Kenneth Seyffert

INTERVIEWEE: Kenneth Seyffert (KS)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 4, 2002
LOCATION: Amarillo, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2217 and 2218

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 4th, 2002, and we’re in Amarillo, Texas in the home of Kenneth Seyffert. And I wanted to thank Mr. Seyffert for spending some time with us today to discuss his work in bird study and monitoring and in producing a wonderful book called The Birds of the Texas Panhandle. And with that, thank you very much, Mr. Seyffert, for your time.
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KS: Well, you’re certainly welcome. Glad to have you here.
DT: Thank you. I thought we might start this interview like we do many others where we ask you about any childhood experiences you might’ve had or parents, friends, who might have first introduced you to the out of doors and wildlife.
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KS: Well, I can best answer your question as to how I became interested in birds by stating that I have been aware of bird life since I was a very young child. I can’t say that anyone introduced me formally to the observation of birds. I was—I was born in east Texas, but I left east Texas when I was quite young and moved to Pampa, Texas. And as most people consider it the panhandle—there is a—a paucity of bird life in the panhandle and I was—I did not become interested until I moved back to east Texas when I was about ten years old. And when I did so, we moved into the country, we lived in the country, and I thought I’d entered paradise with all those woods, all that greenery. And
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I—I just spent a lot of time roaming the woods and at that time, became interested in the bird life. And I became conversed with many of the species just in the natural course of events, I guess. But I learned most about birds from the end of a BB gun. I guess many people who become interested in wildlife do so through hunting. And I hunted birds with a BB gun and I learned a lot—a lot of—a lot about them in—in that manner. I’m sorry to say, but nevertheless, I did roam the woods with a BB gun.
DT: And when you did shoot them; would you ever skin it, stuff it?
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KS: I did after high—oh, I would say I was in my teens, I took a course from the Northwestern School of Taxidermy and learned to stuff birds. And I did a pretty good job of it. I—I stuffed a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Lesser Scaup, I remember, and a Common Grackle, I had at one time. And then I graduated to the mammals and I—I stuffed a mouse. But, when I got through with it, he kind of looked like Arnold
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Schwarzenegger, you know, it had these bulge—bulges in all these strange places, so I gave that up, I thought I didn’t want to pursue that angle any farther. But I did do some taxidermy work. But I—I can remember, I was—the first bird book I ever received from my parents was in 1937. It was Mabel Osgood Wright’s Bird Craft. I still have the—have the book, but I—I—I was—I think that—I think that impressed me a lot or opened up a lot of more species than I was aware of and I became aware of John James Audubon and his—his book and I think they—I always admired his painting so much and I think that influenced me. But as for the natural world as a whole, I think the—the most
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influence any book ever had on me was Thoreau’s Walden. I had read it when I was a teenager. I think it was the only book I had ever read that I wanted to reread imme—immediately after I finished it. I could’ve just read the whole thing all over again. I just—it felt like this is—I felt such an affinity to what he was doing and saying, it’s just so natural that I—I felt like this guy and I—he and I are on the same track, we—and I’ve often thought that, in later years, I did take the panhandle as a whole, as an area of study. But I often thought I would—what I would have really have liked to have done was to
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have followed his example in some ways in that taking a smaller area, and not concentrating necessarily on birds but the whole natural wor—world, the whole ball of wax and study it for—you could study that for a lifetime and never come anywhere near of understanding what was going on, but that would be—that would be very satisfying, I think, pursuit to do something like that. So.
DT: You said how you learned how to identify birds by sight, I guess.
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KS: Yes.
DT: …through Miss Osgood’s book. Did you also learn to identify birds by sound, by song?
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KS: Absolutely.
DT: How did you do that?
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KS: Well, that’s just associating the—the sound of the bird making it. Many people buy tapes, you know, these days, they buy tapes to listen to birds—bird songs and try to learn them that way, but I never did. I do have some recordings of bird calls that if I hear one that I’m unfamiliar with or uncertain about I—by listening to the tape, it—it—it helps me out. But then, I never did learn bird calls by listening to tapes. It’s been strictly being out in the field and associating the sound with the bird making it. And over a period of time, you do that enough you learn to—learn your bird sounds. And, in fact, the sound is one of the big keys to identification because I do these breeding birds
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surveys and I tell people if you take away my binocular, I will do a far poorer job of recording the birds around me than I would if you took away my eye—my sound—my hearing. Because I identify so many of—of them just by sound, never see them. Yeah.
DT: Was there a guide or anybody who showed you birds or do you consider yourself mostly self-taught?
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KS: Pretty well self—self-taught, yeah. I—when I started out birding systematically, when I—when I left—left home, went to college and then went to work, I was not en—engaged in birding at all. It wasn’t until, oh, I was 36 years old that I began going afield and recording birds systemically. I was fishing at the time, I was a fisherman, but I got to the point where I was more interested in trying to identify the birds around me than I was in trying to catch a fish so I—I g—I gave up that and just started going afield. And first trip I made was to the Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge and that was on October 27th, 1963. And that day, I recorded, as you saw in my—can see in my journals, the—
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every bird I recorded and the number seen, and I just continued doing that. And I was unaware of—of—I didn’t even know of the term birding, I never heard of the term birding, didn’t know there was anyone around doing any such thing. And I continued going afield for several years before I encountered any of the other birders in the field.
DT: What made you decide to bird systemically rather than just doing it as rather a less regular avocation?
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KS: I don’t—I really don’t know, I just—I just—I just did it that very first day. I came home and I recorded every bird that I had seen in the journal and continued doing it. It wasn’t until a number of years after that that I was aware that other people were also keeping records and I learned of a better method of keeping them than I had been pursuing. But, it just something that I just seemed to have done automatically or naturally and it—no—no one instructed me to do it, no. It was—I’d been doing—I did it for a number of years. I became associated with the Panhandle Audubon Society and the—in the course of events, I went on field trips and I went on a field trip to the Oklahoma Panhandle that was led by Dr. George Sutton, University of Oklahoma, who
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was a leading ornithologist and certainly one of the leading bird artists of the nation at that time. He became interested in what I was doing and encouraged me to submit articles to the bulletin of the Or—Oklahoma Ornithologic Society, which I did and he was the—he was one of the guiding, or instrumental, figures in—in my taking up writing about birds. He encouraged me to pursue what I was doing, he encouraged me to submit articles to the journal, he taught me how to write up a scientific article and I think that was one of the key factor in my pursuing the—the writing about birds.
DT: Were there other people besides Dr. Sutton that you often birded with?
