Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cornell Lab, Here I Come!!

Oh, my. I don't even know where to begin except to just blurt it out--yesterday I was officially offered, and instantly accepted, the job of my dreams. Starting January 7, I'm going to be writing and editing for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology!!

The Lab has been my personal Mecca since I started birding in 1975. To identify my first bird, I used two field guides but since this bird was so close in appearance to another species, I also had to listen to a bird record at the Michigan State University library--and that record had been produced at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. So the Lab is directly responsible for my ability to distinguish between a Black-capped and a Carolina Chickadee. I soon went out and bought my own copy of that bird record and got to listen to a whole huge variety of bird sounds, including that of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Since that bird was so exceptionally rare, I researched how they'd gotten the recording--it was done by Dr. Arthur A. Allen of...the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

It seems like everywhere I looked in the entire field of ornithology, the Cornell Lab had been in one way or another involved, often providing the very groundwork. They've done amazing collaborations--with the American Ornithologists' Union and the Academy of Natural Sciences, they produced the Birds of North America series--originally a huge printed collection but now online, with many more features such as videos and sound recordings, on the Lab's website. They have the world's largest collection of animal sound recordings (and video!) housed at the Lab's Macaulay Library. Their wonderful array of citizen science programs includes Project FeederWatch, Urban Bird Studies, PigeonWatch, the House Finch Disease Survey, the Birdhouse Network, the Birds in Forested Landscapes project, the Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project... the list goes on and on. With Audubon they sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count. And Cornell and Audubon also collaborated in creating eBird, THE place for people to post sightings of birds so scientists, conservationists, and anyone else can see exactly how each species' distribution looks in real time or over a longer period of time.

And the Lab is at the forefront in some critical areas near and dear to my heart. They have a fabulous education program for kids, BirdSleuth!, which evolved from what was Classroom FeederWatch. The name of their All About Birds website pretty much says it all--that's a great place for kids as well as adults to learn more about birds. It has photos, video, and sound recordings for virtually every North American species, is constantly being updated, and so is a valuable resource for educators as well as everyone else. The Lab offers a Home Study Course (which I've personally taken) which is as in-depth as most university ornithology courses, with superb learning materials. And they also provide a fabulous Nature Sound Recording Workshop (again, something I've personally attended), where you'll not only learn how to record birds in the field from some of the finest field recordists in the world, but get to record and see, up close and personal, White-headed Woodpeckers and other wonderful species of the Sierra Nevadas.

This is only scratching the surface of the many conservation, education, citizen science, and research projects and programs the Lab offers. Every one of my experiences with the Lab has left me in awe, not just of the quality of their work but also of the heartfelt eagerness to make the best of ornithology accessible to the world at large, and of the warm sense of camaraderie the whole Cornell team displays. The reason they get so very much accomplished of such a high quality is that they are all so committed to the Lab's mission, and work as such a cohesive team.

When I started producing "For the Birds" in 1986, I was using recordings produced at the Lab. At some point after a year or so, it occurred to me that I probably should have asked for permission to use them, so I sent a cassette tape of some programs to the Lab to ask about it. And who should call me on the telephone one evening but Dr. Charles Walcott, the director of the Lab! He was so warm and gracious, assuring me that yeah, I probably should have asked, but when he was a college student, he himself had produced some programs using recordings from others and he hadn't thought about getting permission, either. He said there was no problem using them--he was delighted the Lab's collection was being used this way. If I hadn't already been in love with the Lab, that certainly sealed it!

So I'm facing this new job with a sense of awe as well as elation. I'm going to do everything in my power to justify their hiring me.

Sam Cook at the Duluth News Tribune called and interviewed me over the phone last night (after a bit of prodding from someone at KUMD pretending to be me)--that article is here. And Lisa Johnson interviewed me on KUMD this morning. I'll post a link to that as soon as I can.

(On edit--here's the KUMD program today. Scroll down to the "On Demand.")