Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Quackenbush Journals from Oxbow, Maine

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie & Richard Primack

Not many people travel to northern Maine for Spring break, but we made the trek to Presque Isle at the end of March.  We flew into the tiny airport in a little prop plane — we were in search of the old Quackenbush home in Oxbow.

Leonard  Quackenbush, a hunting guide, lived in Oxbow in Aroostook County, Maine in the mid-twentieth century, about 40 miles south of Presque Isle. His journals from the 1940s and 1950s include detailed observations of the time of leaf out, flowering, and bird arrivals.  He even indexed his natural history records towards the end of his life, compiling long lists of observations by species and year.

Dr. Johnston, Dr. Primack, and Caitlin in front of the Quackenbush barn

The Quackenbush journals and hand-written indices found their way to the archives at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Several months ago we began to dig through these records and analyze the relationship between the timing of these events —leaf out, flowering, and bird arrivals — and local temperatures each year. We also wanted to determine if the timing of these events had advanced since Quackenbush had made his observations due to a warming climate. This work is important as northern Maine has been relatively neglected in climate change research.

To gain a better understanding of Quackenbush and his field site in Oxbow, we recently visited the University of Maine at Presque Isle, where we were hosted by  Professor Jason Johnston, a wildlife ecologist, and Professor Bob Pinette, a botanist. Upon our arrival, we discovered that we had already made the local papers!  We presented a seminar at UMPI — advertised in the Presque Isle Strar Tribune — on our previous research and our hopes for the data in Quackenbush’s journals.  After the seminar, Jason brought us to Oxbow, a small community where there are many hunting lodges, where we found Quackenbush’s old house and the red oak trees in his yard.  A quick tour of the woods behind his house and along the road reaffirmed our belief that Quackenbush mostly likely made his observations when walking from his house to the nearby village post office.

Later in our visit, Jason and Bob agreed to work with us to find recent records of plant flowering times, tree leafing out times, and bird arrival times to compare with the Quackenbush observations. They also decided to start making these observations themselves in the Presque Isle area. Local birder Bill Sheehan offered to let us analyze his observations of arrival times made over the past several decades.

After being forgotten for half a century, the Quackenbush journals are stimulating a flurry of research on climate change in northern Maine.

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