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KS: When I—when I became associated with the Panhandle Audubon Society, one of the—one of the leading birders was a—a fellow by the name of Leo Galloway. He was a Professor of Biology at the Amarillo College. And we began going afield together quite often, he and—along with his wife, Ruth. And it was one of those situations where we just seemed to gel, you know, together. We were comfortable afield. I dislike birding in gangs or groups, and a lot of people don’t understand that, you know, they consider birding a social event or a group affair and it never has been for me. It’s been very private. And there are not many people that I like to be afield with for very long but he—he—he was one that did—I did. And he was the type of birder that he might decide this
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weekend I’ve got three days off, say, I might rush out to the East Coast and see what birds I can find out there or if there’s a rarity five hundred miles from here, I may go chase it down, but I never—I never did do that. But he did, he did introduce me, widen my horizon as far as the—the birding was concerned.
DT: Well, your story about him makes me think about two things. One is, when you were birding together would you work together and split up different tasks, or take different routes and meet up? How would one of your outings work?
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KS: No, we would remain together and—but he was not a great talker and neither am I, and some people, you know, jabber their heads off when their out in the field, it’s very disturbing, distracting, especially if you’re trying to listen. And we just—it just seemed to be, you know, some people are compatible and others are not, but that—he was a good influence on me, I think. He was an experienced birder and he helped me a lot in—in learning identifications. Prior to—prior to—I—I never—and—and I tell people, you know, they want to go to—attend a class, learn birds through being taught in a class or having someone show them a bird, take them on a tour which I’ve never wanted to do. One of the greatest, most delightful, rewarding experiences to me in learning to identify
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birds is to do it yourself. I used to—I would go out in the field with cards and write down everything I could note about that bird—species of bird and then come home and with the aid of a field guide, I’d try to work out and identify it myself. Always felt like I had achieved something if I i—identified it on my own rather than to have someone come along and say, look, there’s such and such a species of bird.
DT: If you can describe what one of these card would look like and what you would fill in?
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KS: Well, the little card—the little card, I would have categories, I would have eye stripe, eye ring, wing bars, length of tail, length of beak, color, color of throat, color of breast. All these categories I would fill out and then I would match them up—match them up against the illustration in the field guide. In that way, hopefully, I would arrive at a correct identification.
DT: In the way your mind works, would you narrow it down by color and form or by how the bird behaved?
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KS: Mostly by color and form, I would say. Of course, you would have obvious water birds, raptors; you could immediately, you know, identify, or narrow the—the possibilities down and you could concentrate on the different families of birds that way. But I—I’ve—I’ve never wanted to go on one of these tours with a bunch of people and have someone guide me by the hand and tell me, this is such and such a birdie. Oh, many, if not most, birders try to build up big bird lists, you know, how many—how many species of birds can I see in Texas. I probably wanted—have seen fewer species, different species in Texas than a novice birder has who’s been at it a—just a few years.
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Never—never has been my aim to see how many birds I can accumulate on the list. And I—I just—I find—it—it—to me it is fantastic when I read of people who travel all over the world, and they can tell—there are, what, eight or none thousand species of birds in the world? And they say, well, I’ve seen six thousands of these birds, these species of birds. Probably, five thousand, five hundred of that six thousand was just a fleeting
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glance at a bird. How—how can you—how can you remember ten, fifteen, twenty years from now what that bird looked like? Can you remember it? I made a trip once with Leo Galloway to California, San Diego Bay. We recorded a Pelagic cormorant, I’ve got it on the list as Pelagic cormorant, I’ve seen a Pelagic cormorant, the only one I’ve ever seen. People, twenty years later say, oh, you’ve seen a Pelagic cormorant. Yes, I’ve seen a Pelagic cormorant, but I could no more tell you in the world what it looks like than the man in the moon. I have not become familiar with that bird, but I’ve got it on my list. To me, that’s very unsatisfying.
DT: How did you decide to study things more in depth rather than breadth?
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KS: I think—I think I was so fascinated with what I was seeing in the panhandle and at that time there was, well, there—little or nothing ever published. There had been very few observers over the years, you know, recording the birds of the panhandle. And there was so much misinformation as to what actually could be found here or couldn’t be found here. So many people who had never birded, or only passed through the area, were not hesitant to tell you, no, you can’t find that species in the panhandle, there’s just nothing in the panhandle. I’ve been through the panhandle, I’ve been through Amarillo, and there’s nothing there. But it—it just—it continued to fascinate me as I continued going afield as to actually what is here.
DT: Is it migrants or it is residents?
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KS: Oh, it’s migrants, resident, both. I know, in the early days, when we did the Christmas bird counts, we would record, well, the marsh wren, for example. Well, there are marsh wrens in the—in the—in the, certainly, common in the marshes at Lake Meredith and many other places. But we would send in the count result to the editor of the Christmas counts, he lived in Louisiana. And he refused to acknowledge that as a valid species. He said, there can’t be any marsh wrens in the panhandle; I’ve been through there. And I argued with him and he said, well, send me a specimen and I’ll
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believe it. But, of course now, it’s taken for granted that it is a species that can be found. But that, you know, that—it always amazed me how people who were not familiar with the area did not hesitate a minute telling you that something was so or wasn’t so as far as bird life was concerned.
DT: What is the matter, them not looking in the right places?
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KS: Well, and not spending any time, assuming there hadn’t been a whole lot of people sending in observations from the area, so they just make an assumption that it—that was out of the range of that species.
DT: Well, can you describe your strategy for doing your census and surveys, where you’d go, how a typical bird outing would work for you?
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KS: Well, I would—I would—I would select different habitats. For example, Buffalo Lake is the—is a prairie habitat, it’s—it’s just a manmade playa, more or less. Palo Duro Canyon is a completely different habitat. You could go into—go into the eastern panhandle and get into wooded areas. Canadian River is—is other habitat, riverine habitat. The prairies themselves, you know, the grasslands species, it just—the secret or the object is to sample as many different habitats as possible. Because each holds their—it’s own typical species of birds.
DT: Say you have a Saturday or a Sunday, you’re off from work and you’re planning to do a birding trip, say a day trip. How would it start and what would you do?
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KS: Well, I would start so that I would be at my destination at about sunrise. And normally, there would be, oh, on average, it would be half a day trip, unless I was going at a great distance. But if you would look at my journals, trips to Buffalo Lake, Palo Duro Canyon, areas nearby. Usually, the time I would spend on the refuge or in the canyon would be three hours.
DT: Would you be in one location or would you walk a little ways?
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KS: I would—I would walk quite a bit, yeah, yeah, do a lot of walking.
DT: And most of your visits were to public lands? Or private lands?
