Friday, March 30, 2007

Another early migrant

Swamp Sparrow and spring buds--3/28/07
Photo by Eleanor Tauber

For readers in the NYC area

I hadn't heard about this exhibition. Just got a notice from the Museum and I see it's in today's NY Times:



MARCH 31, 2007 THROUGH JANUARY 6, 2008

Elegantly Restored Audubon Gallery Showcases Original Oil Paintings, Watercolors, and Lithographs >From the Hand of John James Audubon and Sons

The American Museum of Natural History announces that the renovated and restored Audubon Gallery, a classic, high-ceilinged salon space on the Museum’s fourth floor next to the fossil halls, will open its doors to the public for the first time in decades on March 31, 2007. As the inaugural exhibition in this historic gallery, the Museum is opening The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America, a presentation that highlights the Museum’s rarely displayed collection of original paintings, drawings, and prints by John James Audubon and his sons John Woodhouse Audubon and Victor Gifford Audubon, one of America’s most famous families of naturalists and wildlife artists. The exhibition also succeeds in placing Audubon’s life and art in the context of a dramatic environmental story—protecting endangered ecosystems—a cautionary scientific message addressed in other Museum galleries, particularly the Hall of Biodiversity.

“We are delighted to unveil the newly refurbished Audubon Gallery as it takes its place alongside the other magnificent permanent exhibition halls at the Museum,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “This grand space reinforces the idea that art and science are two different but often reinforcing prisms through which we understand the world around us.”

The 3,100-square-foot Audubon Gallery has been painstakingly refurbished and provides a setting almost as stunningly dramatic as the art on display. Dark double doors open to an elegant salon-style hall, with high, white, coffered ceilings graced by eight inverted bowl lamps, trimmed with metalwork depicting terns in flight. The warm wood inner doors, moldings, and wainscoting have been refinished and the walls covered in cream linen. New lighting also subtly complements the room’s architectural details, which include magnificent marble door moldings.

The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America (also opening March 31 and on view until January 6, 2008) introduces visitors to an unfamiliar side of Audubon and his family. Most identify him with his monumental and groundbreaking work, the 435-plate Birds of America (1827–1838), and even

today his name remains synonymous with birds and bird conservation. However, soon after the publication of Birds of America, Audubon decided to pursue an even more challenging project—the documentation of all known North American mammals—an ambitious undertaking that included a six-month expedition to the Missouri River valley in 1843.

The new exhibition recounts this project and features more than 50 vivid depictions of mammals, including oils, watercolors, and hand-colored lithographs. These images are at the heart of Audubon’s last great work, the three-volume Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845–1848), completed with the help of his sons, Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon, and written mostly by Audubon’s longtime friend, the naturalist and Lutheran minister John Bachman. The Museum’s Audubon collection as a whole has rarely been on public view, and the Museum’s exhibition opens concurrently with a showing of Audubon’s more familiar bird paintings at the New-York Historical Society, Audubon’s Aviary: Natural Selection (March 30–May 20, 2007). Visitors can enjoy both exhibitions for the price of admission to just one institution. Visitors may present a receipt from one institution to receive a same-day complimentary admission to the other participating museum from March 31 through May 20, 2007.

In addition to spectacular paintings of mammals, including raccoons, porcupines, wolves, and black bears, the exhibition also presents a timely ecological message. Using Audubon’s sketches, paintings, and journal entries, as well as mammal specimens from the Museum’s collections, the exhibition documents the virtually complete loss of the prairie grasslands—the largest ecosystem in North America. On the Missouri River expedition in 1843, Audubon found himself at the beginning of the transformation of the American heartland. The prairie was being converted to towns and farmland, and the commercial exploitation and slaughter of the buffalo had begun. John James Audubon is our witness to this transformation—the wildlife he went west to document was starting to disappear. Today, less than 1 percent of this landscape remains unchanged by human activity. The exhibition will show visitors what that ecosystem was like, what has been lost, and why. A few years after returning from “this grand and Last Journey” out west, Audubon suffered a debilitating stroke and died in 1851.

“A major focus of the exhibition will be the environmental transformation of the Missouri River country as seen through Audubon’s eyes, art, and words,” said Joel Cracraft, Lamont Curator and Curator-in-Charge, Department of Ornithology, and the co-curator for Unknown Audubons. “The exhibit will tell an environmental story that all Americans should know and understand. The visitor will emerge not only with a picture of how a vast part of America was transformed and continues to be transformed, but also with a deeper understanding of Audubon and his art.”

In the end, John Woodhouse Audubon continued his father’s great work and illustrated nearly half the species in The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Several of his original oil canvases are on display in the exhibition, including paintings of cougars, long-tailed deer, and the Mexican marmot-

squirrel. The book was well-received and the Audubons’ portrait of our wildlife as it was in the mid-1800s remains, as one critic of the day observed, a “Great National Work, originated and completed among us.”

