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Explorations and Bird Collections of Willis W. Worthington in Florida
David W. Johnston

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 12, Issue 4 (2013): 738–747

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D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 738 2013 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 12(4):738–747 Explorations and Bird Collections of Willis W. Worthington in Florida David W. Johnston* Abstract - At the end of the 19th century, large sections of northern and central Florida were unexplored and their biota had been poorly documented. To correct these inadequacies, several northern museums organized and sent parties of experienced naturalists and collectors southward. About 1900, Willis W. Worthington, a New York taxidermist and collector, was hired by the Carnegie Museum as an explorer/naturalist and sent to Florida where he explored major rivers and lakes from Florida’s Panhandle to the east coast, and south to the Lake Okeechobee region. Over a 40-year period, he collected several hundred bird-specimens and obtained natural history records. Introduction Willis Woodford Worthington (Fig. 1) was born on 14 November 1860 on Shelter Island, at the eastern end of Long Island, Suffolk County, NY. As a young man, he developed a keen interest in the natural history of the local birds and mammals. After he became a self-taught taxidermist, he enlarged his home on West Neck Road in 1885 to accommodate his growing “Worthington Museum”, which contained a wide variety of mounted birds and mammals. By 1910, federal census records gave his occupation as “taxidermist”. His biographer, Ralph J. Duvall, described him as “… an original and unique character … a genius [and] not only acquainted with bird life in this section of the country, but has visited [several other states] to study and collect birds. … He somewhat resembles Thoreau the naturalist in his interest in natural history, in his keenness of observation, and in his indifference to the opinions and ways of other men” (Duvall 1976). For nearly 70 years, he kept detailed catalogs of the birds he collected and amassed natural history notes (Fig. 2). Some of the birds were mounts, others museum skins. An unknown number of birds were given away to friends or other collectors. As his museum grew, he became widely known as a reliable dealer of objects d’ natur, developing a large number of corresponding sellers and buyers (Fig. 3). In addition to other jobs he held (such as boat-building), he supported his family mainly from the sale of birds and their eggs, snakes, mammals, stamps, and Indian relics (Fig. 4). Records and Sources His bird collection began with Anthus rubescens Turnstall (American Pipit) taken on 26 October 1872 on Shelter Island. Thereafter, his reputation as an experienced collector and taxidermist was enhanced by extensive trips to several states, and he had a specially modified vehicle for use on some of these trips and trips to *5219 Concordia Street, Fairfax, Virginia 22032; 739 D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 Mexico (Fig. 5). He also traveled to the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. He frequently obtained institutional support for his expeditions (i.e., from the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, PA; American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY; Museum of Comparative Zoology [MCZ], Harvard University, Cambridge, MA) (Shelter Island Historical Society). Figure 1. Willis Worthington mounting a Megascops asio L. (Eastern Screech Owl) in his museum on Shelter Island. Undated Shelter Island Historical Society. D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 740 Figure 3. Some of Worthington’s many correspondents and dealers. Figure 2. Worthington kept detailed notes on the birds he collected, such as in this Ornithological Record. 