edmund Berry PhD made a wonderful sound recording of an individual in mid-May 2022 at the north end of Central Park, and his accompanying video is a first for NYC as well:

To be honest, Bicknell's Thrush is a dingy-looking unspectacular bird, and its song is nothing special for a thrush either. HOWEVER, however what Aniket (= Anindya Sen PhD) and Edmund Berry PhD have done in portraits of this bird with these photos/videos made right here in Central Park, well that is truly amazing. BUT, but even more amazing is the man, E. P. Bicknell (1859-1925; E. P., for Eugene Pintard) who discovered Bicknell's Thrush and Bicknell's Sedge (a plant). Good old E.P. was a detail-oriented banker, who was born and raised in the Bronx (Riverdale-on-Hudson), and whose powers of observation led to discoveries of several plants species, and Bicknell's Thrush, hiding in "plain sight." Though E.P. never went to college, he noticed after several trips to the Catskill Mountains, that the thrushes at the bottom of Slide Mountain sang an ever so slightly different song than the thrushes at the very top of the mountain. We now call the larger low mountain thrushes the Gray-cheeked Thrush, and the slightly smaller ones at the top of Slide Mountain, with the slightly different song: Bicknell's Thrush.


E.P. Bicknell was well-known for his keen observations...these words from his obituary: By 1890 when he was 31, "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."


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

E.P. Bicknell age 55 in 1915

In this week's HISTORICAL NOTES we feature information on Eugene Pintard Bicknell (1859-1925), since we found a singing Bicknell's Thrush on the Saturday, 21 May bird walk in the Ramble of Central Park. Bicknell lived in the Bronx 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 in the very western Bronx, above the Hudson River. 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 migrating 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 NYC: Bicknell was more prolific as a botanist than an ornithologist. 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), and the respect his fellow scientists had for him - though he never went to college; and finally (e) two short articles from 1876 written by E.P. Bicknell on Red Crossbills breeding in Riverdale near his home; and the collection of two rare birds in autumn that same year: Western Kingbird and Orange-crowned Warbler.

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. [Bicknell was 21.] An excerpt from his Obit about one of those trips: "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."


More than a century later in June 2003, his grandsons (then in their 70s) were on Mt. Mansfield (Vermont) to hold and band the thrush named after their grandfather (see left photo below): Click on this link for complete story

E.P. Bicknell (right) in circa 1881 and (left) his two grandsons holding a Bicknell's Thrush in July 2009

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.


As for identifying a Bicknell's Thrush in Central Park using field marks only: good luck! Deborah Allen suggests looking for the extensive yellow on the lower mandible particularly the base, more so than on the larger Gray-cheeked Thrush; Bicknell's may also have a slightly more reddish tail. BUT THESE MORPHOLOGICAL FEATURES CAN OVERLAP IN THE TWO SPECIES. For more info on the near impossibility of separating the two species in the field using field marks see this article (click here). Thankfully, we have Edmund Berry's video in which you can hear the Bicknell's Thrush sing this May 2022 in Central Park: the only truly diagnostic means of separating the two species short of having the bird in the hand and taking measurements.


Gray-cheeked Thrush in Michigan in Autumn 2019 by Doug Leffler

Grey-cheeked Thrush in Michigan by Doug Leffler

Good! Bird Walks for Late May to Early June - each $10

All Walks @ $10/person - each in Central Park


Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1. Thursday, 26 May: (8:30am) Dock on Turtle Pond (mid-park at about 79th st.) $10

2. Friday, 27 May: (8:30am) Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) $10

3!!!. Saturday, 28 May: 7:30am and again at 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10

4!!!. Sunday, 29 May: 7:30am and again at 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10


5. Monday, 30 May: (8:30am) Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West) $10

(Memorial Day. Easy free street parking in the area of 79-72nd streets/5th Ave on the East Side of the park.

Then walk west across the park to Strawberry Fields.)


!!!: if you do the 7:30am walk, you can come on the 9:30am for free (two for one).


*For all our walks: no need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us. Binoculars can be rented for $10.


1. Friday, 3 June: (8:30am) Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) $10


2!!!. Saturday, 4 June: 7:30am and again at 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10

3!!!. Sunday, 5 June: 7:30am and again at 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10


4. Monday, 6 June: (8:30am) Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West) $10


!!!: if you do the 7:30am walk, you can come on the 9:30am for free (two for one).


Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)


Looking Ahead: Sunday, 12 June: 7:30am and 9:30am; NOTE ALTERNATE MEETING LOCATION $10 MEET at: Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue). Today is the Puerto Rican Day Parade! The lower park will be crazy with security and people - so we meet uptown instead.

Swainson's Thrush in Central Park on 21 May 2022 by David Barrett

Swainson's Thrush in Central Park 21 May 2022 by David Barrett


The fine print: *No need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us! In May-June, our walks on weekends meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through mid-June 2022. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time! Thursday walks at 8:30am meeting at the Dock on Turtle Pond; Friday walks meet uptown at 8:30am at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave); Mondays at 8:30am at Strawberry Fields (Central Park West at 72nd street).


Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


WEATHER: If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there 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 (718-828-8262) - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about 12noon to 1pm; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.

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

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


Swainson's Thrush Michigan 20 May 2019 Doug Leffler

Swainson's Thrush in Michigan by Doug Leffler

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):


Thursday 12 May through Monday 16 May 2022 (inclusive). Well...this peak week of spring migration will be remembered as perhaps the worst one that any of us can remember: with winds off the ocean (east to northeast) for almost every night, it made finding lots of birds difficult. Species diversity was there (only one day this May of finding 20 warbler species = 8 May), but numbers of birds had gone elsewhere...finding the less common species was difficult with so few birds around. We have never apologized so frequently for a dearth of birds in the peak period of migration. However, we did have some highlights: 18 Warbler species Thu-Fri-12-13 May; Philadelphia Vireo on Sun. 15 May (D. Allen) + 17 warbler species; and Tennessee and Bay-breasted Warblers (Mon. 16 May).


1. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Thursday, 12 May 2022: Click Here

2. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Friday, 13 May 2022: Click Here

3. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Saturday, 14 May 2022: Click Here

4. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday, 15 May 2022: Click Here

5. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Monday 16 May 2022: Click Here


Thursday 19 May through Monday 23 May 2022 (inclusive). Weather improved to some evenings with a westerly component (southwest to northwest winds), and the birds arrived in greater number. We had 19 warbler species on Thursday 19 May including a very cooperative male Mourning W., and a Bay-breasted W as well; Friday the 20th had Baltimore Orioles gathering nesting material plus migrant Solitary Sandpiper and 11 warbler species. The weekend brought singing Bicknell's Thrush (Saturday only), several Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and the last of the White-throated Sparrows soon to be in the Catskill Mountains. On Monday, 23 May, we found two male Mourning Warblers, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (early at 630am), Olive-sided Flycatcher (6:30am) plus a mega-rarity for the northeastern USA: Mississippi Kite that made at least three different passes over us...more than 30 people on the bird walk got great extensive views, and we could discuss why, though our original impression was a large falcon, it was indeed a kite. The bird glided back and forth without a flap of its wings. This individual is part of a large mid-spring northward movement of this species into our area probably pushed (or taking advantage of) the strong southwest winds over the weekend that brought 90+ degree F. temperatures, and the high humidity of the gulf region to our area (and the first dragonflys as well).


1. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Thursday, 19 May 2022: Click Here

2. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Friday, 20 May 2022: Click Here

3. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Saturday, 21 May 2022: Click Here

4. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday, 22 May 2022: Click Here

5. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Monday 23 May 2022: Click Here

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Bicknell's Thrush by Aniket (= Anindya Sen PhD) 21 May 2022 in Central Park's Ramble.

Bicknell's Thrush on 21 May 2022 in Central Park by Anindya Sen PhD

HISTORICAL NOTES


The Birds of Riverdale [Bronx] [1877] by E. P. Bicknell 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

Gray-cheeked Thrush in Michigan in Autumn 2019 by Doug Leffler

Grey-cheeked Thrush in Michigan by Doug Leffler

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. Careful examination showed it to be a typical example of Bicknell's Thrush. It is a male in nuptial plumage, collected by the writer on the divide north of Jamaica [Queens], 22 May 1900. Geo. K. Cherrie, Brooklyn, N.Y.


