A Forgotten Shorebirder

I can remember to the day learning to identify this bird–a White-rumped Sandpiper, photographed yesterday at Sandy Hook. It was at a shorebird workshop in Nebraska in the 1970s, conducted by Mary Tremaine, and it was a real eye-opener: Dr. Tremaine gave us all mimeographed pages introducing a strange and new way to identify shorebirds, using not plumage characters but shape and structure. She even produced a dichotomous key, with such odd choices as “More bird behind legs” and “More bird ahead of legs.”

All very conventional nowadays, though we have more precise, less impressionistic ways of talking about wing projection and such. But remember: this was thirty years before The Shorebird Guide, twenty years before The New Approach, nearly a decade before the National Geographic Guide. Mary Tremaine was way, way ahead of her time, and I’ve often regretted not getting to spend more time at her figurative feet when I was a young birder.

As near as I can tell, she is quite forgotten today, a common enough fate for not-quite-famous birders who lived and died in a pre-internet age. Google turns up the odd citation here and there, but nowhere, so far as I know, did she publish any sustained work on identification techniques. If she had, we’d be talking about her today as a pioneer in modern birding.