741 D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 Figure 4. Worthington’s specimens for sale ≈1905. D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 742 Although he published only relatively few papers (Todd and Worthington 1911; Worthington 1885a, 1885b, 1888, 1890, 1901, 1904, 1909; Worthington et al. 1926), his collections helped to define the sub-specific ranges of Rallus longirostris Boddaert (Clapper Rails ), Ammodramus maritimus Wilson (Seaside Sparrow), and Cistothorus palustris griseus Brewster (Marsh Wren) (Brewster 1893) in the southeastern United States (Allen 1888; see also Burleigh 1958, Howell 1932, Stevenson and Anderson 1994). Howell (1932) provided the only known summary of Worthington’s 11 trips to Florida between 1897 and 1923. In the present account, I used several additional sources to track his many explorations into Florida, including (1) archives, voluminous catalogs (from 1884), and diaries at the Shelter Island Historical Society; (2) logbooks of trips on his boat, “Ornis”, into central Florida; and (3) museum specimens. In 1902, his growing collection was donated to the Shelter Island Public Library, then to the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and finally, the majority of his birds went to the Dwight, Bishop, and Sanford collections in the American Museum of Natural History, the MCZ, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Over the years, Worthington (hereafter “WWW”) also cultivated friendships with collectors and a wide assortment of notable 20th-century ornithological figures and dealers including: • Harold H. Bailey resided in Miami, FL from 1913 to 1931, where he maintained a huge bird collection. WWW shared his records with Bailey for inclusion in Bailey’s book on the birds of Florida (1925). Figure 5. Worthington’s collecting and camping truck, ≈1920. 743 D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 • Arthur H. Howell had many notable experiences with Florida birds, some of which he shared with WWW, and included accounts of these collecting trips in his book on Florida bird-life (Howell 1932). • Edward E Armstrong, was a frequent correspondent and dealer in Chicago, IL. • W.E. Clyde Todd, the long-time curator of birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was WWW’s frequent benefactor and field companion (Trimble 1936). • Ralph N. Ellis, Jr. (1908–1945) was originally from Jericho, NY, but he moved to Berkeley, CA in about 1921 (Mengel 1972). Ellis returned to the Jericho region each summer from 1921–1928 to collect birds (Ellis 1926). Most of his large collection is now housed at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), University of California, Berkeley, CA. • Roy Latham (1881–1979) was a famed naturalist from Orient Point, NY to whom WWW sent about 620 birds between 1896 and 1934. Latham’s collection of several thousand birds is currently in the New York State Museum, Albany, NY. • Dr. Louis Bishop (1865–1950) kept a large collection in a backyard shed in New Haven, CT. He obtained ≈1400 specimens from WWW between 1885 and 1924; the collection is now in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL. • Dr. Leonard C. Sanford (1868–1950) of New Haven, CT had a large private collection which is now in the American Museum of Natural History. • William Brewster (1851–1919), curator of Birds at the MCZ from 1886 to 1900, spent the spring of 1877 with W. Stone observing and collecting birds at St. Mary’s, GA. Thereafter, he employed WWW to collect birds along the Georgia coast and offshore islands. • Arthur W. Brockway, was a fellow ornithologist and boat-building expert from Lyme, CT. An Annotated Summary of Willis W. Worthington’s Florida Trips (see also Burleigh 1954, Howell 1932, Stevenson and Anderson 1994) 1896 – On 8 December, Arthur W. Brockway and WWW began a tour of southern coastal islands in a small sail-boat. From South Carolina, they sailed southward across Georgia to the headwaters of the St. Johns River in Florida, observing and collecting birds along the way. 1897 – They returned by the same route (Brockway 1896–1897). Most of the birds they encountered and collected were common species. 1899 – His diary includes a penciled illustration (Fig. 6) of head markings used to differentiate two sharp-tailed sparrows: Ammodramus caudacutus Gmelin (Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow) and A. nelsoni Allen (Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow). D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 744 1899 – Early in the year, he began collecting with W.E. Clyde Todd of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. They went on a collecting trip to Erie County, PA where they collected nearly 1000 birds, mostly common migrants (Todd 1904). 