(This 882nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on February 17, 2008.)
photograph by Robert Kirkham, Buffalo News
Some occupations are not simply thankless but invite animosity. (I know. I have held two of them: university department chairman and basketball referee.)
For 51 years Dr. Robert Andrle quietly and efficiently filled another of those roles: chairman of the statistics committee of the Buffalo Ornithological Society. Over part of that time he also served for two decades in a similar capacity for New York State birders. The basic task of those committees is to decide whether a rare bird report is acceptable.
Now think about it. You have seen a bird, perhaps at your backyard feeder, and you are convinced that it is a scallop-winged zip-whacker. You've carefully checked the bird's characteristics against a field guide and you are absolutely certain that's what it is. You write up a report and send it in.
It is not accepted.
Several reactions immediately occur to you. That guy is attacking my integrity. He is purposely embarrassing me. Who is he to make such decisions?
Never mind that the scallop-winged zip-whacker has been extinct since 1935, that its range before that was New Zealand and that it is not distinguishable in the field from a starling. What right does he have to question my call?
That example is, of course, apocryphal and even a wee bit exaggerated, but I know those feelings. I have had records turned down myself.
I have known Bob Andrle since the 1950s and my respect for him has grown over those years. He has weathered time on that statistics committee very well and, although he will be giving up his role as statistician, he will continue as the senior Niagara Frontier ornithologist.
Later this year a new "Atlas of Breeding Birds of New York State" will be published. Bob was senior editor of the first of those atlases in 1988 and he has made important but mostly behind-the-scenes contributions to the new volume. Each of those tasks has involved the direction of hundreds of field workers over a period of years, as well as the analysis of their contributions and the production of the resulting text.
Bob's other activities have included:
· Service to the Buffalo Museum of Science in various roles including curator of vertebrate zoology; assistant, associate and acting director; fellow; and research associate.
· Preparation of the materials that led to designation of the Niagara River as the first international Important Birding Area (IBA). This Audubon Society sponsored program is part of a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. The designation also serves the local tourism industry by bringing birders to the area from all parts of the world.
· Work for over 20 years with Buffalo and Erie County politicians as well as the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on the conversion of the Lake Erie shore brownfields area known as Times Beach into a park. That project was finally completed in 2007 and now we can walk through this lovely area on a system of boardwalks.
· Preparation of additional IBA submissions for Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach.
· Consulting with the DEC on various problems including the botulism that is currently decimating Lake Erie waterfowl.
· Development of bird check-lists for several local parks.
· Regional publications including a 1970 supplement to Beardslee and Mitchell's "Birds of the Niagara Frontier" and "Gulls of the Niagara Frontier", an early compilation that has contributed to the mounting interest in these species here.
· Although best known for his authoritative work with birds, Bob has also made major contributions to the study of local dragonflies and damselflies.
In preparing this column I read Bob's seminal and often quoted 1967 paper, "The Horned Guan in Mexico and Guatemala." Reading between the lines of this formal ornithological essay, I gained a feel for his tough pursuit of this strange and now increasingly rare bird through tropical forests on the steep sides of Central American volcanoes. This hiking was recently described as "incredibly strenuous."
At this time of his "retirement", I salute this fine and generous friend. May he long continue to contribute to the natural history of this region.-- Gerry Rising