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KS: Well, most to public lands because most the private property, you know, is inaccessible and unless you know someone, become acquainted some—with some ranchers, farmers. Generally, I found that if you asked a owner, most of your ranchers are quite interested in knowing what wildlife is on their property. And if you tell them, explain to them what you’re doing, most of them will gladly tell you to—to come on in and—and see what you can find, just so long as you close the gate when you go thorough.
DW: Are some of them ever afraid that, let’s say you come on their land and you find some kind of a bird that might be endangered? Somehow they might, you know, now suddenly think you will create a bureaucracy thing?
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KS: That—that—some—some—some landowners are apprehensive or leery of allowing you on their property if they think you are trying to look for something rare or unusual. That has been become increasingly so over the years because of controversies over the Endangered Species Act. But I—I’ve never found that to—to be true as far as my own experience is concerned. There are—I did encounter, for example, a—a farmer over in Oklahoma that was concerned about my being on his property because he had turkeys on his land. When I explained to him that I was not a hunter, that I was just observing birds, well that was fine, but he was quite concerned because some hunters would go on his land and shoot turkeys and leave some of them behind, injured birds, and he was quite outraged about that and quite protective of his property after that. But if you could explain what you were doing, it wasn’t usually any problem at all. Yeah.
DT: You’ve mentioned a few birds that you’ve seen in your outing, the marsh wren and the wild turkeys, but maybe you can give us a little bit more, broad-brush picture of what some of the common birds you’ve seen and different ecotypes around the panhandle?
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KS: Well…
DT: What might be some of the keystone species?
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KS: Some of the keystone species, I would say, well for example, in the—in the northwestern panhandle, the long-billed curlew, which of all species of birds is my favorite. I admire that bird more than any other, it’s—it’s—of course, it’s very—the look of it is—is fascinating, the sound it makes, that wild, wild call prairie, just typical of the prairie to me is to hear the curlew’s calling. And, of course, that is a species that is definitely in trouble. It’s one of the, what they call the dirty thirteen, the thirteen species—grassland species that are experiencing a marked decline—a marked decline, widespread consistent decline. And that would be a keystone species in the panhandle.
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That and the burrowing owl, the Cassin’s sparrow, some of your longspurs, McCown’s, chestnut-collared longspurs, the Ferruginous hawk, that’s another—that’s that—that’s the regal bird, that is a fascinating bird and the only area of Texas in which it is still found as a nesting bird is in the northwestern counties, up in primarily (Dallam) County, Dallam, Hartley Counties. When I first started birding, 1967, well, they were still nesting in this area, Amarillo area. That was the last year they nested here. And that’s—it’s—it’s—it’s—it’s shown a drastic decline in numbers. It’s—another species, the horned lark, the horned lark was, and it still is, it’s common, but was very abundant at one time, a typical
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spes—plain, grassland species. But I have found in my breeding bird surveys, that began in 1967, I do six of them in the panhandle. And they show anywhere from 40 to 76% decline in numbers over the years. It is really disturbing. Of course, the breeding bird surveys can tell you, show you, what species are declining, but they can’t tell you why. So I don’t know of anyone who really knows why, but I’m sure the loss of habitat is one of the primary reasons.
DT: Loss, for what reasons?
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KS: Well, take for example, the Great Plains. Estimated 698 million acres in the Great Plains. There are now, 90% of that, of the tall grass prairie is gone, 60% of the short grass prairie is gone. So you can imagine what effect that is having on the grassland birds.
DT: Gone for overgrazing or cultivation?
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KS: Oh, well it—cultivation, yeah. Been put to other uses, yeah.
DT: I guess some of the species that you mentioned are short grass species. Are there some other species that you’ve seen?
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KS: Primarily. Well, you’re canyon species down the Palo Duro Canyon and the, for example, you have Golden-fronted woodpeckers as typical species, the Black-crested titmouse, your rock wrens, canyon wrens, Bewick’s wrens are typical resident birds. And then it is a—a haven, in winter, for wintering birds from the north. Mountain bluebird, Townsend Solitaires, species like that winter down there.
DT: Have you seen many woodland species in and around Canadian?
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KS: Well, yes, quite a few woodlands and—and—along the Canadian River. Canadian River is—acts as a—it’s a corridor that your typical eastern birds penetrate down that river valley as far as New Mexico line. For example, a house wren is a eastern species that you don’t find in the western panhandle except along that river, almost to the New Mexico line you can find it so a number of those eastern species, red-headed woodpecker, the eastern bluebird, extend into the western panhandle through that corridor.
DT: What about some of the urban birds, I guess they’re now referred to as trash birds?
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KS: That—that is a term that I find abominable, I detest anyone calling a bird a trash bird. I can—and I cannot conceive of how they can consider any—just because you don’t like the bird, you’ve put in a category. A house sparrow, a grackle, is as valid a species—organism as any other. And it—a house sparrow is a fascinating bird if you study the house sparrow; it could teach you a lot about birds. Usually, I can’t help but thinking that people who’d call something a trash bird is just—just interested in it as something you check off on the list. I mean, it—not interested in the—in the bird, and I
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wonder if he’s in—even interested in birds at all. The grackle, the wide—the incursion of grackles into the panhandle is a result of, primarily, probably of—of a—of a—of a environment, altered environment that has drawn the bird in, that—a species that can adapt to what man has done to the—to the environment. It—it can live with it, where—where other species cannot. It’s just reacting as all species do in the wild; they’re adapting to an environment and are successful at it. So why—why not study or consider it on the same basis as you would any other organism? I don’t understand that trash business, that’s—that’s a value judgment that’s completely out of place as far as I’m concerned.
DT: You mentioned house sparrows; do you see many exotic birds or ones that have naturalized? Do you see many cattle egrets, for example?
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KS: Cattle egrets is a species that has—is becoming very common in the panhandle in the last—within the last ten years. In 1966, the first cattle egret was seen in—in the panhandle right out here on the east part of town. A few weeks ago, I was down at the farmer’s market and I happened to notice the cattle egret’s going over and 320 of them went over. They’re nesting here now. They’re becoming more and more common.
DT: How do you explain something like that? I understand they came over from the Old World, from Africa, and what niche are they filling?
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KS: Well, go out south of town here and find the herds of cattle, and there are the cattle egrets feeding along with them. They—they—they exploit that niche right there.
DT: Well, would there have been a bird earlier that would have had the same niche with the buffalo that is no longer common?
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KS: Well, cattle egret unique—is unique in that it does feed with—with cattle. The other egrets, snowy egrets, great egrets, they do not. They feed in the marshes, in the lakesides, primarily. But the cowbird is one, of course the cowbird is still common, it—it exploited that niche, I’m sure, with the buffalo. And it has become—became widespread farther east, you know, with the leveling the forest, opening up the land, you find cowbirds back in those areas now where they didn’t—historically, they didn’t used to be there.
