I came late to birding in my life after having giving up upland game hunting due to a defunct knee. After an introduction to this new hobby by a good friend, I also thought it was an excellent opportunity to take my big GSD for long hikes in the countryside. And so it all began.
Now I even look for books on the subject. A case in point is a wonderful new biography by Sue Leaf titled A Love Affair With Birds. I clearly remember my first successful outings in the 1960’s hunting pheasants, ruffed grouse and ducks.
That’s approximately how Dr. Thomas Sadler Roberts, one hundred years earlier had done his work; gun and then, later, camera in hand, he traveled the state observing, collecting and describing birds and then finally writing, ” The Birds of Minnesota.” That two-volume set, published in 1932, is still considered the seminal and definitive account of the state’s wild avian population.
Sue Leafs biography of Roberts, based on her nearly five years of research and interviews, describe him as a workaholic. He kept his Minneapolis medical practice going, which included delivering lots of babies and using any spare time to do his birding.
Roberts quit his medical practice at age 57 so he could devote more time to ornithology, although as Leaf points out, he never described himself as an ornithologist, instead calling himself a retired doctor.
He became the first professor of ornithology (an unpaid position) at the University of Minnesota and helped create what would become the U’s Bell Museum of Natural History and devoted himself to educating aspiring classroom teachers about birds.
Leaf’s book describes how this son of a privileged family from Philadelphia made Minnesota his home and excelled at medicine and ornithology at a time when the state was a magnet for white settlement and commercial development that altered the natural landscape that Roberts treasured.
Thomas Sadler Roberts, gone now for nearly 70 years, left a legacy of appreciation for our state’s natural history and bird life.
Anyone with an interest in birds, Minnesota’s natural history and learning about the fascinating life of a singular doctor, author, curator, educator, conservationist and bird enthusiast will find this book a rare treat. If there is any downer at all to reading this great biography it is this – there is a sadness to being taken back in Minnesota’s history to a time when the passenger pigeon still flew in our skies and other birds, now very rare or not seen at all, were a common sight….