For Roger Tory Peterson

Protonotaria citrea“A golden bird of wooded swamps.” — RTP on the Prothonatary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), photographed in the Ravine yesterday in Prospect Park.Protonotaria citreaYesterday was the 80th anniversary of the first publication of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds. Now, I don’t doubt that humans have been watching birds since we’ve been humans, and even before that (I mean, some of them are delicious). And there were a few guides to birds for the layperson before Peterson, but he really opened up the world of bird-watching well beyond the scientific (ornithologists took specimens) and tome-ish. His inovotions included field marks highlight by arrows, something that seems so obvious now; and the grouping of similar species on the same page, handy for comparing and contrasting. (This is a potted history, but enjoy the flowering plants that result. Check out Weidensaul’s Of A Feather: A Brief History of American Birdwatching for more detail).Botaurus lentiginosus“A stocky brown heron; size of a young night-heron but warmer brown.” – RTP on the American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), also in Prospect yesterday. Two rare birds for Brooklyn.Botaurus lentiginosusI know the Peterson guide intimately because it was the one around the family house, and long before I started looking at birds I would look at his pictures. I still can’t abide photography-based field guides: the Crosley series, much hullaballooed, gives me a headache.Botaurus lentiginosusSo here’s to you, RTP (1908-1996), mill-worker, traveling salesman, Bronx bird-watcher, illustrator. Botaurus lentiginosusThis one’s for you.Botaurus lentiginosusBotaurus lentiginosus

7 Responses to “For Roger Tory Peterson”


  1. 1 crystalhrogers April 29, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Wow! How did you ever see that bittern? You treally have to know what you are looking for1

    • 2 mthew April 29, 2014 at 7:57 am

      The bittern was originally spotted by Bobbi Manian, and the word went out via emails and tweets. The birds move really slowly as they hunt through the reeds, so it was still hanging around several hours later when I arrived. A half dozen birders were there to help out with the location.

  2. 3 judysbirds April 29, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Great photos to go with this post. The photo of the bittern in the reeds is just amazing. No wonder that they are so hard to pick out. I’ve been trying for months to pick out a bittern that hangs out in a particular marsh at Bombay Hook, to no avail thus far. Can’t wait until I actually see him.

    • 4 mthew April 29, 2014 at 9:41 am

      Fantastically cryptic plumage. The bill-upright position makes their streaky neck blend in with vertical reeds, and they stand still for long periods of time, moving slowly, so slowly on those big toes.

  3. 6 mthew May 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Backyard and Beyond and commented:

    For Prospect Park’s 150th year, I’m digging into the files for reports of discoveries in the park over the seven years of this blog’s life. This is from three years ago:


  1. 1 Least Bittern | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on May 16, 2016 at 7:01 am

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