DT: Now speaking of the cowbird, some people do a value judgment on them, too, and say it’s a parasite.
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KS: Yeah. Absolutely.
DT: What do you think of that, where folks have judged it?
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KS: Well, they have evolved with all the other birds in that community over the millennia and a—it’s—it’s—it’s—it’s a valid species or it’s—it’s—it’s—it’s—again, it’s a value judgment. You say, well, the cowbird parasitizes the black-capped vireo or the Kirkland’s warbler and these two are—are two species that are disappearing. And one of the factors in—in—in their inability to reproduce and maintain a valid population is the paras—being parasitized by the cowbirds. So we want to preserve the black-capped vireo, so we will have to manage the brown—the brown-headed cowbird in—in order to preserve it. Well, it’s questionable. I don’t know that if your species has been reduced to
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the point where it’s about to disappear, it’s a value judgment again, as—as to what to—what do you value the most. But, I mean, in—in—as far as nature is concerned, we have become ourselves; we have become so disruptive that sometimes I think we’re just flailing around, selecting this species, not caring about this species. I mean, if—if the brown-headed cowbird was on the point of becoming extinct, what would be done to preserve it? Anything? I don’t know. Who knows?
DT: Well, speaking of birds that are having some trouble, are there any that you see in the panhandle that catch your eye? I think you’ve mentioned the lesser prairie chicken, are there others? Maybe you can describe what’s happened to the prairie chicken.
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KS: Well, the prairie chicken, primarily, is—it is being reduced because of the destruction of habitat. That and the widespread use of pesticides, pesticides, not so much presently as it was some years ago, but certainly the destruction of habitat. That is the general belief among the wildlife people who are studying it. Prairie chicken is north of the Canadian River, say, Lipscomb County, it seems to be holding it’s own, prospering. But south of the river, in Wheeler County, it’s—the last ten years, it’s just nosedived, the numbers have. And now they’re—right now, they have a fellow up there, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that’s studying the problem and trying to determine, you know, what is
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happening. There are any number of theories, even some who seem to think that, perhaps, the pheasant is a factor, the pheasant taking over habitat that the prairie chicken uses. They aren’t for sure but there’s evidence—some evidence for that. It remains to be seen.
DT: Were there other birds that you see, over the long period that you’ve been looking at them, that are having difficulty and maybe you could speculate as to why?
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KS: Well, for example, the burrowing owl is one. There have been widespread destruction of prairie dog. Farmers and ranchers hate prairie dogs. They—they—they don’t like them on their property, their cattle, their livestock; they need that land for grazing, not for raising prairie dogs. Development, housing development. There have been some wonderful prairie dogs on the western fringes of Amarillo that attracted Ferruginous hawks, rough-legged hawks, falcons, golden eagles, bald eagles in—in winter, wonderful—wonderful feeding grounds for raptors. And Amarillo is steadily moving westward and those towns have been destroyed. They no—they no longer exist
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out there and this is—this is happening all over the panhandle with prairie dog. Of course, you know there’s the big controversy going on now about the prairie dogs south of Lubbock. The groundwater has—or their drinking water has become contaminated and they’ve—someone made the statement, well, that’s because the prairie dogs—there’s a prairie dog—a huge prairie dog town down there and the prairie dog waste—prairie dogs have percolated down into the groundwater system which has not been proved, it’s a—it’s a—an assumption. So they’re battling over that right now because the—the—I believe, the city or the county wants to transport the 10 or 15,000 prairie dogs and put them someplace else, or destroy them altogether if they can.
DT: Any other sort of birds that come to mind? You mentioned a lot of these grassland birds, the dirty thirty…
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KS: The dirty thirteen?
DT: Thirteen, I’m exaggerating, sorry.
DT: Can you discuss what might be affecting them, which birds are included?
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KS: The dirty thirteen?
DT: Yeah.
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KS: Well, I—I—as I said, probably the main factor is the—the destruction of habitat, their habitat. The long-billed curlew, burrowing owl, Cassin’s sparrow, McCown’s and chestnut-collared longspur, lark bunting, Ferruginous hawk, Baird’s sparrow, Sprague’s pipit, I guess there’s some others I’ve left out, but they are typical. But you say, the dirty thirteen species that are in trouble, that are disappearing, and yet, there are other species that are prospering, that have become somewhat common in the pandle—panhandle just since I began birding. Birds you can find here nesting like curved-billed thrasher, southwestern birds that have moved in the area. Curved-billed thrasher, the western scrub jay, canyon towhee, birds like that that formerly were not found here. Dove, the white-winged doves, they’ve just exploded across the state. They have nesting
00:48:02 – 2217
colonies now in the panhandle. Inca dove. Inca dove used to be a rarity, and now, in the—in the city, they can be readily found. What triggers that, why—why is that happening? Warming trend? Why would these southern birds—the grackle, great-tailed grackle? It began moving north around the 19—late 1940’s, 1950’s, it steadily is increasing in numbers and it can be found all over the panhandle now. Of course, it—it’s quite compatible with the agriculture. It’s easier to see why it might spread, expand it’s range. But there are so—there are species that—well the towns themselves are attracting birds. In the—prior to settlement, you wouldn’t have found the cardinal, which is a town bird now. The blue jay, the robin, a number of species that are now common. Before settlement, you would have never found them in the panhandle.
DT: Is it because the planting of trees or feeding birds or what?
00:49:40 – 2217
KS: Well, the planting trees, the habitat is there for them now. They can—they can survive, yeah.
DT: Maybe you can discuss some of the birds that have actually been reintroduced? I think we talked about the wild turkey, maybe there are others?
00:49:57 – 2217
KS: Wild turkey, well, of course, a—a bird that has been introduced, not reintroduced, is the ring-necked pheasant. And—and it’s—of course, that is a game bird and people accept it. It’s a—not a native species, but it has high economic value. House sparrow has none whatsoever. So it’s a trash bird. But it was, originally, when it was introduced into the United States, it was thought that it would help control insects, you know, or insects that were detrimental to the—the farmer in the—but, it just has become of no economic value whatsoever. The starling is another one. If you opened up—if it became a species you could hunt, it would become of great value to everyone. So we—we judge all of—all of these—all of this wildlife, all of this nature, from our own values, we place the values on them. Nature could care less.
DT: Can we talk about some of the birds that are migrants to the area? I think the panhandle is known for some pretty amazing migrations of hawks and cranes.