Visitors can see many of the same animal species the Audubon family observed during their travels in the Museum’s world-renowned habitat dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals and the adjacent Small North American Mammal corridor. Many of the Museum’s best-known and iconic displays are featured in these halls including the Alaska Brown Bear, Mountain Lion, Alaska Moose, and the Bison and Pronghorn Antelope. The Museum’s dioramas, superb examples of art in the service of science, provide a powerful illusion that has shaped an understanding and appreciation of the natural world for millions of Museum visitors.

Exhibition Organization

The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America is co-curated by Joel Cracraft, Lamont Curator and Curator-in-Charge, Department of Ornithology, and Mary LeCroy, Research Associate, Department of Ornithology. The Unknown Audubons is designed and produced by the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Exhibition, under the direction of David Harvey, Vice President for Exhibition.

A Brief History of the Audubon Gallery

The original gallery was designed in the 1930s by the architectural firm Trowbridge and Livingston, best known for its 1935 plan for the then brand-new Hayden Planetarium, as well as such New York landmarks as the B. Altman Building and the St. Regis Hotel. The gallery opened to the public on June 6, 1939, as a place to showcase the impressive works of bird art the Museum had collected over the years, including a trove of fine John James Audubon paintings and memorabilia entrusted to the Museum in 1905 and 1925 by two of his granddaughters. However, the gallery space closed soon after the start of World War II and kept its doors shut to the public (with rare exceptions for limited viewings) for the next 65 years. During that time, the gallery was mostly used for private Museum functions and displayed the works of Audubon and such celebrated wildlife painters as Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Joseph Wolf, and Francis Lee Jaques in classic salon style.

American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. Since its founding in 1869, the Museum has advanced its global mission to explore and interpret human cultures and the natural world through a wide-reaching program of scientific research, education, and exhibitions. The Museum accomplishes this ambitious goal through its extensive facilities and resources. The institution houses 45 permanent exhibition halls, state-of-the-art research laboratories, one of the largest natural history libraries in the Western Hemisphere, and a permanent collection of more than 30 million specimens and cultural artifacts. With a scientific staff of more than 200, the Museum supports research divisions in Anthropology, Paleontology, Invertebrate and Vertebrate Zoology, and the Physical Sciences. The Museum shares its treasures and discoveries with approximately four million on-site visitors from around the world each year. AMNH-produced exhibitions and Space Shows can currently be seen in venues on five continents reaching an audience of millions. In addition, the Museum’s Web site,, extends its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond the Museum’s walls.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Liliana 's late winter migrant and Lloyd 's early spring one

Red-breasted Merganser at Harlem Meer - 3/28/07
A life bird for Liliana, whose first birthday was March 12.

Photo by David Speiser [her dad, who helps her with I.D.s just a little].

Cedar Waxwing just after bathing - 3/28/07
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik
[who doesn't need help with IDs--he's over 21.]

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Catch up

Nesting Northern Flicker in Shakespeare Garden - last May
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

It feels like just a minute ago that the first phoebe arrived. Now the place is hopping: phoebes, golden crownded kinglets, flickers everywhere, swamp sparrows, song sparrows, cedar waxwings. Oh, I almost forgot: THE FIRST WARBLER -- as usual, a Pine Warbler, sighted a few days ago.

Saw a Mourning Claok butterfly yesterday near the Shakespeare Theater.

Daffodils opening up everywhere, crocuses almost finished, , the cornelian cherries [Cornus mas] are about to open. There are huge numbers of these throughout Central Park, but after they finish blooming sometime in April they just melt into the background and become ordinary green bushes. The color of their blossoms is a rich golden yellow, less flashy than forsythias, but more satisfying, somehow.

The willows all have a green cast. The red maples and the Norway Maples are beginning to flower. Spring!

As I'm sure you all know, Lola is sitting on an unknown number of eggs in the Fifth Avenue nest -- almost certainly two or three. This may be the year --mid April should be the hatch. Wouldn't it be loverly?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Jim Lewis's Pale Male Dynasty Chart --UPDATED

Many people have been asking me to update Jim Lewis's great Pale Male Dynasty chart on one of the pages of this website. But, for reasons too complicated to explain, I don't have access to that page. Nor have I been able to simply post the chart on this [accessible] page as one of my daily posts. The chart is too big.

Now, my friend Ben Cacace has put the chart on his blog for anyone who wants to see it, print it out, etc.

You can click on the link below to find it. And be sure you look around Ben's site. A lot of fascinating stuff there!

The Red Red Red-headed Woodpecker

Photo by Ardith Bondi

Still there! Saw him yesterday morning at 8 a.m.

On Friday I heard the whine of a chain saw outside my window and saw that the trees in Joan of Arc Park -- right in the Red-head's little grove -- were being pruned.
A swarm of treemen from Beucler's Tree Service were up in the trees, busily sawing away. I rushed out, spoke to Pete Beucler himself [a nice guy] and told him about our special bird. He assured me that they were just taking down dead stuff and were almost finished. He also said they would not be pruning in the park itself -- and that's where the bird mainly hangs out.

Don't know if the bird stashes his supplies in dead wood -- I kind of doubt it. In any event on Saturday the pruners were gone -- the job finished. And I spent a good long time feasting my eyes on the woodpecker before going back to work [Not QUITE finished...]

Thanks, Ardith, for sending your beautiful photo.