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Bowdish and others

Beecher S. Bowdish, John I Northrop, and Willis W. Worthington
by Kelle Urban, 2008

Radford University has a diverse collection of >5000 cataloged and over 10,000 un-cataloged natural history specimens that were given or brought to RU over the past century.  In order to better appreciate the value of these specimens, we explored some of our century-old specimens by researching the specimen’s history along with their collector’s history.  Natural history collections are valuable resources that allows for research across many different aspects biological sciences such as, archaeology, forensics, biology,  and geography. By knowing the history of our collection we can asses if we have any ecologically important species. It also helps us develop a picture of the past and how environments and species’ ranges  have changed in the present day.

I have chosen to research bird collectors: John I. Northrop, Willis W. Worthington and Beecher S. Bowdish. I chose each collector because their bird specimens date back to the 1880’s – these specimens could be of significant ecological value and the collectors may have been influential naturalists if their time.

John I. Northrop
Northrop was born in 1861 in New York City. He was a very enthusiastic collector who was extremely observant and was known to have consideration for animals and would not always collect specimens. He is described by classmates, friends and his wife as a genuine person who would always put a friend before himself.  (Osborn, 1967)

Northrop attended Columbia School of Mines and graduated with a degree in Engineer of Mines.  In 1888 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, writing two dissertations: “Histology of Hoya carnosa” and “Fossil Leaves from Bridgeton, N.J.”. In 1890 he became a tutor of Zoology at the University of Columbia. That same year he took a trip to the Bahamas collecting many species we have in our collection and finding a new rare species on the Isle of Andros; Icterus northropi, Northrop’s Oriole (Osborn, 1967).  In 1891, at the age of 30, Northrop was burned severely and died in the night after a routine trip down to the fire-proof vault in the basement of his lab building to retrieve alcohol. What exactly happened is unknown, but there was a large explosion that saturated Northrop’s clothing in alcohol causing the severe burns. His son John H. Northrop was born 10 days later and would carry on in his father’s footsteps to become a very influential chemist (Osborn, 1967).

Radford University’s collection contains 13 specimens collected by John I. Northrop. I was unable to find where exactly our specimens came from due to the heavy trading that occurred during this time. All specimens in our collection were collected in the Bahamas and are listed as “least concern “species by the IUCN Red-list (IUCN). Specimens include (number of specimens in our collection):  
• Western spindalis (1; Spindalis zena)
• Greater Antillean bullfinch (3; Loxigilla violacea)
• Black-faced grassquit (2; Tiaris bicolor)
• Red-legged thrush (5; Turdus plumbeus)
• Stripe-headed tanager (Spindalis zena)
•  Thick-billed vireo (Vireo crassirostris)

Willis W. Worthington
In correspondence with Dr. David W. Johnston, I was provided with the historical background information provided in this paper. Willis W. Worthington was born in 1861 in New York.  He was a self-taught bird and mammal taxidermist and earned a living partly by selling and exchanging specimens.  Over his life time he was employed by various wealthy ornithologists to collect birds in areas such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. He also published three articles in the Auk and Wilson Bullitin between the years 1890-1926. In 1910 he was collecting birds in southern Florida where he met Harold H. Bailey, who would eventually obtain many of Worthington specimens, sending them to the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which now has over 90 specimens.  I do not know exactly where our specimens originated, they have been traded and sold many times --most likely because Worthington made part of his living off them.

Radford University’s collection contains four specimens collected by Willis W. Worthington.
• An unidentified plover (Charadrius): collected in South Carolina.
• Black skimmer (Rynchops niger): collected in Georgia. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state threatened or endangered species.
• Red knot (Calidris canutus): collected in South Carolina. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is listed as a candidate for an Endangered or threatened in the Northeast Region of the US. 
“A decline was seen in individuals during the spring migration. Red knots rely on the availability of billions of horse shoe crab eggs during their migrations. The increase in taking horseshoe crabs for bait in commercial fisheries could be the reason for the major decline. Another necessity of the Red Knots is the middle and high arctic habits that they use for breeding and could be potentially affected by global climate change.” (US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2008) 
• American coot (Fulica americana): collected in Florida. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state threatened or endangered species.

Beecher S. Bowdish
Beecher S. Bowdish was born in 1872 in Phelps, New York. Since he was a boy he was always interested in bird and nature and was encouraged by his aunt who was a teacher.  He was thought of by friends and colleagues, who referred to him as “Beech” as a witty, outspoken writer. He had a love for poems and would collect them along with writing his own (Johnson, 1997).
 In December 1910, president William Dutcher of the New Jersey Audubon Society asked Bowdish to help organize the society. His title was secretary-treasurer and his home served as the office for the Society. In 1911 he published “A Guide to the Birds of New Jersey” through the society.  Bowdish also was one of the earliest bird banders and one of the organizers of the American Bird Banding Association (ABBA).  In 1955 he was named the top bander in New Jersey by ABBA and also holds the longevity title for having banded 50,000 birds, 130 species between 1913 and 1958. He resigned from banding birds when he was 87 (1959) because of a cataract that affected his eyesight.

Radford University’s collection contains 13 specimens collected by Beecher S. Bowdish. Due to heavy trade during this period I was unable to find from where our specimen originated. The specimens include:
• Osprey (Pandion haliaetus): collected in Cuba. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list it is not listed as a federally endangered or threatened species but is breeding populations are considered a threatened species by the State of New Jersey.
• Black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.
• American woodcock (Scolopax minor): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.
• Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is listed as a candidate for an Endangered or threatened in the California/Nevada Region.
• Black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythrophthalmus): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.
• Sharp-shinned hawk (2; Accipiter striatus): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.
• Merlin (Falco columbarius): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.
• Kiskadee (2; Pitangus sulphuratus): collected in New Jersey but this could be mis-information because Kiskadee are common in southern region of North America Texas and Louisiana, and south to  South America. It is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.
• Common yellowthroat (3; Geothlypis trichas): collected in New Jersey. Is considered a least concern species by the IUCN red list and is not listed as a federal or state endangered or threatened species.

Conclusion
This information provides us with a chance to do further research and to understand how the land and animals have been changing throughout the past century.  It also helps us understand the life of the first collectors and how they have paved the way for today’s ornithologists.  These three collectors have helped further the education of people about birds and with their specimens in our collection and many other collections. 

Works Cited
Cant, Gilver. Sports Illustrated, Vol. 11, No. 16 (Oct. 1959): pp.  80-92

Johnson, Libbie. One hundred years and still counting: New Jersey Audubon Society (Oct. 1997): pp. 8-17.

Murphy, Robert C. and Amadon D.   The Auk, Vol. 80, No. 3 (Jul., 1963), pp. 414-416

Northrop, John I., Osborn, Henry F. and Northrop, Alice B. A Naturalist in the Bahamas, A Memorial Volume. New York, NY: AMS Press, Inc., 1967.

Worthington, W. W., and W. E. Clyde Todd. "The Birds of the Choctawhatchee Bay Region of Florida." The Wilson Bulletin 38 ( Dec. 1926) No. 4: pp. 204-229.

Worthington, W. W. "The Ipswich Sparrow in Georgia." The Auk, Vol. 7, No. 2 (April 1890): pp.211-212.

Worthington, W.W. “Golden Eagle at Shelter Island, New York” The Auk, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Jan. 1891): p. 11.