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KS: Well, for example, the Swainson’s hawk, masses of Swain—if you’re lucky, conditions are right, you can might see hundreds, or even thousands, of Swainson’s hawks migrating through. Particularly up there, if there is in—inclement—inclement weather that will cause them to hang around for a while. Quite a few of them, though, are unnoticed because they are so high. They—you miss them, that they—unless you have a binocular and are looking for them, you very well might miss them. But—but if the weather conditions are right, you may run across a field of several hundred of them. The sandhill cranes, people like the migration of sandhill cranes, that’s quite a sight. Particularly in spring, I’ve seen, oh, 25,000 in—in—in a small area as they move
00:53:02 – 2217
through. And, of course, the waterfowl, there used to—they’re the Ross’s geese, the snow geese. That is—that is a species that is—when I first started birding in the panhandle in the spring, occasionally, you might see a flock of a thousand snow geese. They winter primarily Mexico, southwest of here, and only came through in migration. Now you can go up to Etter Lake, near Dumas, and you can find, on that little lake, you can find 15 or 20,000 snow geese. You can go up to Rita Blanca Lake, Dalhart, and you can find that many more. It is a species that has exploded in numbers it’s—in the Canadian breeding grounds. It and the Ross’ goose have reproduced to such an extent,
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have been so successful that they just—it’s unbelievable how they have invaded parts of the country where they didn’t used to be seen at all. Canada goose—the Canada goose has become a pest in many parts of the country and even nest in the panhandle, some areas now. It has invaded the city parks in winter; they’re all over the place. Enormous numbers. Those are just examples of successful species.
DT: You’ve described some real spectacles in nature, I mean, the sight of thousands of sandhills; thousands of geese must be really startling. Can you tell us about some other birding event that have really caught your attention?
00:55:23 – 2217
KS: One of the most—one of the most rewarding birding experience I ever had was when I found a Wilson’s phalarope chick. That is a shorebird. I found it in Carson County, just west—just east of Pantex Ordinance plant. The atomic energy plant out there. And I had received a call from a friend, a birding friend; he was somewhat of a novice. And he said there was a white bird out there on a playa and he thought it might be a snowy egret. And this was June and it would—and it would be unusual, you know, to have a snowy egret in the panhandle at that time. So I ran out there and sure enough it was a snowy egret. And as I was getting ready to leave, I looked—I was looking east and the sun was—wasn’t up very high and I noticed this bird, meadowlike—meadowlark-like
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bird in size, but it kept hovering, flying around and around over this one spot. It was across the playa, on—away from me, and I became curious. I couldn’t imagine—I—the light was bad and I couldn’t identify the bird. So I decided, well, I’ll trespass, which is not the thing to do, you know. I climbed over the fence and I walked around that playa and I got over there and I kept watching that bird. It was—my presence disturbed it, but I would just remain in one spot for quite a while and it would go back to this one spot. And over a period of time, just by moving short distances, I was able to get—pinpoint exactly where that bird was concentrating. And I walked over there and in high grass I found—found this little Wilson’s phalarope chick. Little downy chick, hadn’t been two
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or three days old. And I picked it up and, of course, by that time I had identified the bird as the Wilson’s phalarope, the adult, and that was a—the first record of the—of the species nesting in—in Texas. The closest one that had ever been found nesting before was in central Kansas, and then but rarely. So, that was a very gratifying experience. I found a few since then also, but—in the panhandle nesting, but it’s—it’s quite a rarity for that species to nest this far south. That’s one of the good experiences I’ve had.
DT: What about…?
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KS: And about Ed, the farmer caught me out there and he was quite irate, wanted to know what I was doing on his property. And I tried to explain to him about the Wilson’s phalarope, and by the time I got through, he was so bewildered he just—he gave up—he didn’t pursue the matter.
DT: Something I’ve heard that people travel near and far for is to see the lesser prairie chickens boom. Can you describe what that’s like?
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KS: Well, it…
[End of Reel 2217]
DT: Mr. Seyffert, when we left off from the last tape, we had asked you about prairie chickens and the booming displays they do and I was hoping you could describe some of those.
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KS: The booming displays attract many people, but the most fascinating aspect of the courting prairie chicken, to me, is the sound. The—particularly, before sunup. You could—I had the experience of, one time, going to the Britt Ranch, near Wheeler County, in—in Wheeler County, and I had the opportunity of walking a mile or two across the prairie when it was still dark, it was even predawn. And listening to the prairie chickens all around me, gabbling, it—it—it—it—it—the descrip—it’s an experience that’s hard to describe, the—the—the sound they make and—and to hear this—this wild call coming across—booming across the prairie all around you. And then later, getting in a—in a blind or vehicle near their booming ground and watching these birds fly in from all
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directions and begin their performance, their dance, their booming dance. And the males strutting around the—males challenging one another, booming at one another and the—the female birds just ignoring them completely. Completely indifferent to all of this strutting and booming. They—they go on about their business as though it were a—just another day’s outing. It’s—it’s really comical when you—when you see this because these male birds, they get in a frenzy. And this goes on for hours, it can. And finally, they—they all, they will leave the—leave the booming grounds and go about and do their thing, but it—it’s a—it’s a real—it’s a good experience to—to have seen. I would recommend anyone who ever—who ever have the opportunity to include that among their birding experiences.
DT: You mentioned earlier that you’ve often seen hawks in the panhandle. I was wondering if you’ve been able to see them hunting very often?
00:04:31 – 2218
KS: Well, yes, of course, they hunt by soaring. One time I had a strange experience with a Ferruginous hawk. Ferruginous hawks, they field—feed on prairie dogs, gophers, ground squirrels, things of that nature, rabbits. And I watched a Ferruginous hawk once, flying very low across the prairie and as it went along, it would drop a foot and hit a cow patty and send it flying. It was—it was comical, I mean, to see this—this bird, it just—it was just like it was playing, you know, it was a game. Just fly quite low above the ground and drop a foot and hit that patty and send that patty sailing across. I don’t know whether he thought it might disturb some animal or creature under that patty or not, but I thought that was unusual.
DT: Have you seen birds that are distinctly individual or that do things that are outside of habit?
00:05:49 – 2218
KS: Yes. Yes. Well, I don’t—I—outside of habit, I—but I can recall a—a bird that I considered a distinct individual. I—when I was doing a breeding bird survey in the Palo Duro Canyon one year. It was an area where the Mississippi kites nested and after a while, every time I would go onto that plot of ground, this pair of Mississippi kites would
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attack me. And if you—that can be a startling experience if you don’t see them coming, if they approach you from the rear, you know. You don’t know it until they’re right there and they let out this scream and you can turn somersault, or they—you can see one coming to you and you don’t think he’s going to stop but he’ll—he’ll veer off just before he comes to you. But anyway, this pair had my number and I could drive up to this place and—and there were campers, people—picnickers all around when I would arrive at the site. Nothing going on, nothing. The birds weren’t disturbed at all. I could get out of that vehicle, the minute I stepped out of that vehicle, those birds were after me. They—
00:07:13 – 2218
they recognized, they knew who I was. But—but they—all these people around them, didn’t bother them at all. The people around weren’t even aware there’s a Mississippi kite around, but I knew where their nest was.
