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Vol. LXI, No. 9
May 1, 2009

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Field Notes
Clark Catalogs Birds of NIH

  Medical librarian and volunteer naturalist Cindy Clark checks bluebird boxes on campus.  
  Medical librarian and volunteer naturalist Cindy Clark checks bluebird boxes on campus.  

Cindy Clark, a biomedical librarian in the NIH Library in Bldg. 10, also pitches in as a volunteer naturalist. Because the Bethesda campus is a birdy kind of place (thanks to the creek, groves of trees and several areas deliberately unmowed), Clark’s pace picks up in spring.

As a librarian, Clark brings professional expertise to bear on cataloging NIH birds. Her “NIH Bird Checklist” cites 39 confirmed species of a potential 100-plus species, from gnatcatchers to wood warblers. Nonetheless, she says, “I don’t want to give the impression that I am an expert. Some other birders on campus have longer confirmed species lists. I just don’t get out as much as I’d like.”

A former bluebird monitor volunteer, Clark now works informally with NIH landscape architect Lynn Mueller, who monitors the habitats of birds who feed or nest on the NIH campus.

Since 2000, Mueller has organized and monitored the NIH and NIH Animal Center (Poolesville farm) bluebird trails and nearly 100 bird boxes. He’s also compiled a personal list of 50 species observed over the years.

“I have evidence of other species visiting or living on the campus,” he says, “such as an owl pellet, but I have not seen an owl yet.”

Do not enter: Birds Working.
Do not enter: Birds Working.
Each bird on Clark’s list is assigned a “designation and relative abundance code.” These range from “vc” for “very common, difficult to miss”—think Carolina chickadee —to “x” for “accidental, only one or two sightings”—like the cattle egret.

Hereabouts, there aren’t many cattle sightings, either, so if you spy one of their egret pals, you’ve seen an outlier.

Spotting and identifying birds is really enjoyable, Clark says. It’s also helping our corner of the planet: “Tracking resident numbers and seasonal migrations helps NIH staff assess the health of the ecosystem of the 308-acre campus.”

As for the bird lovers themselves, there is no official list, but unconfirmed reports cite at least two species: the noontime stroller and the full-fledged ornithologist.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that rookies exposed to bird-watching on their lunch hour do have a tendency to get hooked, especially as those who habitually perform close work with computers and pipettes adjust to the scale of the great outdoors.

Furthermore, once binoculars and field guides (“bird books”) are introduced, there is a robust correlation with increased enjoyment levels.

Hear that chirr-chirr-chirr? Look up—peeking around that old tree trunk is a red-bellied woodpecker, announcing his territory or searching for a mate. Higher still, a red-tailed hawk, circling...— NIHRecord Icon

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