Date: 5/27/19 6:30 pm
From: Harry Armistead <harryarmistead...>
Subject: [MDBirding] Ferry Neck & Blackwater N.W.R., May 18-19, 2019. DICK KLEEN COMMEMORATION.
FERRY NECK & BLACKWATER N.W.R., MAY 18-19, 2019. Dick Kleen commemoration.

MAY 18, SATURDAY. Rigby’s Folly, Armistead property on Ferry Neck, Talbot County, MD. arrive at 5:30 P.M. An adult bald eagle rises out of Field 4 and there’s a red-tailed hawk on the old phone pole there. cattle egret 1 (first of the year here), great egret 2, great blue heron 1.

In the cove 2 ospreys and a Canada goose are still incubating, like decoys, have been on their nests now for several weeks. Bring 7 boxes of George’s books for storage here, most of them good, recent bird books as well as general guides to different countries and states. A big Cope’s gray tree frog chorus at 9:17. When one is close to such an outburst it is almost deafening. One Fowler’s toad. fair, SW5, 75 degrees F.

MAY 19, SATURDAY. Egypt Road, Dorchester County, 7:45-9:15 A.M. northern bobwhite 6 “singing” birds, dunlin 55 (attracted by a huge tractor rig disking a field), semipalmated plover 4, semipalmated sandpiper 9, yellow-breasted chat 4, red-tailed hawk 1, field sparrow 1, great crested flycatcher 3, summer tanager 1, blue grosbeak 3, green heron 2 (on the wires), Canada goose 4, indigo bunting 2, eastern kingbird 2, common yellowthroat 2, and bald eagle 2. Also: snapping turtle 1, red-bellied cooter 1, and gray squirrel 1.

The so-called Chesapeake Forest road that goes off to the east to the “soft launch” site on the Little Blackwater River is REALLY rough and bumpy. Have to go about 4 m.p.h. It’s half a mile in but ends at a perfectly beautiful freshwater swamp with rich growths of arrow arum and other attractive aquatic vegetation. 5 pickup trucks, one emblazoned “Beware my dog, he eats everything I shoot”, are parked at the end. I see 2 fishing kayaks out on the river.

One could almost imagine being on the upper St. Johns River in Florida. It is THAT pretty, somewhat reminiscent of Francis Lee Jacques’ evocative color painting, “Birds of the St. Johns River marshes” after p. 112 in Arthur H. Howell’s Florida birdlife (Florida Dept. of Game and Fresh Water Fish, 1932), minus a limpkin and Everglade kite or two.

BLACKWATER N.W.R. king rail 1, black-bellied plover 32, numerous dunlin and semipalmated sandpipers not estimated, 12 bald eagles, Canada goose 22 (incl. broods of small goslings, 2 & 3 respectively), orchard oriole 4, summer tanager 1, great crested flycatcher 3, eastern kingbird 2, red-bellied cooter 10, a few green frogs, one chorus of cricket frogs, 1 gray and 1 fox squirrel, 1 absurdly tame sika deer out in front of the Visitor Center, 5 painted turtles, and 1 snapping turtle. Tidal water levels very high, reaching all the way into the woodlands right next to the south side of Wildlife Drive. Impoundment water levels down, esp. in Pool 1.

Others see a SANDHILL CRANE from Wildlife Drive, seen by Jeff Effinger, Jan Reese, Danny Poet, and Terry Allen soon after the commemorative event.… and 2 (or was it 3?) black-necked stilts are seen earlier in the day.

Today’s visit is to attend the COMMEMORATION OF DICK KLEEN (1927-2008; Richard L. Kleen) at the refuge Visitor Center, where his collection of 800 books comprises the library on the 2nd floor. A nice plaque with his photograph and a brief capitulation of his career had been installed. The books are of good quality, mostly monographs and field guides. They are in fine condition. There are complete sets of Birds of North America (18 slipcases) and the Handbook of the birds of the world.

The commemoration is dominated, as it should be, by former students of Dick’s, full of their tales of how great a teacher and mentor he was, especially of his classic summer station wagon trips with students through the West. Jan Reese conducted the ceremony.

Present were Jan, Jeff Effinger, John Valliant, Don Meritt, Danny Poet, Terry Allen, from the refuge: Matt & Michele Whitbeck (and their charming young daughter), Tom Miller, and Ray Paterra. Also there are Janet Shields, Maggie Briggs, Wayne Bell, and others.