DT: Well, over the years have you had any pet birds, ones that you feed here at home?
00:07:39 – 2218
KS: Well, I feed the—I—I don’t go into feeding the way a lot of people do. I don’t have hummingbird feeders out, anything like that; I don’t have any bird feeders out. I scatter grain on the ground and I get house sparrows. And just watching the house sparrows now, there—there is a—there is a gene floating around in this population of house sparrows in my area, white gene. It ap—it appears in a number of birds every season. They may have white feathers in their wings, they might have white tails, I’ve even had one had a white head. But there is this floating gene. It’d be interesting to study that, you know, in—in this—in this population of house sparrows.
DT: It seems similar to the experience in the Galapagos. Have you been able to see any sort of variations over a number of generations where birds have exploited some kind of niche?
00:08:43 – 2218
KS: No, that—that would take too many years, I think, to detect any change such as that, yeah. Yeah, but, their—I would just—I keep a record of how many birds that I have seen, just on this property here. And, what you’d guess how many different species have occurred on this—I’ve either—on the species here, seen overhead or heard while I was standing in the yard. I’ve so far—I’ve recorded 127 different species of birds, just on this little homestead in the—in the middle of a city. That indicates that—what is around if you’re aware of it.
DT: Can you tell us a little bit more about birding outings you’ve had a little farther afield from Amarillo?
00:09:48 – 2218
KS: Well, I have gone farther afield at times. A few years ago, I went to the upper Texas coast, at High Island, that’s the—that is the birding Mecca for birders, not only in Texas, but the United States and Europe. You’d be surprised how many Englishmen and Scotchmen and Germans are down there in spring to watch that—the arrival of the migration of the birds that have crossed the Gulf of Mexico from Yucatan. It is—if the weather conditions are right, it can be incredible, the number of birds that—that—when they reach landfall, they come down immediately. If the weather is—is rainy, wind from the north, that’s excellent. For the birder, but bad for the bird. For the birder, these birds
00:10:48 – 2218
just come flying out. I was down there, we would get a heavy shower or rain and immediately—you literally could see the birds dropping out of the sky and landing all around you. All kinds of birds, all kinds of species of birds passerines, it—it is really incredible. And you can go out on the beach and you can see these little birds just coming—just—just above the waves, water, reaching the coast and immediately landing. They’re exhausted, utterly exhausted from that trip across the gulf. And battling those headwinds, the adverse weather. And there’s—there’s no telling how many are
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destroyed, do not make it under—under such conditions. They—they light along the roads, fences, hundreds of them are killed by passing vehicles. So as far as the bird is concerned, it would be far better if the weather were nice because they would fly over and wouldn’t land until they got well inland and their chances of survival would be great. But in adverse weather, which birders love, they don’t think about the chances of survival of what that bird—what they’re looking for is this grand spectacle, something I can see and—and experience, it’s—all of this is for me, all of this show is put on for me, for my benefit. Not for the benefit of the bird. Its chances of survival are much greater if it’s nice weather, it can go on inland. But it’s a spectacle, it draws people.
DT: It seems to me that your focus has not been so much on these unusual spectacles, but rather on trying to document…
00:13:05 – 2218
KS: Right.
DT: …more of the natural history, a larger span of their life and their habits.
00:13:11 – 2218
KS: Right.
DT: And I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about the book that you spent many years compiling and finally publishing.
00:13:19 – 2218
KS: Well, to begin with, I had no intention of writing a book. I—I hadn’t the faintest idea or hope that I would ever get a book published. I’m not an ornithologist, I’m not an academic and my chances of ever being able to get a book published were slim or none, as far as I was concerned. But I did proc—proceed on the basis that I would produce a document and when I had it completed, I would make copies and I would deposit them to
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several area libraries so that students in the future could avail them—themselves of the information that had been accumulated. That was my aim in beginning and I might add that there was a lady who lived in Midland, Frances Williams, comparable situation as mine. She was writing at the same time, she was writing on the birds of Midland County. She’s a fabulous knowledge of the birds of that area and we had discussed the matter and we both agreed that we would do this, you know, we would produce such a document. And unfortunately, she died a couple years ago and was unable to finish—complete hers.
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But anyway, when I began, that was my aim. I—I—I entered—someone asked me after the book was published and I—and I told them how I wrote it, they said, well, you’re BC aren’t you? You’re before computer. I said, well, young lady, I’m BT, I’m before typewriter. When I began, I—I wrote everything out longhand, I—I find that the most easiest, most satisfying way to write. I dislike writing on a computer. To me, the minute I turn on that computer, somebody else has sat down beside me, there’s another presence there. When I—when I write, I just feel like it’s just flowing out of me and I’m part of the pen or the pencil and—and I’m just more comfortable that way. And I at—took a ten
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and a half—eight—about ten and a half spiral notebooks and I set up species and entered everything I could find about that species. All—went through all—all the records, every—my records, other observer’s records, journals, all kinds of publications. I became a great reader of bibliographies. One article would lead me to another, whatever pertained to the birds of the panhandle. I—I would enter all of this information in these
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notebooks, and building a bibliography as I went along. And this continued on for—this—this started twenty years—twenty years—1976. I worked on that book for probably twenty years. And finally I—I had all of this mass of information and I started writing a piece—species account, all by pen. Filling notebooks and then, after I sold—long after I’d—I’d got the species accounts written up enough, I would type them. And I made several revisions, you know, typewriter. And then finally somebody convinced me I should get a computer, work on a word processor. So I did. And, as far as editing concerned, it’s a whiz to have. But after I had done that, I reached the point as I was
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nearing the end—I’d set a cutoff date, 1996. That didn’t work, it went on to 1997, but I decided well, I might have something here. I’ve got nothing to lose, I want to ship this off to Texas A&M’s press and see what happens. I knew Dr. Arnold; he’s the ornithologist down there, curator of birds. So I shipped it off to him. This was on the first of August 1998. I heard nothing. Noth—no acknowledgement that the manuscript had been received. I finally gave up, I said—I said, this is first of all—about November, I called down there, I said, Keith, did you ever get my manuscript? Oh, yeah. I got that; I sent that over to the press. They’ll—they’ll be—they’ll get in touch with you someday,
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one of these days. Well, the middle of January, the editor-in-chief called me and said, the first reader has read this manuscript. That was Dr. Pulich; he’s the retired ornithologist, University of Dallas. And he just had high recommendations; he says it should be published. And he went over it thoroughly. He not—went over it not only once, but
00:19:03 – 2218
twice, they told me. He said, we’ve never had a reader who was as conscientious about reading a manuscript as Dr. Pulich was on—on this one. And, of course, he had many suggestions, saw many errors, and suggested I do this or do that and revise the—and most of them, I followed. Not all of them, but anyway. That was a boost. But the editor said, I’ve—this has got to go through a second reader and we’ll be in touch with you. Well, several months went by and I heard from him again, he said, well, the second reader also recommends that it be published. An anonymous reader this time, he didn’t give me his name. So, he said this has to go to the committee, publications committee for their okay. He says, I think it—excuse me—I think it should be published also. So, the middle of—it was not till the middle of June, he called me and said, it’s been okayed; it’s going to be published. He could’ve floored me. I didn’t think it would ever happen. So.
