March 24, 2003

New Ornithology Lab Opens

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On March 26, the Spring Field Ornithology course will begin its 27th year of weekly lectures and field trips.

This year, however, the lectures for the course will be held in the new Cornell Lab of Ornithology on the Eastern shore of Sapsucker Woods Pond. Though it was opened to the public in mid-March, the grand opening is scheduled for early June, when multimedia exhibits sponsored by the National Science Foundation will be highlighted by a ceremony.

The new lab is five times larger than the previous building and blends in with its surroundings at the Sapsucker Woods Pond to compliment its host ecosystem.

The new lab will include a two-story observation tower that looks out onto the pond, as well as a visitors’ center.

The visitors’ center will house a listening room with recordings from the Library of Natural Sounds.

The highlight of the old lab was the Fuertes Room, which was named for the Ornithological artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes, the most notable ornithological painter since Audobon and a native Ithacan.

The new lab will double the size of the Fuertes Room, and will display much of Fuertes’ artwork, as well as rotating exhibits, on a double-high wall. This room was supposed to be the sight of the Spring Field Ornithology course this week, but construction delays have moved the course to the Observatory.

The Wed. evening lectures will begin March 26, and will continue every week though May 14. Lecture topics range from water fowl, hawk, and owl identification, to bird research and binocular use.

Field trips can also be taken either Sat. or Sun. mornings, every weekend from March 29 to May 17. The end of the course also has two longer optional field trips.

The trip on May 10 and 11 is to the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, N. J. This trip corresponds to the World Series of Birding at Cape May, N. J. Last year’s competition was won by the Cornell Lab “Sapsuckers,” who found the highest number of total species.

The last field trip of the course is to the Arnot Forest on May 17 and 18, and includes an evening hike to spot owls.

The new facilities will allow for a larger enrollment of 150 students for the lectures. Though the Spring Field Ornithology course is listed as BIO G 200, and can be taken for two credits when both the lectures and field trips are attended, the class has generally been composed of “about 1/3 undergraduates,” said Allison Wells, communications and outreach director for the Lab of Ornithology.

“Some Cornell undergrads are really good birders, though, and lead field trips,” Wells added.

The remaining students in the course have been mostly local Ithaca residents, who often go on to further ornithological involvement after taking the course.

Many take the “home study course in bird biology, and some who take Spring Field Ornithology join the Cayuga Bird Club, or become Lab members,” reported Terry Mingle, course coordinator for the Spring Field Ornithology Course. Some students take the course repeatedly as a “rite of spring, they come back every year,” Mingle said.

Much of the enthusiasm for birding inspired in the students is attributed to lecturer Dr. Stephen Kress, who is the National Audobon Society’s vice president for bird conservation. He “has a fabulous sense of humor and a broad knowledge of birds — from why they sing, to why they do certain behaviors, how to use binoculars, and where to go for great birding in the area,” Wells said.

The new lab will hopefully generate greater interest in the course among undergraduates, as well as allow more people to take the course. Wells said that there “has not been enough room in the past, but the new building is conducive to lectures, and there has already been more traffic to the lab.”

When asked if she thought she might be interested in the course, Jessica Rounds ’04 said, “The long field trips at the end of the semester would be really hard because the semester gets really busy around that time. But it would be really interesting and fun to take, just not that practical.”

Archived article by Tony Apuzzo