The Brookline Bird Club: 1988-2013

The close of 1988 found the Brookline Bird Club on the brink of the Information Age. In the last decade of the 20th century, environmental concerns challenged members to redouble conservation efforts. At the same time, technological advances rewrote the rules for organizing trips and sharing reports.

Citizen's Band radios kept cars together on BBC trips and helped solo birders. At birding hotspots like Plum Island, Gloucester, or Cumberland Farm fields, a member could put a call out about a sighting and, more often than not, another BBC member would respond looking for information. The last update of the BBC C.B. Radio List, in January 2002, included the handles (call signs) of 196 participants. Handles sometimes reflected the owner's profession (such as Bank Swallow for Joe Paluzzi and Golden Crown for dentist Irving Romanow) or name (Chris and Judy Hepburn's Rosy Finch came from the "Hepburn's" form of the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch).

The club's telephone hotline alerted the club's avid listers to local rarities. Sabrina Hepburn recalls answering phone calls during dinner on a Friday or Saturday night and hearing 'I've got a BBC hotline report.'” Periodically, the caller accidentally omitted some critical turn or instruction during this game of 'Telephone,' leading to “much cursing” when recipients tried finding the bird, but, like many BBC birders of the time, Sabrina feels that she owes “more than a few” life birds to the service.

A typical hotline situation occurred on January 10, 1992. Joseph Mann of East Gloucester put out some raisins for cardinals atop a Hav-A-Hart trap in his yard, and attracted a Yellow- breasted Chat. Mann invited Jerry Soucy and Judge Lawrence Jodrey to share the sighting and told Soucy he could tell anyone he wanted. Before the day ended, a “parade of birders” began. Thanks to the BBC Hotline, over 300 people saw the chat. Stan Bolton, who visited several times, got Mann to join the BBC. Wrote Mann, "Jerry Soucy had given me information before but I never realized all the great people and great birding I would enjoy with the club, not to mention all the lifers I've seen since joining." (Mann 1992).

Brookline Bird Club directors took public relations seriously. Blue Books had included a statement emphasizing respect for private property since the 1960s. The club created a birding etiquette committee in 1991 and published its own Code of Ethics, adopted from the ABA code of ethics, to address concerns over birder behavior, particularly when in pursuit of rarities. The code included tenets such as "Birders must always act in ways that do not endanger the welfare of birds or other wildlife,” “Birders must always respect the rights of others,” and “Birders in groups should assume special responsibilities."

While members enjoyed expanding their lists, they were also passionate about conservation. Meeting minutes reflect a longstanding debate about the club's primary purpose. Board member Alden Clayton wrote to the board in April 1990 after another director suggested that the primary mission of the club was leading field trips. "In this time of environmental crisis, I feel that we should all, singly and collectively, do what we can to support, in a variety of ways, worthy causes and help build public awareness about environmental issues," Clayton concluded. "I believe that any retrogression to a narrow focus for the BBC would be unfortunate.” (Clayton, 1990.)

Throughout the decade, BBC partnered with other organizations to leverage its bird conservation efforts. BBC co-sponsored Manomet Bird Observatory presentations on arctic shorebirds and Belizian waterbirds in 1989 and 1990. The club then joined the MBO/Mass Birders Forum, a cooperative effort of MBO and 18 Massachusetts bird clubs to help protect threatened birds and their habitats throughout the Western hemisphere. The Forum's first project was a drive to collect used binoculars, spotting scopes, and tripods for field biologists and grassroots conservation organizations in Latin America, where a lack of basic equipment frustrated research and conservation efforts. The Mass Birders Forum became what is now Birders' Exchange with the help of Betty Petersen, then working at MBO, and volunteers including Tod Highsmith, Sarah Whittum, and Bob Stymeist. The MBO formalized the program with a paid staff, and then moved it to the American Birding Association in 2000. Betty presented the BBC with an ABA/BEX commendation award, thanking Barbara Volkle and others who coordinated donation collections and commending club members who donated optics and books.

BBC members were among the most active of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge volunteers, with several contributing more than 100 hours of service during 1989 on projects ranging from tern warden duty to lead shot sampling.

Club members and officers followed environmental legislation at the state and local levels. In 1990, Barbara Howell testified before the Committee on Natural Resources in support of the Massachusetts River Protection Act.

"Despite having to inform the committee that the Governor was not a member of the Brookline Bird Club, Barbara's testimony was well received," noted president Stephen Moore in a letter to officers and directors. (Moore. 1990.) Barbara Howell succeeded Steve to become the club's first woman president.

Individual club members made significant contributions to education at the state and national levels. The club nominated Paul Roberts for the Audubon "A" award from the Massachusetts Audubon Society and Bob