Saturday, July 16, 2011

More About Ludlow Griscom

     With a name like Ludlow Griscom you might expect a man to be an upper crust Northeasterner, and you’d be right. His people may not have been on the Mayflower, but they weren’t far behind. He grew up in New York, and once his name was made, moved to Boston. Strangely, the professor never got a PhD. He published extensively in the scientific literature, not only on birds, but actually even more in botany.

     If you are over 50, and didn’t know Griscom, you probably knew someone like him. Totally the professor, never casually dressed, always in control, always the boss, a bit prickly…you didn’t cross him if you were an underling. One colleague called him “the only man I know who can strut sitting down”. And he was only 5’8”. But this guy knew his birds. He made snap IDs of fly-overs, or glimpsed birds, and was always proven right. He didn’t suffer fools or lazy people, but loved to teach newcomers. Perhaps his worst trait, unfortunately a sign of his times and upbringing, was a vocal disdain for certain ethnic and religious minorities.

      He was one of the few professional ornithologists to recognize the important contribution that amateurs could make in describing their own local fauna and flora. He insisted that birders learn their local birds (including migrants) cold before venturing opinions about birds elsewhere. This is why his name is associated with an award for regional birding, and in those days of flivvers and dirt roads, insisting that amateurs stay home and become local experts may have made sense.

     We have come a long way since the birding days of Ludlow Griscom. Today we stand on the shoulders of giants. Griscom, who Peterson went to when he couldn’t identify a bird, was certainly one of the biggest.  To learn more about this giant of birding, go to the Raven On The Mountain Video Channel 2 and watch "How Many Birds Do You Need" parts 5 and 6.

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