New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

For more photos, see the Annual Meeting Report 2004 published in New York Birders, October 2004. 

New York State Ornithological Association
57th Annual Meeting
~ Hosted by the Cayuga Bird Club ~

by Barbara Butler, Sue Infante, and Carena Pooth
Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club delegates
Photos by Carena Pooth and Herb Thompson

Rain and lots of it. Teeming. Cats and dogs.  That’s what greeted us as we made our way to Ithaca to attend the 57th Annual meeting of the New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA), formerly the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs.  We all straggled into the Clarion Hotel eager to sign up for 3PM field trips, but alas, it was not to be.  A rainout.  The warm reception given to us by the Cayuga Bird Club members cheered us up as they assured us that Saturday would be a better day.  We crossed our fingers because many of us were anxious to explore Ithaca, a beautiful city situated on the southern tip of Cayuga Lake and famous for its breathtaking gorges and waterfalls and for being home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College.

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As it turned out, the afternoon wasn’t a washout after all.  The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's Sapsucker Woods, a 220-acre sanctuary with 4 miles of trails, is also home to the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity, affectionately known as "the Lab."  We were able to have our field trip inside (and the group that had gone to Stewart Park joined us when they decided to come in from the rain).  We watched for birds on the pond, trees and feeders just outside the Lab’s huge glass windows.  We even listened to the bird sounds as they were picked up by microphones and piped into the Visitor Center.  The combination of glass walls and microphones makes it seem like you’re right out in the birdfeeding garden.  We had lots of goldfinches and House Finches, but missed the Merlin that had been sitting on a snag before we arrived.

Looking toward the bird feeder area
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The Pond  Click to enlarge

View from the top of the stairs
(Adelson Library at top left)  
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We also explored the other public spaces of the Lab, such as the Fuertes Room, known as the "Sistine Chapel of Birding."  It is a replica of the library of Frederick Brewster, who donated it from his New Haven mansion.  In it are found some of the works of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, one of the world’s greatest bird artists.  Bird art by other painters and sculptors abounds throughout the center.  Nor is there is any shortage of hands-on activities.  Kiosks are strategically located near the viewing windows, with touch-screens for learning about individual bird species.

Adelson Library

A unique sound studio is open to the public on the first floor, where visitors can study and compare birdsong recordings and sonograms (we tried American Robin vs. Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Black-capped vs. Carolina Chickadee), or even experiment with recordings and sonograms of their own voices. Kids (of all ages) will love speeding up and slowing down their voice recordings!  Also found in the building are the Adelson Library, which houses thousands of books on birds and other animals, a multimedia theater, and a gift shop run by Wild Birds Unlimited, all open to the public.
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The Reception at the Lab
After a fast trip back to the Clarion Hotel to change and freshen up, we returned to the Lab for the highlight of our day, a delicious buffet and a behind the scenes tour of the private workings of the Lab.  With a staff of 175 people bursting at the seams with creativity and enthusiasm, there is so much going on here that it is mind boggling, so we can only touch on some highlights.  The Lab runs several bioacoustics research programs that use high tech instruments to census and track wildlife populations — "wildlife" meaning not just birds, but animals like whales and elephants too.  The apparatus they use for studying sounds deep beneath the oceans is fascinating.  Picture a glass sphere about the size of a beach ball, half an inch thick and jammed full of recording and computer equipment, sinking to the bottom of the ocean and then popping up to the surface when signaled, and you get some idea of the sophistication of the research carried out by the Lab.  There is also a molecular biology lab that uses state of the art DNA technology to study everything from mating behavior to how birds are related to each other.


One of our favorite areas, of course, was the bird collection room containing skeletons and skins.  It’s much more beautiful than it sounds and includes such common friends as the Black-capped Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch but also exotic species and some that are now extinct, such as the Carolina Parakeet.

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We also toured the section of the Lab our guide referred to as "cubicle land."  This is where the Lab’s great educational and Citizen Science Programs like Project Feederwatch and The Great Backyard Bird Count are created and monitored.

Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Macaulay Library and listened to a few samples from its incredible collection.  This library contains the world's largest aggregation of animal sound recordings and is now accumulating a large collection of videos as well.

