P3ers in front of passenger pigeon and Lewis Cross painting at Lake Shore Museum in Muskegon, MI.

At the Chicago Project Passenger Pigeon (P3)  meeting I suggested to Pam Rasmussen of the Michigan State University Museum that we ought to hold a similar meeting at her shop to help organize Michigan. Michigan is one of the most important states in ppigeon history, being that it hosted many of the last large nestings in the 1870s and the first book length account of the species was written by W.B. Mershon who served as mayor of Saginaw. She liked the idea and we started contacting people from across the state, some of whom were very interested but could not make the meeting. Of particular interest to me were the staff of the Lakeshore Museum in Muskegon that has both a passenger pigeon and an amazing painting by a local artist who knew the birds as a child, Lewis Cross. The other spot I wanted to visit was the Petoskey area where the last large nesting occurred in 1878. Mary Cummings  of the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society and Museum had provided me with some very helpful information and lined up a guide to take us around to show us where the pigeons used to gather.

The P3 meeting in Chicago worked as well as it did in part because we had some folks who agreed to be helpers making sure that all the little details were attended to. Lizzie Condon, who was up in Baraboo working with the International Crane Foundation said she would be pleased to join the meeting as a note taker, which is a critical task in insuring that a meeting lives beyond its adjournment. So she was well informed on things passenger pigeon.  Lizzie’s tenure at ICF ended in the beginning of April. She was headed to Brazil to do ornithological research and then on to graduate school. But, fortunately for me, she had a block of time in the Chicago area where her family lives.

 I asked her if she would want to accompany me on a three day tour of Michigan that was to culminate in the big meeting at MSU. At 6am on April  she pulled up to my house, we packed her stuff in my car, and we headed off. David Mrazek had given me a video camera to record the trip for a trailer he was making to promote the documentary. While I was certain that I would somehow ruin the highfalutin equipment, Lizzie turned out to be an experienced and talented videographer. She started shooting as I pulled out of the subdivision, with me explaining the purpose of the trip. Unfortunately, multi tasking is not for me and I became so wrapped up in the story I aimed the car in the wrong direction.

Once we righted ourselves, our first stop was at best only tangentially related to ppigeons. I have shared the beauty of Warren Woods (Berrien County, MI) with you dear readers before but Lizzie had never been there. The towering beech trees no doubt once hosted ppigeons; some of these arboreal giants might have begun life as an undigested nut when a foraging bird died too soon for the gastrointestinal system to work its magic. A few flowers like blood root were in bloom and the forest floor was covered in the luxuriant green of Allium tricoccum or ramp. The highlight though was a pair of dueling Louisiana waterthrushes. (I saw my lifers at the very same place in June of 1968). Two males were trying to out sing each other, as they flew around us while a pileated woodpecker called from the distance.

Louisiana waterthrush courtesy of Paul Dacko.

Our appointment at Muskegon was for two o’clock and we entered the museum a few minutes early. Several members of their staff, including Beryl Gabel with whom I had set up the meeting, had gathered at the entrance.  Above their heads were the stunning Cross painting and the stuffed pigeon he had shot. As lovely a beginning as that was, the talk and tour that ensued was even better. Director John McGarry joined us. Everyone had great ideas and the museum is a joy. In these times when culture, art, and science are under vicious and well-funded attack by the know nothings, I am heartened that people still care about these things and support first rate institutions like the Lake Shore Museum Center.

Lizzie and beech at Warren Woods.

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