Kim Wylie and Mike Nolan
Robert P. Fox
Field Trip Coordinator
The South Shore Bird Club (SSBC) was founded in 1946 by Don West, a Quincy teacher. The first members were from the Quincy-Wollaston area and they set out to explore the birds and birding habitats of the South Shore of Massachusetts. Over the years the club has grown to a membership of 150, most of whom come from the south of Boston and north of Cape Cod, although the club has members from other parts of Massachusetts, from nearby states and even from as far west as Montana.
Field trips concentrate on southeastern Massachusetts, but include trips through-out the state and to offshore waters, as well as occasional weekend trips to the Connecticut Lakes region of northern New Hampshire, Cape May, New Jersey, Block Island, Rhode Island and elsewhere. Most trips involve car-pooling with occasional beach hikes. Non-members are always welcome. A few adventurous SSBC members have organized trips for club members to Arizona, Texas, California, Florida, and to Trinidad and Tobago.
SSBC activities are largely devoted to trips afield, but have not concentrated on the single-minded chase for rarities. The club Recorder does prepare a list of the total species seen each year, by species and by trip, and this 70-year record now documents both declines (Least Flycatcher and Cliff Swallow, for instance) and increases (Tufted Titmouse, and House Finch are obvious changes). Three "May Days" each year were the only trips devoted solely to running up big totals. Warren Harrington's annual early May trip to Essex County is only for those who are willing to start early and run late. Bob Fox organizes another May Day the third week of the month rivals Warren's in energy expended and Patti O'Neil has yet another billed as " a leisurely May Day ". Of these only the "Harrington 100" continues today.
However, trips with a purpose have always been an important part of the South Shore program. Club members participate in Christmas Bird Counts in Quincy, Marshfield, Plymouth, Buzzards Bay, and the Taunton-Middleboro areas, as well as on Cape Cod and occasionally elsewhere. The Breeding Bird Atlas program aroused such interest that the SSBC was the most active group in the state at organizing "square bashes" to go into under-censused areas for intensive searches for breeding birds. This has been followed up with breeding bird census work on the Commonwealth's Wildlife Management Areas as a means of assisting the State Ornithologist with the almost impossible responsibility of documenting the breeding birds of all state lands. Some club members have even gone out of state and to Canada to assist in other bird atlas projects. Once addicted to the challenge and fun of atlasing, many clubs members have gone on to become avid participants in the recent butterfly atlas and the current "herp" atlas.
Additional organized bird censusing projects have included the Fall Roundup (an annual event much like a Christmas Count but extended over the entire south shore inland to Lakeville, Middleboro, and Hanson) and a winter raptor count which is done for several years and then written up in Bird Observer. Many club members also participate in the Boston Harbor TASL counts of wintering waterfowl and in hawk watches at Mt. Washusett.
A limited number of indoor programs are held from fall through early spring, sometimes with entertaining speakers but almost as often in the form of workshops to assist beginners in learning the local birds or to help experienced birders sharpen their skills with difficult species. An especially popular series of programs have been in two parts; a Friday lecture on the ecology of a little-known area followed by a Saturday field trip to the locale with a local expert.
South Shore Bird Club members also have a tradition of assisting other organizations in activities related to birds and/or conservation. Club members in large part provided the volunteers for the banding and blood-sampling research project conducted on Duxbury Beach by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 1964 and 1965. This led directly to the founding of the Manomet Bird Observatory which was largely staffed by club members as volunteers in the early days before Manomet had professional staff. SSBC's Kathleen Anderson was MBO's first director. The South Shore Natural Science Center has always had a large contingent of SSBC members actively involved in providing programs and other help. Plymouth County Wildlands Trust, North and South Rivers Watershed Association, Daniel Webster Audubon Sactuary and the Trailside Museum have also had help from SSBC membership. Not only are club members giving time, but the club traditionally donates all dues money, beyond what is needed for printing, postage and similiar expenses, to these local non-profit organizations. This active involvement in helping to study and preserve the birds and places which give so much joy must have been in the minds of the Massachusetts Audubon Society when the South Shore Bird Club was presented the Society's coveted Audubon A award in 1979.
A more recent tradition, just for the fun of it, is a potluck supper which precedes the annual meeting, where the exotic foods and elegant attire of club members more usually seen eating peanut butter sandwiches and wearing faded blue jeans always elicits surprised comments.
Sadly, many of these most responsible for forming the South Shore Bird Club and leading its activities for much of the first half century are no longer among the living. Foremost, were the founder, Don West, and Sibley and Ruth Higginbotham who set the pattern for making the SSBC welcoming to newcomers, encouraging a serious approach to documenting bird populations, and setting an example in exercising a responsibility to assist in local research and conservation activities. Ruth Emery was not only the Voice of Audubon and keeper of records par exellence for Mass Audubon, but she was a treasured member of the South Shore Bird Club. Her enthusiasm for birds was boundless and none who were present on a cold day in January 1977 will ever forget her eager smile as Wayne Peterson carried her piggy back through deep snow in Bridgewater for a look at her first Massachusetts McCown's Longspur. Two of the first ten club presidents are still living and still active club members: Betty Anderson and Bob Fox. Able to remember when they were among the club's youngsters, they are dismayed to find they are now among its seniors.