All the Lab’s staff who volunteered to stay late to show us what they do were fantastic.  We're undoubtedly not the first to tell them that some of us are hoping to come back in our next life and get a job working there.

Field Trips

The Delgates' field trip at Stewart Park
On Saturday morning the weather was much improved and we eagerly set out on our field trips.  Some of the choices the Cayuga Club members offered were Sapsucker Woods at the Cornell Lab, Stewart Park on Cayuga Lake, and Dryden Lake. The delegates set off at 7AM for Stewart Park with high hopes. Both good news and bad news awaited us at the lake.  The bad news was that a wind howling down the lake from the north kept most birds out of the air and threatened to send a few birders skyward.  Barbara Butler was the envy of all when she managed to find a pair of gloves somewhere in her pack.  The good news was that the adjacent golf course was so flooded that some shorebirds and waterfowl were taking cover over there.  We saw 4 Solitary Sandpipers as well as both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal.  A Merlin sitting in a tree would be seen catching a goldfinch later in the morning.  Three Caspian Terns flew over, which were a nice treat.  Also braving the windy conditions were lots of Ringed-billed Gulls and countless Double-crested Cormorants.

Birders who visited the more protected Sapsucker Woods on Saturday had better luck and found a treasure trove of migrating warblers.  Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted, and Blackpoll Warblers were all seen. Also spotted were a Red-breasted Nuthatch and all the Vireos except Yellow-throated.  A great day for migrants!

Great Blue Heron Click to enlarge

Sunday's field trip was to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, an hour's drive north from Ithaca.  This is a birding hotspot that never disappoints.  The logistics surrounding the tour of the wildlife drive and the many choices for subsequent birding sites prevented everyone from seeing every bird, but it is certain that everyone saw something good.  The Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club contingent (6 people) saw 42 species, among them 12 species of ducks, Bald Eagle, 5 shorebird species including Wilson's Snipe, and a Swamp Sparrow.  Our BEST bird was a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and our FUNNEST bird was an immature Pied-billed Grebe still sporting some of its zebra-striped juvenile head plumage.  Both of these were quite close to us along the first leg of the wildlife drive.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (our "best" bird)
with Ring-billed for comparison

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Pied-billed Grebe (our "funnest" bird)


A Side Trip: The Hyde Park Mastodon

The Hyde Park Mastodon
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Those of us attending the meeting from Dutchess County had yet another destination in mind.  In 1999, Larry and Sheryl Lozier of Hyde Park made a remarkable discovery when they had their backyard pond deepened.  A mastodon was buried beneath it!  The skeleton was eventually removed by hundreds of volunteers working for the Paleontological Research Institution of Ithaca.  Barbara Butler was able to visit the Hyde Park site at that time and saw parts of the creature still in the mud.  As the NYSOA meeting plans came together, we decided that we should make an effort to see the mastodon display at PRI's Museum of the Earth just a few miles north of Ithaca.  During the Saturday lunch break, Barbara, with little time to spare, dashed over to see "our" mastodon, a very impressive figure standing at least 12 feet tall in front of a painting of the Catskills as they appeared 13,000 years ago.

Carena Pooth and Herb Thompson had visited the museum on Friday morning (when the rain prevented outdoor birding) and had checked out some of the other fascinating exhibits there as well.  This is a new museum that presents the latest in paleontological science in a way that is appealing to adults and children alike.  Many hands-on activities are offered to engage youngsters while adults can study the detailed exhibits and explanations of the earth's history as a planet and the fossil evidence of life as it evolved through the ages.

Delegates' Meeting

Delegates from the member clubs met on Saturday morning to conduct official NYSOA business and to hear updates from various committees.  Having braved the boreal wind on the south shore of Cayuga Lake early in the morning, we were not as jealous as usual of the non-delegates who were out enjoying field trips while we labored.

President Kevin McGowan gave an upbeat report, saying that NYSOA is in good health and continues to benefit from the strong volunteer spirit that characterizes New York's birding community.  The organization's various committees and projects did well through the year.  On a sadder note, Kevin delivered the news that three life members had passed away this year, as well as former President Stephen B. Dempsey.  The number of member clubs currently stands at 50.

