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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis


Make a little history at October’s Member Meeting!

Mark your calendar for 6 p.m., Thursday, October 13, to take advantage of a golden opportunity to celebrate Audubon Society of Omaha’s 50th anniversary at Lauritzen Gardens with Neal Ratzlaff, past ASO president and director, and Bird Seed Sale co-founder. Neal will focus on “The Birds of Lewis and Clark,” recounting the explorers’ ornithological achievements and touching on the convoluted, almost tortuous, nearly 100-year trek the expedition’s journals took to publication.

Register here to enjoy tours of the Gardens, starting at 6, and peruse ASO scrapbooks from 50 years of birding, but be in your seat by 7 for Neal’s enlightening look at the Lewis and Clark expedition’s impact on ornithology.

As conceived by President Thomas Jefferson and undertaken by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark — and the approximately 30-member Corps of Discovery — the expedition’s mission was “to explore the Missouri River, & such principle (sic) stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean (sic), whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.”

Jefferson saw Lewis as a man “of courage undaunted,” an assessment the entire Corps validated throughout its extraordinary journey. Following a year of preparation, the expedition left its winter staging camp near St. Charles, Missouri, in the spring of 1804 and wound its way to the mouth of the Columbia River in present-day Oregon, returning to St. Louis by September 1806. 

During his presentation, Neal will describe the birds the Corps encountered and detail the critical role Lewis’s and Clark’s journals played in expanding knowledge of the natural world of their era. Featuring illustrations of both familiar birds and species “new to science,” the journals represent major milestones of the waning years of the Age of Enlightenment. And, drawn from two volumes of letters relating to the expedition compiled by Donald Jackson, former editor of the University of Illinois Press, Neal will trace the travels of the five live animals the explorers sent to President Jefferson — a Sharp-tailed Grouse, a prairie dog and three Magpies from what is now North Dakota — in the spring of 1805.

He will also explore why Meriwether Lewis may not be recognized as one of America’s premier early ornithologists, despite having documented at least eight species of birds “new to science” and several others not recorded in as much detail, but, nevertheless, clearly identifiable and also “new to science.”

The reasons behind this historical oversight lie in the fate of Lewis’s journals and the tangled history of the artifacts collected by the Corps of Discovery. Neal will catalogue the cast of characters contributing to this frustrating but ultimately rewarding narrative, including publisher Nicholas Biddle, botanist Benjamin Smith Barton, painter and naturalist Charles Wilson Peale, naturalist George Ord, and Alexander Wilson, author of the nine-volume American Ornithology.

So, join us at Lauritzen Gardens on Thursday, September 13, at 6 p.m. to learn more about Lewis and Clark and the natural world, and celebrate Audubon Society of Omaha’s Golden Anniversary. Register Here!

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