“fascinating, inspiring, uplifting” – Birdwatching with Walter M. Rosene, Sr.

Everything out of doors is fascinating, inspiring, uplifting. It has been so to me since earliest boyhood. I roamed the fields and woods, watching, wondering, and studying the things that were going on in the various realms of Nature. Everywhere there was life and action. The birds of the air, the squirrels in the tree tops – everything was moving. Even the ground seems to be moving under foot, the ants were carrying their burdens, the tumble bugs were busy rolling their huge balls and each were bound for some destination.

– “Nature Speaks” undated essay by Walter Rosene, Sr. (MS 589, box 13, folder 7)

Meeting Mr. Rosene

One of Iowa’s “movers and shakers” in the birding world was Walter Rosene, Sr. of Ogden, Iowa. Although a saddler and banker by trade, he was an ornithologist by avocation. Rosene was one of the first two Presidents of the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union, gave illustrated lectures on birds and birding in Iowa, and served as Director of bird-study at the American School of Wildlife Protection at McGregor (Iowa).

Rosene and friends bird-watching at Ledges State Park. L – R: Carl Fritz Henning (custodian at Ledges), Walter Rosene, Sr., and Charley Spiker. (Rosene’s “Ledges” journal. MS 589, box 13)

The Great Horned Owl Study

“Photographing great horned owl nest at height of 37 feet,” ca. 1933-1940. (MS 589, box 19, folder 20)

Our earliest records of Rosene’s ornithology activities date from the 1920s, when he was in his 40s. It’s unclear when he took up the avocation, but central Iowa (Rosene’s home) has several excellent bird-watching sites. One of Rosene’s favorites was Ledges State Park, now designated by the Iowa Audubon Association as an Important Bird Area (IBA).  Another favorite was Beaver Creek, where Rosene and friend Bob Walker spent seven years systematically studying a Great Horned Owl nest.

From 1933-1940, Rosene and Walker kept detailed food and pellet records for the nest. Their 219 days of observation required 1156 miles by car and 53 miles on foot. They had to come up with an ingenious method for reaching the tall nest (see image at left) in order to photograph the birds, gather the pellets, and band the nestlings, of whom only six survived to adulthood. While banding the nestlings in year 6, the two adults attacked Walker and tore holes in his ears and cut the side of his head. Rosene and Walker started wearing helmets.

Observations from four hours of bird watching at Bear Creek and Ledges State Park, 1936. (MS 589, box 12.)

Observations from four hours of bird watching at Bear Creek and Ledges State Park, 1936. (MS 589, box 12.) (click to enlarge)

 “The next time we came down we were equipped with steel helmets and heavy leather helmet [sic] so were better protected. However she struck Bob again and although his steel helmet warded the blow until it fairly resounded in the wood and one of her claws gave him another scratch on his cheek below the helmet.”

“..we are still continuing our studies for after all, that is the only way to secure reliable information. To get it yourself and directly from the birds.”

[undated report] (MS 589, box 13, folder 7)

 Related Resources

Special Collections and University Archives houses several fantastic Iowa ornithology and birdwatching collections in addition to Rosene’s papers. Here is a sampling:

  • Woodward Hart Brown Papers, 1890-1980 (MS 502)
  • Philip A. DuMont Papers, 1868-1981 (MS 153)
  • Iowa Ornithological Association Records, 1895-1897 (MS 581)
  • Iowa Ornithologists’ Union Records, 1819 – ongoing (MS 166)
  • Frederic Leopold Papers, 1885-1988 (MS 113)

You can find additional ornithology and bird-related collections by searching our collections here.

Pages from some of Rosene's ornithology books.  L: Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore. Bird Homes. Nature Library V.3. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913. (Special Collections QL681 D86x, 1913) R: B. H. Bailey Two Hundred Wild Birds of Iowa. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Superior Press, 1910. (Special Collections QL684.I6 B35x)

Pages from some of Rosene’s ornithology books.

We also have ornithology books in our collections, including some from Rosene’s personal library.

AT RIGHT:

L: Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore. Bird Homes. Nature Library V.3. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913. (Special Collections QL681 D86x, 1913)

R: B. H. Bailey. Two Hundred Wild Birds of Iowa. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Superior Press, 1910. (Special Collections QL684.I6 B35x)

To see any of these materials, stop by Parks 403 in the Iowa State University Library between 10 am and 4 pm Monday – Friday. We hope to see you soon!

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