Bryan Swift reported on DEC activities.  The comprehensive plan for the State Wildlife Grants program in New York will be available to the public in January 2005.  A new incentive program will encourage landowners to promote habitat required by threatened or endangered bird species.  Type E botulism in Lakes Erie and Ontario continues to be a major concern as thousands of waterfowl have succumbed to the illness.  In the area of wind power, bird migration routes will be mapped so that they can be taken into consideration in wind power site planning.

Manny Levine has stepped down from his post as editor of NYSOA's journal, The Kingbird, for health reasons (but he continues as Publications chair).  Shai Mitra has stepped in as the new Kingbird editor.  Tim Baird, editor of the quarterly newsletter New York Birders, is looking for additions to the Speaker's Bureau, so if you are interested in making yourself available as a speaker, drop Tim a line at .

Andy Mason, the Conservation chair, reported on key issues.  NYSOA continues its work in support of eliminating feral cats from state parks, where good progress has been made; amending the Migratory Bird Treaty Act so that it can no longer be invoked to protect non-native species such as Mute Swans; and protecting birds from the negative impacts of wind power projects.

Bill Lee reported on field trips and announced two more planned for this year:  Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch in November and the Niagara River in December.  Next year's trip list will include, among others, Sterling Forest, the Adirondacks, and Jamaica Bay.  Check the NYSOA website ( or New York Birders for details.

The annual election was held.  The Officers were elected to continue their service through next year:  President – Kevin J. McGowan; Vice President – Andy Mason; Corresponding Secretary – Tim Baird; Recording Secretary – Brenda Best; and Treasurer – William Reeves.  Elected directors are Gail Kirch, Carena Pooth, and Bob Spahn.  Three other directors will continue through 2005:  Berna Lincoln, Robert Miller, and William Ostrander.

Paper Session

The three-hour paper session on Saturday afternoon draws a large audience each year, because the presentations have always provided much information and food for thought.  This year was no exception, as we were treated to a wide variety of fascinating topics in a short period of time.

• We saw an interesting presentation on the observation tower at Niagara Falls, which allows visitors to view the falls from the American side.  The initial design of the replacement, with its reflective glass surface, would have created a hazard to birds.  Public and environmental groups' participation in the review process led to changes to minimize the problem:  reduced tower height, tinting and striping of the glass, and reduced lighting.

• Bryan Swift reported on the many DEC bird conservation projects.  There were updates on ongoing projects for Bald Eagles, loons, beach and colonial nesting birds, and cormorants.  Some new projects are the Mute Swan collar study (see the Marked Birds web page about it), Wild Turkey management plan and Habitat and Access Stamps.

Project FeederWatch results were used in a project studying the relationship between feeder bird species abundance and surrounding landscape characteristics.  The presence of forest land was found to have a significant positive effect on certain species, while others are more abundant when agricultural land is nearby.

• Kevin McGowan reported on the effects of West Nile Virus on "his" crows, which he has been studying in the Ithaca and Binghamton areas since 1989.  The disease is 100% fatal for infected American Crows.  The pre-West Nile annual mortality rate for adult crows was 3%.  Over the past two years, however, the rate has skyrocketed to 33%.  Other species of birds are also affected, but some of them recover.  West Nile Virus is clearly a wildlife disease, which only occasionally affects humans.

• Joan Collins has been fortunate to observe interesting behavior by the Common Redpolls in her Long Lake yard.  We are fortunate, too, because she recorded it on video for us to see at the meeting.  The birds burrow into snow banks, creating tunnels, "snakes" and nests.  So far, no one seems to know why.

• Golden-winged Warblers have been study subjects for John Confer and his students for several years.  This year Dr. Confer discussed efforts to restore early successional shrubland habitat at Sterling Forest State Park in hopes of expanding the Golden-winged Warbler population there.

• As is the tradition, the session closed with a poetry reading by Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.  This year's selection was a new poem that he had just completed about Louis Agassiz Fuertes.  Max had worked on the poem in the Fuertes room at the Lab, drawing inspiration from the works of this great bird artist that surrounded him there.

