Northern Shrike near BHC. October 24, 2020.. Photo by Brad Snelling.
Welcome to A Catalog of Birds at the College of St. Scholastica: an ongoing, interdisciplinary project initiated by the CSS Library which focuses on bird species found on our Duluth campus. The heart of this project is a species list which was developed by faculty emerita Sr. Donna Schroeder and her students from 1978 until 1996. With her permission, we have updated this list with species which have been found on campus since 2005, including birds seen on library-sponsored campus walks with local ornithologists Laura Erickson and Kim Eckert. Our current focus for this project is to develop a digital collection of photographs and sound recordings of birds as they are seen and heard on our campus. We also hope to highlight interdisciplinary work in science, art and music.
We are very honored to share an inaugural essay for our Catalog of Birds which has been written by ornithologist Laura Erickson. Laura is the author of 13 books about birds including The American Birding Association Field Guide to Minnesota Birds, the National Geographic Pocket Guide to North American Birds, and the forthcoming The Love Lives of Birds: Courting and Mating Rituals. In 2014, Laura was the recipient of the Roger Tory Peterson Award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Birding Association. Her program, "For the Birds," which first aired in 1986, is the longest running radio show about birds in the United States.
Common Raven by T. White. Please do not use without permission.
At the heart of our project is a campus species list which was started by faculty emerita Sr. Donna Schroeder through a tutorial program with students in 1978, The list was further developed through collaborative work with students in Sr. Donna's formal course on Bird Identification (BIO 104) during the 1980s and 1990s. With her permission, we have updated the list with select sightings from 2005 to 2018, including species which were identified on campus walks led by ornithologists Laura Erickson and Kim Eckert. In 2019, we resumed keeping an annual list as part of this record.
View the campus species list.
Field guides to birds typically include a mnemonic which can be used to identify and learn the songs of individual species. The song of the Common Yellowthroat (pictured above near his nest by the community garden), is often described in modern guides with the mnemonic "witchety, witchety, witchety!" Many older guides, such as Ferdinand Schuyler Matthews' Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music (1909), describe the song as "witchery, witchery, witchery!" Mathews also suggests the possibility of "Witch-way-sir, Witch-way-sir, Witch-way-sir." Our favorite interpretation of the song comes in a 1837 journal entry from Ralph Waldo Emerson who describes a Yellowthroat which "pipes to me all day long" with the song: "Extacy, Extacy, Extacy!"
What do you think? Here's a recording of a Common Yellowthroat singing near Lot 15 last summer.
One of the inspirations for our Catalog of Birds at CSS has been the great 20th-century composer, Olivier Messiaen, a keen birdwatcher who frequently incorporated birdsong into his compositions. Our colleague Dr. Nicholas Susi recently spoke with the renowned British pianist Paul Crossley CBE about his reminiscences of Messiaen. The interview includes a charming anecdote about Crossley's first meeting with the composer along with his comments on Messiaen's Catholicism and interest and use of birdsong. Crossley also discusses his own remarkable career in music including his work as a writer and host for the landmark 1980s British television series Sinfonietta which highlighted the compositions of leading 20th-century composers. The conversation concludes with Crossley's fascinating comments on just a few of the works by major 20th-century composers--including Tippett, Takemitsu, and Knussen--which were written specially for him.
The Library's Naxos service provides access for CSS students and faculty to dozens of Mr. Crossley's recordings, including several devoted to the works of Olivier Messiaen.
Entry for "chickadee," from A Field Guide to the Birds of Duluth Township, a lost book attributed to CSS Librarian Todd White.
Letterpress & photoengraving by T. Arthur White
2021 marks the first year since 1980 in which CSS hasn't sent a delegation of faculty and students for the College's Ireland Program in Louisburgh, County Mayo. In honor of the program and the birds of our "Irish campus," here is a lovely painting of a Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) by our colleague Dr. Patricia Hagen, who, with her husband Dr. Tom Zelman, led the program on seven different occasions. Dr. Hagen's painting (enlarge by clicking on the thumbnail) is from 2015, when this species was a frequent visitor at the campus feeder.
Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker courtesy of Laura Erickson.
On June 2, 2019, we had our first record of a Red-bellied Woodpecker which was seen and heard in the Gethsemane Cemetery. In this brief recording, you can hear the woodpecker's shrill call along with the tolling of the chapel bell. The species has been seen and heard on campus several times since.
Recording of Red-bellied Woodpecker, Gethsemane Cemetery, June 2, 2019.
The appearance of Eastern Bluebird on our species list is of special interest since we know that it once nested here. Our friend, Laura Erickson, has noted on several occasions that the species could be found nesting in areas where we now have parking lots on campus. In recent years, the species has only been seen during migration. This photograph was taken in fall 2020 when a small flock of bluebirds was seen briefly in front of Tower Hall.