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Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist in Mexico: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Revisited (NOW AVAILABLE)

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Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist in Mexico: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Revisited (NOW AVAILABLE)

Front cover of the newly released booklet authored in part by  The Devil’s Road  producer Todd Bruce

Front cover of the newly released booklet authored in part by The Devil’s Road producer Todd Bruce

Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist in Mexico: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Revisited

BY TODD BRUCE AND GEORGE B. WINTON

Buried deep within the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, a never-before-seen document was discovered by a team of film producers conducting research. This eight-page manuscript details the account of amateur naturalist and journalist George B. Winton, on expedition in the remote mountain ranges of Mexico’s interior.

Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman, two of America’s greatest naturalists, were dispatched to Mexico in January of 1892 under the employ of the U. S. Biological Survey. The pair’s assignment was to better understand this remote region of North America, providing studies on its flora and fauna and their corresponding geographical distribution. The findings of these field surveys were unprecedented, and would later be foundational to a conservation movement that helped solidify the work of conservationists like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot.

In October of 1892, Nelson and Goldman made a particularly important stop in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, where they were joined by George B. Winton for an expedition into the Nahuatzen mountain range. It was on this collecting trip that the group came across, for the first time, several individuals of the world’s largest woodpecker: the imperial ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis).

Winton’s written account excellently portrays the mindset of the naturalist in the late nineteenth century, and provides a rare, detailed record of the sighting and the behavior of this fascinating and relatively unknown bird.

Paperback: 28 pages
Publisher: Black Swift Press (September 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0991450398
Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.1 x 10 inches

 

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A Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

So what does the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California have in common with Nelson and Goldman and our documentary film, The Devil's Road? Aside from the obvious scientific research and the institution's exploration of our natural world, the connection was formed on a fortuitous day in 1905. Nelson noted in his 1921 book Lower California and It's Natural Resources that he “reached Ensenada on July 5th and found the schooner Academy, from San Francisco, in port on it’s way to the Galapagos Islands with a scientific expedition from the California Academy of Sciences.” Nelson had several weeks’ worth of specimens that he and Goldman had collected from northern Baja, and needed to have them shipped to Washington D.C. The crew of the Academy welcomed Nelson aboard, agreeing to stow his cargo, and Nelson enjoyed a fine supper aboard the vessel.

On July 11, 2017, our film crew had the honor of conducting an interview with several of the California Academy of Sciences research specialists. We were met at the back door of the Academy by Katie Jewett of the Press Office. She would accompany us during our tour of the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy. In the basement of the museum we entered the climate controlled room full of specimen collections. Maureen “Moe” Flannery, the Collections Manager has been put in charge of the hundreds of thousands of bird and mammal specimens and introduced us to several specimens that Nelson and Goldman collected over one hundred years ago.

The first specimen was a Mexican cormorant that was collected in 1902 by Nelson and Goldman. The bird was incredibly well preserved. Next, we were shown specimens of seaside sparrows. The particular specimen that Nelson and Goldman procured was collected in 1874 in Washington D.C. and was donated to the Academy many years ago. The last specimen was a Bailey's pocket mouse, collected by Nelson and Goldman in December 1905 from a location just south of La Paz, Baja California Sur.

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Jack Dumbacher, Curator of the Ornithology and Mammalogy Department, rounded off the morning with a well-presented perspective of what naturalists like Nelson and Goldman's fieldwork would have been like. He explained how they would have collected, preserved, and organized their specimens during an expedition. We also learned how valuable these specimens are to science. These thousands of study skins and mounts provide a glimpse into the past, how and where these animals lived, and even what they were feeding on when they were collected. As technology and new research methods change, their value will certainly increase over the next century and beyond.

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

We would like to thank the California Academy of Sciences for their continued support of Nelson and Goldman's work and of our film.

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