The Ghost Bird

“We were a hilarious bunch on the way back, not believing our good fortune, pitying Paul who had stayed behind, discussing how to keep it quiet.”

On April 6, 1935, James T. Tanner caught his first glimpse of an ivory-billed woodpecker. Tanner was a grad student on the Cornell University-American Museum of Natural History expedition to film and record American birds, and this sentiment from his trip diary would expand into an lifelong fascination with the ivory-bill that bordered on obsession. His work with the bird was documented in the 2010 book Ghost Birds, which a reviewer in Audubon Magazine called “the saddest book I have ever read about birds.”

Of course, my interest here is also in the misfortune of Peter Paul Kellogg (“Paul”), the primary sound recordist on the trip who missed the big moment because he was worried about the ambient noise generated by his gear—or by his exuberant colleagues.

from the Arthur A. Allen Papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

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