Franklin County Annotated Checklist – A Review

The following review of The Birds of Franklin County, Ohio by Dr Bernard Master was originally published by the Ohio Ornithological Society in the Spring, 2015 issue of the OOS newsletter, The Cerulean. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author and of the OOS.

Book REVIEW: The Birds of Franklin County, Ohio – An annotated Checklist
By William D. Whan
2014.119 pages. PDF file format, distributed at no cost at columbusaudubon.org/

Ohio is fortunate to have its bird history of the past two hundred years recorded for modern day readers and enthusiasts. Beginning with the first checklist of the state prepared by Jared Potter Kirtland in 1838, a long list of authors have contributed to the base of knowledge of what we call the Ohio checklist; however, the compilers were few. This early group of Ohio ornithologists, whom I shall dub “The Venerables”, begins with Dr. Kirtland and is followed by John Maynard Wheaton, 1861, updated in 1882, and includes the first list of 241 Franklin County birds, followed by Jasper, Davie, and Dawson.

The next group of Ohio ornithologists, whom I shall call the “Modernists” who updated and vetted numerous records for Ohio and Franklin County, begins with Milton B. Trautman in 1940 and includes works by Donald Borror (1950), Tom Thomson (1983), Bruce Peterjohn (2001), and Robert Harlan et al. in 2008. There has not been an updated checklist devoted solely to Franklin County for 130 years until now. Enter William D. Whan who is uniquely qualified, by virtue of his twenty years as Editor of The Ohio Cardinal and his twelve years of service to the Ohio Bird Records Committee (OBRC), to prepare such an update. Bill has written numerous articles about bird life in Columbus and beyond. He becomes fully engaged with conviction on any number of ornithological discussions on the internet, and he is an avid birder frequently found in the field helping other birders with the fine points of birding. He is a born teacher and educator.

An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Franklin County is a tour de force. It is not a checklist in the form that birders have been accustomed to seeing emanating from their parks and wildlife reserves. It is more, much more. Whan has dipped into his voluminous birding record archives, spending untold hours at The Ohio State Museum of Biological Diversity examining bird skins, translating illegible handwriting on bird tags, separating fact from fiction on dubious dates and locations, and communicating with museums worldwide to discover outlying bird records for his book. His treatise includes many personal communications with birders, librarians, curators, and authors always looking to refine and authenticate his records. This product is the culmination of painstaking and tedious plain old hard work but done with a love and passion shared by few.

The book is very readable and not weighed down by stuffy scientific data. He presents interesting pieces of field information in most of the species accounts. There is something useful for every birder no matter one’s level of expertise. Every record is carefully documented. There is an extensive bibliography. Controversial taxonomy and records are dealt with fairly. By its title alone, this work invites a discussion of county listing, valuable or not? Whan does not take either position, but obviously he believes it is important. I never cared much for it. I thought it was for those who had too much time on their hands or suffered from some obsessive compulsive disorder; besides birds can’t read maps and don’t know one county boundary from another. After reading, I talked to a few county listers including our great Ohio lister, Dan Sanders. I have changed my mind completely on this subject. County
listing is fun and important. It takes birders to the odd corners of the state that are usually left unbirded; it gets people off of their couches into the nature’s nearby nooks and crannies rather inexpensively, sometimes producing surprising and amazing bird finds. County boundaries are frequently set by physical barriers such as rivers and habitat change such as farmland which can produce interesting results. County birders contribute to the knowledge of migration patterns, population changes, dates of arrival and departure, and vagrancy (birds, not birders), and add valuable information to the states ornithology.

My only negative criticism, and it is of form not substance, is Whan’s use of small caps for common bird names. I know it is the expected form for the lay press; however, I believe that an ornithologist writing an ornithological subject  for an ornithological society should follow the American Ornithological Union rules and use capitals for common names. Whan and I have had that discussion before and here it ends.

I would like to see this work bound in hard cover because it belongs in every Ohio birder’s library next to Trautman and Peterjohn. Whan’s Checklist, in my opinion, credentials him for entry into the pantheon of Ohio’s “Modernists”.

Download the current version of The Birds of Franklin County, Ohio – An Annotated Checklist.