1903 – Early in the year, he began a trip to northwest Florida for the Carnegie Museum, arrived at Whitfield or Portland (“2 mi S Whitfield”). At or near Portland, 1364 birds were collected including 2 male Vermivora bachmanii Audubon (Bachman’s Warbler; #14650, #14666) on 9 March and 10 March 1903, respectively; Caprimulgus vociferus Wilson (Whip-poor-will, #14465) on 17 Feb. 1903; Passer domesticus L. (House Sparrow, #14495) on 20 Feb. 1903; and Tyrannus forficatus Gmelin (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher) on15 May 1903. 1904–1905 – On 24 October, he began another Florida trip with Harry and Ernest Lucas on the power-boat “Ornis” from South Carolina (Wayne 1910) to St. Simons, GA, and on to Amelia Island, FL, where he remained for several months collecting 2300 birds. He took a Bachman’s Warbler on 4 March 1905 (#160167) at Persimmon Hammock on the St. Johns River. 1906–1907 – On Amelia Island from 4 December–16 January 1907. As many as 50 Loxia curvirostra L. (Red Crossbill) were seen, and several were collected (Williams 1907). Figure 6. Worthington’s sketches of Nelson’s and Acadian (or Saltmarsh) Sharp-tailed Sparrows. 745 D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 1907 – Worthington’s account of “Ornis Florida Trip 1907” provides details of this trip from 21 January to 21 April. After leaving Amelia Island, WWW and Brockway visited many localities up the St. Johns River. The Ornis was transported by rail from Sanford to Lake Kissimmee, and then sailed to Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, and on to Alva on the west coast. The document notes weather conditions, natural history of vertebrates, birds’ nests, 31 Speotyto cunicularia Molina (Burrowing Owl) collected, and other birds seen and collected (a total of 242). No Campephilus principalis L. (Ivory-billed Woodpeckers) were reported. They had only second-hand reports of Conuropsis carolinensis L. (Carolina Parakeets) in the same area where Hoxie collected these birds (Fargo 1934). The specimen WWW identified as Vireo noveboracensis maynardi Brewster (“Key West Vireo”; #18868) cannot be found. Five other birds labeled “Cuban Martins” have been identified as Progne subis L. (Purple Martins). He sold his boat for $150 and returned to Amelia Island. 1908–1909 – In 1908, W.E. Clyde Todd sent WWW to explore and collect birds in the Bahamas (Todd and Worthington 1911). Subsequently, WWW and an assistant, Clark Irwin, visited six of the largest islands. WWW and later Todd, believed that the collection contained specimens of “a remarkable and unexpected species of warbler, “Dendroica flavescens Todd (Yellow-breasted Warbler)” from Abaco. The species’ status has been questioned over the years but has been recently confirmed by McKay et al. (2010). 1910 – WWW established “Camp Vagabondia” at Eau Gallie and Merritt Island, FL. 1914 – Much of the year was spent in Florida at Banana Creek, collected 8 Ammospiza maritima nigrescens Ridgway (Dusky Seaside Sparrows), St. Lucie River. 1915–1920 – WWW traveled back and forth between Shelter Island, NY and Amelia Island, FL each year. 1916 – In May, he found large colonies of nesting wading birds on Amelia Island,FL and Telmatodytes palustris marianae Wilson (Worthington’s Marsh Wren, also known as Marian’s Marsh Wren). 1918 – On Amelia Island, from May, he collected 200 birds during the year. 1919 – Also on Amelia Island, he collected a Sturnus vulgaris L. (European Starling) on 24 January 1919. 1919 – Shelter Island, NY in spring and summer; to New Berlin and Arlington (Jacksonville), FL. 1920 – In November to Welaka, FL, then to Merritt’s Island, FL through December; several Dusky Seaside Sparrows collected. 1921 – January–May on Merritt’s Island, FL. Collected 13 Dusky Seaside Sparrows. To Shelter Island, NY in June. Began shooting birds at Orient Point for Latham, continuing through November 1934. 1923 – Miami Beach, FL January–February; Wilson, FL; collected 14 Dusky Seaside Sparrows. D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 746 1926 – In the diary for 13 August “working hard on Ellis’s birds, many from Orient Point—2 warblers, Great & Little Blue Heron, Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla), Willet (Cataptrophorus semipalmatus), 6 “Skuas,” 2 Jaegers, 2 Black Ducks (Anas rubripes). Some day’s work!”