Breeding Bird Atlas Update

Valerie Freer, chair of the steering committee, and Kim Corwin, project coordinator, covered Atlas news at the Delegates' Meeting and the Paper Session.  Five field seasons have been completed.  The last set of forms is in the mail.  Plans are underway for the culmination of the project, a comprehensive new book and CD with a target publish date of Autumn 2007.  After the results for this year have been reviewed, the committee will determine whether a sixth season of field work will be needed to cover any unvisited blocks.

Saturday Banquet

Saturday evening our hosts had arranged a lovely and convivial reception with excellent hors d'oeuvres.  Following the reception, we took our places in the banquet room, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner.

Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick

The keynote speaker was Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick, Morgens Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  Dr. Fitzpatrick gave a lively and engaging talk called Birds Can Save the World: Revolutionary Opportunities for Citizen Science in the 21st Century.  At the heart of the revolution that he envisions lie two things:  an enormous army of birders, and the internet.  Under Dr. Fitzpatrick's direction, the Lab of Ornithology has developed eBird, an online bird record database and an easy-to-use web application that anyone can access through the internet.  The goal is to amass detailed bird observations in a body of data that can be mined by future generations for important clues to changes in bird population and distribution.  Dr. Fitzpatrick encouraged each of us to pick one or more special birding places to which we will return over and over again, and for which we can use eBird to enter detailed records in the years to come.  Birders, he said, constitute an army of individuals whose efforts can be pooled to accomplish great things.  So take a look for yourself at, and see how easy it is for you to contribute to a permanent body of data that ornithologists will use far into the future to help the birds, to improve the environment, and possibly even to save the world.


The awards presentation is always an enjoyable highlight.  Here are the winners for this year:

  • The John J. Elliott Award for best Kingbird article went to Kathy Schneider for "The Status and Ecology of The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in New York State."
  • The Elon Howard Eaton Memorial Award for contributions to New York State ornithology was presented to Anne Terninko of Finger Lakes Community College for her 5-year research project on dispersal patterns of first year Red-tailed Hawks on Braddock Bay, including work on determining the sex of Red-tailed Hawks in the field.
  • Three Gordon Meade Distinguished Service Awards for service to NYSOA were presented:
    • Kevin McGowan re-presented the 2003 award to Don Windsor because he had not been present last year to accept it.  Don was past Kingbird editor and has produced two 10-year indexes of the The Kingbird.  He also was instrumental in the NYS life list patch program.
    • Bill Reeves presented a 2004 award to Irving Cantor, who has audited the oganization's financial records nearly every year since 1974.
    • Berna Lincoln made a second 2004 award presentation.  The award went to Manny Levine in recognition of his two stints as Kingbird editor (1975-85 and 1999-2004—62 issues!), his service as Publications chair, which began in 1988 and continues even today, and his achievement as editor of Bull's Birds of New York.
  • The Lillian Stoner Award recognizing a student went to Jay McGowan in honor of his leadership among bird enthusiasts and his accomplishments as a birder and digiscoping pioneer.
  • Two Certificates of Appreciation were presented:
    • Management and employees of the Batavia Waste Water Treatment plant were recognized for their helpful cooperation in allowing birders onsite to search for avian goodies.
    • Bill Lee was recognized for the hospitality and ad hoc taxi services he extended to birders visiting Martha's Vineyard to see the Red-footed Falcon while Bill was vacationing there. 

As always, there was a raffle.  The cool thing for us this year was that three of the ten RTWBC members attending the meeting won prizes.  Jean Hicks and Carena Pooth each won beautiful, framed works of bird art, and Pat Gabel won two bluebird boxes and two good-sized serviceberry bushes.  Many thanks to all who generously donated the valuable prizes for the raffle!

Jean Hicks and her raffle prize

Future Meetings

Mark your 2005 calendar now for next year’s Annual Meeting, which will be hosted by the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club in Albany, September 23-25.  The 2006 meeting will be hosted by the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society in Oneonta.

For more photos, see the Annual Meeting Report 2004 published in New York Birders, October 2004.     

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