DT: Did any of the readers explain why they thought it should be published?
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KS: Well, they thought it—there was so little known about the birds of this area, they—nothing had hardly ever been published, you know. They thought it was valuable that—that it carried enough—the information that needed to be known and they just thought it was a worthwhile publication, so.
DT: What sort of audience did they think it was best suited for?
00:20:57 – 2218
KS: Well, it’s—it’s not a field guide, it’s not—it has nothing to do with identification, it’s just a—it would probably appeal, I w—would say, mostly to ornithologist and wildlife management people. I have had more response from people such as that than I have from birders. Of course, birders buy it, but as far as the comments I’ve had and the reviews that I have read have come from almost altogether from ornithologists or wildlife management people, in that—in that area. And they’ve been very—very favorable on it, so. That—that has pleased me a lot because it is directed to a student. I guess when you write something, you have someone in mind, or at least I did, someone in mind that you’re writing it for. And I always envisioned some young person 50 or 100 years from
00:22:20 – 2218
now who—who lived in this area and got all fired up about the birds of the panhandle and wanted to know what it was like a hundred years ago in comparison to the age in which he or she was living. Or, I were to come back to earth 100 years from now, and compare what was then present against what was present 100 years ago. That’s always fascinated me, you know, to note the changes.
DT: Well, I think you had mentioned that a lot of your work in putting together the book was not just compiling your own records, but also reading extensively some of the early naturalists, maybe a hundred years ago?
00:23:06 – 2218
KS: Oh, yes.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about some of the first observers who came through here and what they saw and how it differs from what we see today?
00:23:16 – 2218
KS: Well, of course, the very first observers were the—the military expeditions that came through the area surveying for railroad lines, primarily, A. Bayer, typically in the late 1840’s. And these people would, through their accounts, mention birds species at times, primarily game birds. Turkeys, prairie chickens, ducks and geese, things of that nature. But it wasn’t until a—the Ruffner Expedition that explored the headwaters of the Red River in 1876 that we really got a good view, or a good account of what birds were present in the—the eastern central panhandle. And that was the work of one of the expedition members, McCauley, Charles Adams Hoak McCauley. He was an Army
00:24:32 – 2218
lieutenant. He was the ornithologist with the expedition. Or not exactly the ornithologist, he sought the appointment to be the expedition’s ornithologist, and it went through all the—his request went through all the red tape in Washington and he was accept—okayed, General Sherman okayed his appointment as ornithologist and some other general—but it got bogged down in Washington and didn’t never get finalized. So the expedition was going to start and Ruffner wrote McCauley. McCauley, at that time, was in El Paso; he was on sick leave from the army. He told him, well, why don’t you just volunteer and you can work as a—run the survey line and do your ornithology work part time. So he jumped at the chance, McCauley jumped at the chance. He joined the
00:25:46 – 2218
expedition, I think unpaid, he was a volunteer. But he—he did and he—he recorded, I don’t forget now, 107 species, something like that, anyway, it was the—it was the first lifting of a veil. It showed you what the bird life was like in this area at that time. And that always fascinated me tremendously because I could—I could follow his journey and read his account of these birds and compare what he encountered with what I was encountering a hundred years later.
DT: Were there significant changes?
00:26:28 – 2218
KS: Well, yes, there were. For example, that—when he moved through the area, there—buffalo were being slaughtered. And there were enormous numbers of common cr—crows, common ravens, Chihuahuan ravens, feeding on these dead carcasses, whereas now, for example, your common raven, only a few of them can be found there in the northwestern panhandle. The—at that time, they—they were the predominate corvid, crow was way much fewer in number whereas now, there are enormous numbers of crows, they have adapted to the farming communities. The roles have just been reversed, I mean, from what they were at that time. And, see what other—well, for example, the Mississippi kite. It’s a common species in this area now. And it’s not a shy bird, it’s not—it can be—it doesn’t try to hide or get away from you. I mean, it’s easy to find, but he didn’t encounter any, which is very interesting. Because it has, since his time, it has spread west on into New Mexico now. It’s one of the interesting stories of range expansion.
DT: Why do you think an ornithologist would be hired, or even attempted to be hired, in this case?
00:28:21 – 2218
KS: Well, they—those expeditions—they—they—they recorded the—all the flora and fauna, and the geologic—geologists as they moved through. And…
DT: Out of academic interest, or economic, or a combination?
00:28:37 – 2218
KS: Well, of—of scientific interest. Quite often, the—the only qualified scientist on these expeditions were the doctors, and they were generally conversant with the bird life and the—and the plants and the other animals that they encountered and they—it was—it was a scientific endeavor as well as a survey for routes to run railroads. What’d you like the Lewis and Clark Expedition, though. Jefferson’s instructions were not only to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean, but to keep detailed records of the flora and fauna and—and—and specimens of plants. He insisted on it, that they compile all this information, which they did.
DT: Did the naturalist on this tour, or later ones, have different expectations than what he actually observed? I’ve seen on some of these early maps they referred to this area as the Great American Desert.
00:29:48 – 2218
KS: Well, yes.
DT: Did they—were they surprised at how much there was here?
00:29:54 – 2218
KS: I—I don’t know that they—ones I have had read, no. Of course, they all—all commented on the enormous number of turkeys that they encountered. That’s one of—that’s one species they all mentioned. And one of the most—and the prairie chickens were unbelievable at the time, how many prairie chickens were in the panhandle. And they’re almost gone now. Millions of prairie chickens at one time in the panhandle. But…
DW: Have you ever eaten a wild turkey that someone has gotten? Do they taste a lot different from the stuff they serve in the stores?