. (The 6 “Skuas”are Stercorarius pomarinus Temminck [Pomarine Jaegers] and are now at MVZ.) Between 1927 and 1932, he made brief annual trips to Florida, but his catalogues do not show any birds collected during that time. His collection totaled 25,872 catalogued bird specimens by 1934. The last bird in his catalogue was listed as a captive male Impedance Pheasant on 4 June 1934 on Shelter Island. He died 4 October 1940 at Shelter Island (Anonymous 1940, Tomkins 1941). Acknowledgments The curators of North American collections included Kristof Zyskowski, Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven, CT; Mary Hennen, Peter Lowther, and David Willard, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL; Roger Clapp, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC; Paul Sweet, Thomas Trombone, and Mary LeCroy, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY; Carla Ciccero, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkely, CA; Jeremiah Trimble, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, MA; Janet Hinshaw, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Ann Arbor, MI; Joseph Bopp, NY State Museum, Albany, NY; Phyllis Wallace, Shelter Island Historical Society, Shelter Island, NY. Literature Cited Allen, J.A. 1888. Further notes on Seaside Sparrows. Auk 5:426. Anonymous. 1940. Obituary—Willis W. Worthington. Wilson Bulletin 52:282. Bailey, H.H. 1925. The Birds of Florida. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore, MD. Brewster, W. 1893. Description of a new Marsh Wren, with critical notes on Cistothorus marianae Scott. Auk 10(3):215–219. Brockway, A.W. 1896–1897. Logbook, 8 December 1896–7 April 1897, South Carolina Library, University of South Carolina Society, Manuscripts Division, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC. Burleigh, T.D. 1958. Georgia Birds. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK. Duvall, R.G. 1976. The History of Shelter Island, from its Settlement in 1652 to the Present Time. Shelter Island Heights, NY. Ellis, R. 1926. Louisiana Heron on Long Island, 6 Sept. 1925 # 1857. Auk 43(1):90. Fargo, W.G. 1934. Walter Hoxie. Wilson Bulletin, September 1934. Howell, A.H. 1932. Florida Bird Life. Coward-McCann, NY. Hoxie, W. 1886. Kirtland’s Warbler on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Auk 3:412. McKay, D. Bailey, M. Bryant, B.J. Reynolds, W.K Hayes, and D.S. Lee. 2010. Evidence for the species status of the Bahama Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica “dominica” flavescens). Auk 127(4):932–939. Mengel, R.M. 1972. A catalogue of The Ellis Collection of Ornithological Books in the University of Kansas Libraries. Volume 1, A–B. Lawrence, KS Stevenson, H.M., and B.H. Anderson. 1994. The Birdlife of Florida. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Todd, W.E.C. 1904. The birds of Erie and Presque Isle, Erie County, Pennsylvania. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 9:481–596. 747 D.W. Johnston 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, No. 4 Todd, W.E.C. 1909. A new warbler from the Bahama Islands. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 22:171–172. Todd, W.E.C., and W.W. Worthington. 1911. XX. A Contribution to the Ornithology of the Bahama Islands. Annals of the Carnegie Museum VII (3,4):388–464. Tomkins, I.R. 1941. Willis W. Worthington. Oriole 6(1):115. Trimble, R. 1936. The bird collections at the Carnegie Museum. Wilson Bulletin 48(1):42. Wayne, A.T. 1910. Birds of South Carolina. Contributions from the Charleston Museum, I. Charleston, SC. Williams, R.W., Jr. 1907. Loxia curvirostra minor in Florida. Auk 24:220. Worthington, W.W. 1885a. South Carolina Birds. Young Oologist 2:3–8. Worthington, W.W. 1885b. To Beginners. Young Oologist 2:2. Worthington, W.W. 1888. Le Conte’s Sparrow in Georgia. Ornithology and Oology 13:128. Worthington, W.W. 1890. The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) at Brunswick, GA. Auk 7:284. Worthington, W.W. 1901. A Rare Record from Eastern New York. [Olive-sided Flycatcher] Auk 18:395. Worthington, W.W. 1904. Bird notes from Shelter Island, Long Island, NY. Auk 21:287. Worthington, W.W. 1907. Ornis Florida trip. 1907. Shelter Island Historical Society. Worthington, W.W., and W.E.C. Todd. 1926. The birds of the Choctawhatchee Bay region of Florida. Wilson Bulletin 38:204–229.