October 11, 2013

Sponsorship for Nancy Claflin

From 2008 – 2011 I volunteered with the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas II. This four year project surveyed Massachusetts for evidence of breeding bird species on 1055 individual blocks of land. The entire state was “atlassed” and the outcome has created several very important documents including the Breeding Bird Atlas 2 eBook and the State of the Birds 2013

Mass Audubon is currently raising funds to support the creation of a public Breeding Bird Atlas 2 website. As part of this effort I am working to raise $200 to dedicate a page to my bird watching mentor Nancy Claflin. Being bird watchers Mass Audubon has allowed participants to select a specie to dedicate. I  selected the American kestrel for Nancy.  If you would like to support this wonderful effort with a small donation it would mean not only seeing this important environmental resource made public but also memorializing a very special lover of birds in the process. 

To support this project please 
Mail checks made out to: Mass Audubon
With the memo line: BBA2 sponsorship for Nancy Claflin

Karen ONeill
Massachusetts Audubon Society
208 South Great Road,
Lincoln, MA 01773

I'd also love to hear from anyone who remembers Nancy, makes a donation in her memory, or has other questions. AlexanderJosephDunn@gmail.com 

My History with Nancy
At a very precarious voice cracking, adolescence moment I was blessed to have been connected to Nancy Claflin by my fifth grade teacher Jen Tobin who knew we both shared a love of birds. Nancy was fifty years my senior and a gentle yet wind hardened Yankee. She was also an avid fisherman and bird watcher. Despite our obvious differences Nancy began to teach me the ways of bird watching. She would pick me up at 6:30 AM and walk me quietly through the woods of Lincoln or around the rock shores of Cape Ann. She pointed out Northern flickers and Harlequin ducks, we counted Red-tailed hawks on Rt. 128 as we drove north to Plum Island and in the spring she showed me how to connect the tiny foot paths of Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Nancy’s fearless commitment to see birds included breaking suddenly on a highway off ramp, a daring and highly illegal move. She’d hop out of her Jeep and scan the grassy terrain from among the hubcaps of the breakdown lane. She would utter a slow, calm inviting “Ohh..?” and I’d instantly know she had seen something good. 

Highway cloverleaves create islands of nature in a sea of concrete and racing cars, and more often than not a tiny Kestrel would be frozen in mid air making “forays into the open, heading into the wind with the body tilted diagonally upward and hovering with the tail fanned out" (BBA 1). Inevitably the state police would pull up behind us and she’d quietly hand me the car keys. “Tell them your grandmother was about to be sick.” We’d tuck our binoculars into our jackets, apologize to the trooper’s unflinching face, and with my paper learners permit carefully folded into my nylon wallet we’d continue on towards Plum Island or some other far off adventure. This is how bird watching got under my skin and despite a childhood fear that one day I would give it up the hunger is, thanks to Nancy, still very much alive.

Why the Kestrel?
I recently came across Nancy’s entry on the American kestrel in the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 1, completed in 1979. The original Atlas was published and volunteers wrote “species accounts” for each included bird. Nancy wrote the essay on the American kestrel. Finding Nancy’s entry on this little falcon the “most colorful of North American hawks” was like finding an unopened letter in a locked drawer, her voice buried under the leaf litter leaped into flight. Nancy’ parting words on the state of the kestrel in Massachusetts is a hesitant, final whisper to an essay written with great joy. Sitting just below the graphics like an italicized, almost clairvoyant after thought is her note: “fairly common and widespread in grasslands and similar open situations; possibly declining.”

Part of the work being done by Mass Audubon is comparing the first Atlas with the more recent atlas that I worked on. Significant trends both positive and negative can be seen. One species in particular has come forward as a signal of habitat loss, the American kestrel. The kestrel, the same kestrel that Nancy wrote about for the first Atlas relies heavily on farm fields and open pastures. This type of habitat has been decimated by the decline of local agriculture and the invasive spread of suburban sprawl. Nancy was correct in predicting this “possible decline” and the small, misnamed sparrow hawk stands now as symbol of a changing Massachusetts landscape and quiet loss happening beneath our very nose.

I have great faith that through the continued work of organizations like Mass Audubon, citizen scientists, and bird watchers around the state we will be able to stem the tied of habitat and species loss.

1 comment:

Stephanie H Taylor, MD said...

I met Nancy Claflin in 1975 when I was doing an environmental internship at Habitat, in Belmont, MA. She and I spent many early mornings owl watching. Surprisingly, we learned that we also had family connections - my grandmother was her God-mother. I have many stories i would live to share about this warn, strong and wise woman!

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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