Allan Klonick, 1921-2003

 

(This column was first published in the March 10, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)

 

Arguably the rarest bird that ever occurred in western New York was a silver gull, a species whose normal range is the South Pacific near New Zealand and Australia. It appeared shortly after the end of World War II at the mouth of the Genesee River in Rochester.

 

If that bird were to be found anywhere in North America today, thousands of birders would descend upon that location to add it to their life lists.

 

Even in the 1940s it caused quite a stir and - in those very different times when photographs didn't play the role they do today - it was decided that the bird should be collected. Translated, that means that it would be shot and the specimen retained in a museum.

 

A group of birders, the shooter carrying a collecting permit, approached the gull, which stood on the Summerville Pier. But when the gun was fired, the bird struggled into the air and, dying, drifted down into the river. Its body then began slowly floating out into Lake Ontario.

 

While the rest of the group stood stunned by this unexpected occurrence, Allan Klonick stripped off his shoes, jacket and pants, leaped into the water, swam out and retrieved the bird. After he passed the gull's body up to his friends, he had to be helped up out of the ice-cold water as the cement dockside was difficult to climb.

 

It was later decided that the silver gull had been released from a European zoo during the war and it had then somehow wandered across the Atlantic.

 

What brought that episode to mind was the death on February 22 of my dear friend, that same Allan Klonick. I had talked with him just weeks earlier and his death came as a shock.

 

His death brought back other memories as well:

 

Of the time when I was a junior high school student and Allan was one of those wonderful birders who patiently helped a youngster whose enthusiasm far outstripped his ornithological knowledge. I recall riding in the trunk of Allan's coupe on bird hikes. That wasn't so bad. Others rode in an old Model A. When a rough-legged hawk appeared over a field, they all jumped out, forgetting to bring the car to a full stop. It rolled on and tipped over in the ditch. Luckily cars were so light then that we were able to manhandle it back up onto the road.

 

Of the Genesee Ornithological Society of which Allan was a charter member. When they allowed me to join, it was still an informal group meeting in members' homes. Its treasurer was Howard Miller, who sold four-leafed clovers at the meetings for a dime each. Where he came across those lucky charms, none of us had any idea, but that income provided the GOS its tiny fiscal balance.

 

Too many younger birders will remember Allan only for his recent quixotic but ultimately successful defense of the Genesee Ornithological Society against its being subsumed by the Rochester Birding Association. Knowing the history of the GOS and Allan's pivotal role in that society, his older friends understood and honored him with their support.

 

Allan Klonick was the last of a fine group of Rochester birders and he has now joined his companions, Gordon Meade, Joe Taylor, Hi Clement, John Brown, Amb Secker, Elmer Siebert and Bill Edson in some birding paradise.

 

But even in that company he stood out. When a remarkable local birding spot, Reed Road Swamp, was threatened by development, Allan, whose business was real estate, organized Bird Refuges, Inc., collected money and bought the property. He later acquired additional land including the famous Island Cottage Woods forming the west spit reaching out into Braddock Bay.

 

Allan was also instrumental in the formation of the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs and he served as the first editor of that organization's journal, The Kingbird. That publication is now in its 53rd year.

 

I will miss this fine friend.-- Gerry Rising