00:30:39 – 2218
KS: I have never eaten a wild turkey. No, I haven’t. I don’t—I don’t know what one tastes like. I sure don’t.
DT: Did you ever eat any of the songbirds that you shot as a child?
00:30:48 – 2218
KS: No. No. No. Never did.
DT: I’m fascinated by this comparison of what was seen a hundred years ago and what is seen now, and I think you had mentioned that one of the purposes of writing the book was so that folks a hundred years from now would again be able to compare.
00:31:12 – 2218
KS: Right.
DT: And I was curious if you can look in your crystal ball and tell what you expect that might be seen here a century from now? How would it be different from today?
00:31:26 – 2218
KS: That’s a tall order. I would think with a continuing warming trend in the weather, the climate, that we would probably be seeing more and more typical southwestern species of birds continuing to advance northward in—in greater numbers. Not only more species, but in—in greater numbers, I think. That would be something that I would anticipate. A hundred years from now, that’s a good question, because where is the water going to come from for cultivation purposes a hundred years from now. The groundwater is being sucked out at such a rate that many areas that used to irrigate are now having to go dry land farming again. How much cultivation will still remain in the
00:32:40 – 2218
panhandle? I don’t know, but that would certainly have an effect on land use and, in turn, effect the species that would be around. People think, you know, this is going to last forever, but it’s—it’s on—it’s on its way out. Things are going to change. You can’t just keep pumping this water out of the ground without renewing it, without any water being recharged into that a—aquifer. So that will be interesting.
DT: Well, it seems like you’ve tried very hard to capture a picture of what you’ve seen the last thirty years, but at the same time, you seem to have a deep understanding of how dynamic things are. I was wondering how you balance the two, try and have something that’s representational, but still recognize that things are going to shift?
00:33:57 – 2218
KS: Yeah. Well, I think that this is something that I have learned, that—that things are not going to—do not remain the same. That it is a—it is dynamic in that changes are going on all the time. People say, well, this is—these are the—the species of birds that can be found in this area, but in time, the—the—the mix of birds is going to change. It does change all the time, particularly when there are dramatic changes in the environment. Some people—some birds can adapt to these changes, others cannot.
DT: What would you say to somebody who would challenge for a conservation effort saying, well, life is, by it’s nature, finite and nature’s, by its nature, fluid and dynamic and we shouldn’t be so concerned about what is protected because there’s never any definite answer to what it a perfect combination or a perfect ecosystem.
00:35:51 – 2218
KS: But I think the—probably the one thing that needs to be maintained is diversity. You do not want to reduce diversity to the point where there are only a relatively few number of species of any given organism left. Because in the event of change, or change will take place, but in the event of—particularly of any rather dramatic, sudden change in—in the environment, the possibility of—of the fewer species surviving are less than if there were a greater diversity.
DT: So what’s lost if these species are lost?
00:36:59 – 2218
KS: Well, the greatest species loss of all time is at the end of the Cretaceous, when the dinosaurs were wiped out, you know, the meteorite hitting the Yucatan peninsula and wiping out, what, 80% of life on earth, or whatever the figure they say is. And, of course, the—your scientists say that we stand a good chance of experiencing that again, only man is going to be the—the factor, that implementing factor in this loss of species, diversity. But consider the enormous amount of time that had to elapse before that diversity was renewed after that catastrophe. We look—our view of time is so limited, you know, from our viewpoint. But, as far as geologic time is concerned, it can happen again and you’d just have a different mix, you know, of organisms.
DT: What is the value of diversity, or the value of the particular set of species that exist now as exists ten million years ago, and why should somebody care about protecting them, or studying them, for that matter?
00:38:42 – 2218
KS: Well, I—I would say because it is a—a unique organism and as such, has value in itself. Of course, our problem is, that we place human values, everything is—we determine the—the value of—of—of—of life on our own terms and cannot see that if we were not present at all, then the rest of life would not have any value.
DT: What, do you think we’re just being over sentimental about it?
00:39:24 – 2218
KS: Oh, I don’t think we’re being sentimental about it, I think we’re being—it—it is an indication of respect for other forms of life other than our own. That we aren’t the only organism on earth, although we—from our actions, we—we have the idea we are—we are a special—we are a special organism, which I disagree with it from a lot of my religious brethren.
DT: How?
00:40:13 – 2218
KS: Well, they—they think that man is the—the standard—is the—of all and that all life is created for his use and purpose—purposes. Which I don’t, I think we could very well disappear from the face of the earth and everything would go swimmingly. And probably, for most life it would be far—a far greater benefit. That is—that is a rather bleak, perhaps, view of it but I just do not believe that in the nature of things, that—that we are part of nature, whether we like it or not.
DT: Well, I guess often humans are parasites or predators on the rest of life and I’m curious if you were talking to a young person and you were trying to encourage them to maybe go the other direction and be somewhat useful to the rest of life, what would you tell them? How would you advise them?
00:41:34 – 2218
KS: That’s a difficult question to answer right off. I—I would—I don’t know—I could—I don’t know what I would tell them other than the fact that he must—he or she must understand the fact that he is a part of nature, not something set apart, that if he respects himself, than he would have to respect other forms of life around.
DT: That’s very succinct. Well said. One last question. We often ask people if there is a place that they like to go that reminds them of why they got interested in the outdoors in the first place, that somehow gives them respite and some feeling of satisfaction. Is there anyplace that comes to mind in all your travels?
00:42:38 – 2218
KS: Well, I would say prob—in—in—in the panhandle, I’d say probably the Palo Duro Canyon because when I go into the canyon, in contrast, say, for going to Buffalo Lake. Buffalo Lake is a manmade playa; it didn’t exist before the dam was built down there. Going into the Palo Duro Canyon, you have a—a greater sense of time. That canyon is 230 million years old and you can—you can get away from the people down there and just—at times, the silence, you can almost hear the silence, you know, just throbbing almost. That’s—it’s not manmade sound and I think you—that is one of my favorite places to go. If you want to get away from it all.
DT: And this throb that you describe. Is it almost like a heartbeat to the place?
00:43:41 – 2218
KS: Yes, you can almost hear your blood pulsing, yeah. Yeah.
DT: Is there anything else you’d like add?
00:43:51 – 2218
KS: Gosh, I probably talked too much as it is. No. I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.
DT: Thank you. And I look forward to seeing your revision of your book.
00:44:08 – 2218
KS: All right. Good.
DT: Although your first version is very good. Keep at it.
00:44:15 – 2218
KS: All right.
DT: Thanks a lot.
[End of Reel 2218]
[End of Interview with Kenneth Seyffert]