A Bird’s Tale

“Birds of Maine,” the Realization of a Grand Dream

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 7:45am

Maintaining the focus to realize a dream that takes many decades to accomplish is extremely hard to do. Few people can do what it takes to carry such a dream to completion.

Our dear friend Peter Vickery had such a dream. His was to publish the most definitive book on the status of Maine’s birds since Ralph Palmer’s 1949 publication, “Maine Birds.” Peter started working on his dream in the 1970s and quickly became known as the guru of Maine birds. He amassed every possible publication on the status of Maine’s birds, many of them rather obscure and hard to find. He traveled throughout the state, appearing at virtually every rare bird sighting to photographically document the sighting. He traveled to far flung parts of Maine to learn more about the status of birds in places that had not been regularly visited by birders or ornithologists.

So many birders around the state can remember times spent in the field with Peter. We remember seasick-inducing boat rides with him to count harlequin ducks around Isle as Haut and some wild, bucking bronco-type boat rides to Monhegan Island to document the winter birds there. We recall decades ago using snow shoes with Peter to walk on the vast expanse of the mud of the exposed lake bottom at the south end of Cobbosseecontee Lake to get an accurate count of pectoral sandpipers and other birds that concentrated there when the lake level was drawn down in the fall. And there are many more such memories.

At the time, probably none of us, besides Peter that is, understood or appreciated that these experiences were steps on the way to accomplishing his enormous dream.

Well, just a few weeks ago, we held in our hands the fulfillment of that grand dream. That’s when the newly published “Birds of Maine” by Peter D. Vickery arrived in the mail. Tragically, Peter passed away in 2017 but not before he had researched and written much of the book’s species accounts. When he received his cancer diagnosis in 2015, Peter showed the same amazing resolve and leadership that he had for decades. He pulled together a team of friends and colleagues, ultimately headed by his amazing wife Barbara along with well-known author Scott Weidensaul, to work with him to ensure that his vision for the book would be carried out and that it would be completed in a timely fashion. We were blessed to be part of that team and greatly valued the time with Peter before his passing. It was an honor to later to work with Barbara and the other team members through many late nights and weekends to try to live up to Peter’s vision.

Now that we have the book in hand, we feel we can say with certainty that Peter would be proud—overjoyed might be a better description.

“Birds of Maine” is more than we could ever have imagined. Reviewers have said (and we agree) that this is a book that goes beyond any state or provincial level bird book ever produced. Gorgeous works by two of the world’s top bird artists, both of whom Peter had come to count as friends over the years, evoke feelings and memories for anyone who has spent time in Maine. Lively chapters on the distribution and conservation of Maine birds and Maine’s ornithological history showcase what makes Maine such a special place from both an avian and human perspective. Eighteen fascinating short essays on special topics like the famous Old Sow Whirlpool and Cordelia Stanwood and Bird Women of Maine are sprinkled generously throughout. Along with the astounding artwork, other eye-catching elements of the book include rich habitat photos and a plethora of colorful maps and graphs. Among the maps are many that showcase the most leading-edge research on the migratory connections of birds that nest or winter in or pass through Maine. The authority of the book rests on the fact-filled species accounts for the 464 documented bird species of the state. These accounts provide info on the current and historical status of each species, ranging from birds like great knot and Cassin’s vireo (each been recorded only a single time in the state) to species like pine warbler and wild turkey that are common but have changed greatly in status and distribution over the decades.

Despite its colorful and beautiful design elements and its substantial 640 pages, “Birds of Maine” retails at the very reasonable price of $45 (Kindle for $31.99) and is available through all major retailers. It will make the perfect holiday gift for anyone you know who loves Maine and its birds.

An online book release celebration, hosted by Maine Audubon, is happening on Thursday, Dec. 3 from 7-8 p.m. Anyone can register and participate for free at: https://maineaudubon.org/news/events/birds-of-maine-book-launch/

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular book, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).