Boltson, Howard | 19 Meticulous Birding Notebooks kept during the 1980s and early 1990s.
An exceptional set of notebooks recording the observations of an Audubon Master Birder between 1985 and 1992, primarily on Long Island, but also including trips within the US and Caribbean. Natural history records of such depth and specificity are extremely rare, and this set has fantastic potential for research into a wide range of topics, from the impact of climate change to the social history of birding and citizen science. While it is unfortunate that notebooks one through five, and eleven, are lacking, this is still a very significant and nearly complete set of material covering almost a decade.
The compiler of these records, Howard Boltson, lived in East Northport, near Huntington on Long Island, and was heavily involved with local and national ornithology groups. A member of the Huntington Audubon Society, he had completed the organisation’s rigourous, multi-week Master Birder course and was a regular volunteer, including as a field trip leader. He participated in Project Birdwatch, an initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs. Begun in 1986, the project’s goal was to identify and describe seasonal patterns of bird distribution by combining data from the weekly reports of experienced observers (”How to Join Project Birdwatch” in Feathers, the newsletter of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club, winter 1986). He also regularly submitted reports of rare bird sightings to the New York State Avian Records Committee, and his photos were published at least twice in the Journal of the North American Bluebird Society (the spring and winter 2003 issues). Boltson was featured in the local press several times, including for an article about swans in which he is introduced as “the bird man of Huntington” (Ketcham, “On the Swan Trail”, Long Island Journal, January 28th, 1996).
Boltson’s notebooks are meticulous records of his bird watching. Each session is given a date and location (sometimes accompanied by hand-drawn maps), and notes are made about the weather and other conditions. Boltson then lists all the individual birds spotted, including their sex when the species is dimorphic, and he records details of those he can’t immediately identify, sometimes adding drawings to assist his memory. Activities that he witnessed, such as nesting and feeding, are included, as are bird calls. Other animals, in one case a turtle, make appearances. Most of the entries are written in black ink with special notes in red, such as his early retirement in 1986 (”First day of retirement - N. Y. Life - good luck to me!”), the “red letter day” in his feeder notebook when a black-capped chickadee eats from his hand for the first time, as well as his concerned report of a new heat record in notebook 18. Red ink is also used to mark the birds he adds to his life list, returning later to write their list number around the earlier text where he identified them. Totals are given for the number of species seen per month and cumulatively, with separate totals for life list additions. Boltson also records organised activities, such as field trips and lectures he either attended or led, usually tallying his expenses and gas mileage, and including the names and phone numbers of participants. A quantity of related material such as coupons, receipts, flyers, news clippings, and recording forms are loosely inserted. While the majority of Bolston’s birdwatching was done locally at sites such as Jamaica Bay and Sunken Meadow on Long Island, he sometimes travelled further, including to upstate New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Washington D. C., Miami and the Everglades, and the Bahamas. The feeder notebook records activities at his home between November 1986 and February 1993, including the types and amounts of bird food he was putting out, the birds who appeared, and their behaviours.
East Northport, NY, 1985-1993.
19 spiral-bound pocket notebooks, each approximately 120 pages, with card covers (approximately 160 x 110 mm), completely filled with extensive manuscript notes in black, and occasionally red, ink. All but one of the notebooks are numbered (6 through 24) and each is labelled on the cover with the month and year that it was begun and ended. The other is labelled “Feeder Notes, East Northport L. I. N. Y., Nov 1986 - Feb 1993”. Inside each of the covers Boltson has written his name, address, phone number, and current roles in birding organisations. The brands of the notebooks are Pen-Tab, Jericho, Diamond Supply Company, and CVS. Most of the contents are manuscript text, but there are frequent drawings and sometimes loosely inserted material. Notebook 11 (September 1987-March 1988) is lacking, and presumably there were also notebooks numbered 1-5 that are not included here. There is light wear to the edges of the notebooks, especially around the upper corners. Excellent condition.