District's 'Bird Man' Documents City's Winged Creatures | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Filed Under:

District's 'Bird Man' Documents City's Winged Creatures

Play associated audio
Avid birder Wallace Kornack in Rock Creek Park.
Emily Berman
Avid birder Wallace Kornack in Rock Creek Park.

Every morning, Wallace Kornack leaves his Georgetown home just after dawn, and drives north into Rock Creek Park. Ever since he retired from his job as a nuclear engineer, he's taken his passion for science in a new direction. Up.

Kornack is, in the words of his friend Bill Butler, "the most hard-core birder in Washington, D.C." He has been in the park nearly every day, rain or shine, for the past 13 years. Other birders come out frequently, but no one as much as Kornack; he's the unofficial president of D.C.'s birding scene.

"The thing about birding, is you have to have exceedingly great patience," Kornack says, "It's going to be quiet for quite a long while. It's not very stimulating, but it's what we do."

Kornack walks around, saying hello to everyone and making sure he has his or her names. He keeps a list every morning of which birds were seen, and who saw them. "I appreciate a good birder, I want to know who they are, and I'll write their names down. They know me, I know them."

There's no published meeting time for the group; it grows mainly through word of mouth. During the week, there are just a handful of birders, but on the weekends — especially during the spring and fall — there can be as many as 50 people.

Many of those people come to look for a fairly small and vocal perching bird known as warbler. The warblers are making their way up from Mexico and heading toward Canada. They're here for just three or four weeks.

In the distance, Kornack spots Matthew Sileo, a 30-year-old University of Maryland graduate student. Kornack pulls out his pen to add Matthew's sightings to his list. "Two black throated greens... one yellow warbler... 10 yellow rumps... 3 red eyed Verios."

Kornack adds these to his list, which, as soon as he gets home, he types up and sends to an online database called e-bird. It's run by Cornell University, and because birders use it all over the world to look at migration patterns, Kornack's pretty careful about which observations make the cut.

"Depends on the credibility of the birder, and most of the people here are very experienced birders," he says.

After two hours of birding, the group is now leaning against a fence, chatting and pointing their binoculars up into the trees for any final identification. Today was not a big day, Kornack says, but still there are dozens of birds on the list.

"There are disappointing days, but there are very exciting times, too. That's what brings you out every time... the unexpected appearing before your eyes."

[Music: "Little Birdie" by Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys from Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys 1971-1973 / "It Might As Well Be Spring" by Brad Mehldau from Introducing Brad Mehldau]

NPR

Impressionist Hero Édouard Manet Gets The Star Treatment In Los Angeles

Manet was not himself an Impressionist, but he mightily influenced the movement. Two of his paintings are now in L.A. The Railway is making its West Coast debut, and Spring just sold for $65 million.
NPR

Stone Age Britons Were Eating Wheat 2,000 Years Before They Farmed It

Scientists have recovered cultivated wheat DNA from an 8,000-year-old submerged site off the British coast. The finding suggests hunter-gatherers were trading for the grain long before they grew it.
WAMU 88.5

Paycheck Politics And The Homeland Security Bill

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is blasting Republicans who claim that the department's workers can weather a temporary shutdown if Congress can't finish legislation to fund the department by the end of Friday.

NPR

Fines Remain Rare Even As Health Data Breaches Multiply

Since 2009, a federal watchdog has levied only 22 penalties against health care organizations for failing to safeguard information about patients.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.