Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Montana Ornithology History

Last week Laura and I went to Bozeman, MT. I had been asked by the Museum of the Rockies to give a lecture on Antartica and penguins as part of a new photography exhibit they have on penguins. The lecture went well and I really enjoyed giving the talk.
But perhaps the best part of the weekend (other than having Mom take the kids while we were gone - Thanks Mom!) was a few hours I spent in the special collections room at the Montana State University Library. It was there that Coburn Currier, a colleague from the Montana Natural Heritage Program, and I were able to examine the personal records and correspondence of Palmer David Skaar.
Dr. Skaar was a plant geneticist at MSU but is side interest was the birds of Montana. He developed the concept of the latilong (blocks of one degree latitude by one degree longitude) to divide this rather large state into sections to refine the scale of bird distribution knowledge. We still use this system to document bird distribution in Montana but we now also use quarter latilong blocks. With so few birders in Montana, then and now, populating these blocks with the status of each species is a large volunteer endeavor and Dr. Skaar took it upon himself to gather as much of this information as he could for the first edition of his book on Montana birds. For a number of years Dr. Skaar was THE person in Montana to document the status of birds in Montana and it was he who first encouraged my Dad to keep birding and document the birds he was finding in this corner of the state and so indirectly he was also the reason I have become so interested in birds. It was fun to see the documentation of a number of records that my Dad and I had in Fort Peck and the correspondence between the Dr. Skaar and my Dad. One of my favorites in response to a photo Dad had sent was "A number of people have called me and described impossible birds but you sent me a picture of one"
Coburn and I spent the afternoon going through those uncatalogued files and commenting back and forth on old records we had wondered about and the notes written in the margins of some records. As we continue to track down the history of bird distribution and bird records in Montana, I plan to visit this treasure of information again in the future.

1 comment:

skaar said...

Hi John,

Nice to see this post. I was sorting books the other day and a pile fell on my head. The first one I picked up was my dad's original copy of Field Guide to the Birds, circa 1939. It's nice to know that the legacy lives on. I don't thing you and I ever met, but I used to hear your father's voice on our phone frequently.


--Steve Skaar