While I didn’t know Dick as these others did, I still had been a friend and protege of his since the 1950s and do have my own fond memories, some of which I hit on at this commemoration.

I my early days of birding I thought I was the only birder in the world, didn’t know any others existed. My parents had heard of Dick and invited him over to Rigby’s Folly. Soon afterwards, looking over my records, I see he and others were at Rigby on August 24, 1955, when we saw a Louisiana Waterthrush.

In 1958 I accompanied Dick along with 4 Talbot County women, all considerably older than Dick, on a Dutch freighter that sailed from Baltimore to Haiti (4 stops), the Dominican Republic, Curacao, and, very briefly, to Venezuela. At 6’6” Dick dominated the small cabin we shared on board. 3 Americans were killed the day before we went ashore at Port-au-Prince.

At dinners on the ‘Grote Beer’ Dick often organized a sort of show and tell (tell mostly) in which each of us talked, on one topic each evening, of our favorite music, places, activities, plants, sounds, etc. We didn’t just sit there and make conversation. Many of the menu items seemed to be based on oxen. Oxtail soup?!

On the way home we went up Chesapeake Bay and Dick, somewhat frantically, scanned workboats we passed hoping to see watermen he knew. He seemed to know everyone in the county.

A polymath and Renaissance man, Dicks’ interests - and they were more than passing interests - included not just birds but also the Civil War, raising irises, the stock market, McDonald’s (how the company was run, he held McD stock, collected McD memorabilia, stopped at every McD), opera, the weather, country & western music, chess, bridge, and local Republican politics.

Great sense of humor and a great memory. Decades after the freighter trip, with no travel together since then, he asked me if I still whistled. On that trip, and for most of my life, my habit is to whistle phrases from classical and other music. Why he remembered that I don’t know, but I was touched that he did.

We used to sit together at the St. Michaels Christmas count compilation and exchange quips at this seriocomic affair, years after he ceased to be its compiler. Dick founded the count, was one of the founders of the Talbot Bird Club, and had been President of the Maryland Ornithological Society.

Back in the 1950s he took me to Elliott Island Road and Pocomoke Swamp, places I had never even heard of before. His place was named “Pandion”, after the scientific name of the Osprey, Pandion haliaetus.

Most birders when they reach a certain plateau just keep going. When Dick reached the 700 lifebirds plateau - I think it was a booby species on the Dry Tortugas - he sent out an announcement patterned somewhat after what one might mail after the birth of a cherished child, saying he had reached 700 and calling it a “blessed event”. Then Dick not only kept going but started his life list all over again … time to notch the robin, starling, pigeon, or Masked Booby et al. all over again.

Dick’s memorial service, at the Episcopal church in St. Michaels, had an overflow crowd and testimonials from 7 or more persons. Believe me, it went on for a while. One of the hymns was “Abide with me”, Hymn 662.

Dick had a fond friendship - I don’t think it was anything more - with one of my mother’s best friends, Edith Adkins, a lovely, charming, redhead. Edith was a lot older than Dick. She went with us on the Dutch freighter.

For several years Liz and I went to High Island, Texas, in April. We had no idea Dick was in the area, but when we went to a church fund-raising luncheon one day, there he was. That was JUST the sort of small town community event he was so fond of.

There was a time when Bobby Kennedy extolled the virtues of accomplishing a 50-mile walk. Dick did the 50 miles once.

He had his “ear to the ground”. When I was on the Penn freshman cross country team, up at the Hill School once, in the countryside not too far out of Philadelphia, for the last quarter mile I raced with one opponent. Whoever won would determine which team won the meet. I won, perhaps the only sports achievement I ever made. Somehow Dick heard about this and mentioned it to me later on.

When he was compiler of the St. Michaels count one year we found 99 species. Anxious to get to the 100 mark, Dick said after the dinner he would “cruise the highways ’til midnight for a saw-whet”. Hard to believe but saw-whet owls, strictly nocturnal, sometimes come down to the roads for cigarette butts. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette had ought.”

Dick hadn’t been in Talbot County THAT long before Stewart & Robbins’ Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia was published (1958) and yet he was already established as a significant regional birder, being listed twice in that book’s Acknowledgements section.

I can’t speak to his rich career as an outstanding teacher at St. Michaels, but I heard that the chess team he organized there was undefeated.

With his rich voice, full of goodwill and humor, he had so much to say and was so supportive of others.

“Abide with me: fast falls the even tide … I need thy presence every passing hour … “

Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.

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