BICKNELL'S THRUSH (Turdus alliciae bicknelli) [1892]. I shot two Bicknell's Thrushes on 5 October 1892, at Rockaway Beach [Brooklyn]. They were not together, but at widely separated parts of the Beach. I find them exceedingly shy, and it was only afterr much watching and pursuing all the Thrushes that were noticed that I secured them. Many Thrushes were observed, but no others of any species were identified, for the cedars which grow on the Beach, and the tangled thickets of briers, afford excellent concealment to ground-loving birds, and in these spots they remained despite our most persistent efforts to dislodge them. Hence it seems probable that some of these others also were T. a. Bicknelli and that there was a small migration of them at that time.


I have already noted the capture of this bird at Rockaway Beach on 5 October 1889, and may mention the following cases of its occurrence in this region. Mr. Wm. Dutcher writes: "My Long Island records of Bicknelli are as follows: 1 October 1881: two, Shinnecock Lighthouse; 23 October 1886: one, shot at Astoria [Queens]; 23 September 1887: one or more, Fire Island Light; 8 September 1889: one, Shinnecock Light. I believe them to be a

regular migrant but not nearly so abundant as aliciae." Mr. L. S. Foster writes me that he has three skins of this bird taken at the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor: one Sept. 18-19, 1889; the others 11-12 October 1891. I believe with Mr. Dutcher that this subspeciesis a regular, though uncommon migrant. ARTHUR H. HOWELL, Brooklyn, N.Y.


BICKNELL'S THRUSH (Turdus alliciae bicknelli) [1899]. Since my previous records of this bird, I have discovered four additional specimens. Three of them are in the Brooklyn Institute collection, and were collected at Parkville, Kings Co., L. I., by E. F. Carson and Frank Suydam, two of them on 2 October 1892, the other 30 September 1893. Dr. Wm. C. Braislin, of Brooklyn, also has a specimen which he has permitted me to record, collected by himself at Parkville on 3 October 1894. ARTHUR H. HOWELL, Washington, D. C.


Bicknell's Thrush by Aniket (= Anindya Sen PhD) 21 May 2022 in Central Park's Ramble.

Bicknell's Thrush on 21 May 2022 in Central Park by Anindya Sen PhD

Historical Accounts of Bicknell's Thrush in New York City and a New Record for Bronx County [2006] 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.


Wood Thrush in Michigan on 7 September 2015 Doug Leffler

Wood Thrush

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.

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The [Red] Crossbill Breeding at Riverdale, N.Y. [1876] by E. P. BICKNELL. This bird (Loxia curvirostra var. americana) made its appearance here last autumn, November 3d [1875]. Small flocks were occasionally seen all winter, and through March and April, feeding on seeds of cones of the Norway spruce and larch. On April 22d [1876] I noticed a pair building near the top of a red cedar, about eighteen feet from the ground. The nest, April 30th, contained three eggs, and was composed of strips of cedar bark, dried grass, and stems of the Norway spruce, and was lined with horse-hair, feathers, dried grass, and fibrous roots. The eggs were about the size of those of Junco hyemalis [Dark-eyed Junco], in color very light blue, slightly sprinkled and blotched at the large end with dark purple. I saw a small flock of six of these birds May 10th, which were the last seen here. Riverdale is on the Hudson River, sixteen miles north of New York Bay.

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Capture of two rare Birds at Riverdale, N.Y. [1876]. Among the rare and accidental avian visitors which have come under my observation as having occurred at Riverdale, N.Y., it may be well to note the following:


Tyrannus verticalis. Arkansas Flycatcher [Western Kingbird]. A young male, in somewhat worn plumage, taken on October 19, 1875, furnishes the third extra-limital eastern record of the species, and the first for New York State. The bird was first observed on the afternoon of the day previous to its capture, pursuing its avocation of insect-hunting from the topmost branches of some tall trees near a private residence, and the following day was again found about the same spot and without much difficulty secured. Its stomach contained parts of a small beetle and partially digested berries of Ampelopsis quinquefolia [Virginia Creeper – a native vine], the latter also often forming the principal food supply of its congeneric species, T. carolinensis [Eastern Kingbird], during the last few days of its northern stay.


Helminthophaga celata. Orange-crowned Warbler. A female was taken on 9 October 1876, and a second specimen seen on the 29th of the same month. The former bird was shot while gleaning among the withering blossoms of a patch of golden-rods (Solidago), while the latter was hopping about in a clump of leafless briers and shrubbery quite unsuspiciously, allowing an approach of a few feet.


E. P. Bicknell, Riverdale, N. Y.

=============== Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

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

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

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