Fannye’s Pigeons

Fannye Cook was a pioneer environmentalist who championed the protection and preservation of Mississippi’s rich natural environment. She led the campaign to create the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and its educational and research arm, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

Fannye Addine Cook was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi on July 19, 1889. By that time, Mississippi like most of the South was catastrophically denuded of the great virgin forests that stretched from east Texas to tidewater Virginia. In A Turn in the South, V.S. Naipaul spoke with a woman in Jackson who said, “When I was a little girl—say in 1915—they were still clearing (the forests). They would go and chop around these mighty oaks and they would then die and they would cut them. When they were going to clear out a field they would kill the trees. I never paid any attention to it. It was what they did.”

As James Cummins notes in his Preface, “the blackland prairie of eastern Mississippi had been cultivated to less than one percent of its former size, “White-tailed deer, Louisiana black bear, American alligator, wood duck, and other species were nearly eliminated by lawless exploitation. Streams and rivers were choked with eroding soil. The idea of caring for the land and its community of inhabitants, what writer and ecologist Aldo Leopold called a ‘land ethic,’ had not taken hold in Mississippi.”

That this biography of Fannye includes in its first few pages the following vivid documentation of passenger pigeons in Mississippi strikes a strong, graceful and resounding note against a bleak lack of consideration for the natural world. The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird, perhaps even the most abundant vertebrate, on the planet. Audubon once watched a flock pass overhead for three days and estimated that at times more than 300 million pigeons flew by him each hour.

But these birds were slaughtered unmercifully during the 19th century, and after a description of one massacre, Audubon wrote, “Persons unacquainted with these birds might naturally conclude that such dreadful havoc would soon put an end to the species. But I have satisfied myself, by long observation, that nothing but the gradual diminution of our forests can accomplish their decrease, as they not unfrequently quadruple their numbers yearly, and always at least double it.”

From this perspective, these numbers seem incredulously inflated, yet as the slaughters continued and the forests fell–particularly the great beech woods of the Ohio Valley–the passenger pigeon declined in number with proportionate rapidity, and their extinction was sealed by the death of the last known member of the species, a female named Martha (after the first First Lady) that died on September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Though many of Cook’s specimens at the old Jefferson Street museum were destroyed by water during the 1979 Jackson flood, her documents and other materials form the core of the 18,000-volume library in the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. It was there I sought information about the last passenger pigeons in Mississippi. A long-time librarian at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mary Stripling, provided me with this information concerning passenger pigeons in Mississippi.

“Jesse,” Mary wrote, “You are grasping at straws looking for the last one sighted in Mississippi.” She then cited several primary resources for more information, and also gave me the last sight records in their collection, adding that they appear to be handwritten by Miss Cook herself.

Year:  1848; Observer:  T. J. Pierce; Place: Brookhaven – Bayou Pierre. “One fall the pigeons came one afternoon by the thousands. There were so many and they were so thick the sun could not be seen and they darkened the sky. They flew low, many of them only 10 or 12 feet, so low that they could be knocked down with brush. They settled in the trees just on edge of grandfather’s farm and weighted them down. Many men and boys went out and shot them to eat — meat dark about like guinea. Only this one time were they seen there.”

Year : 1878; Observer: G. M. Cook;  Place: Copiah County – Utica. “Still a good many pigeons in Pearl River swamp and on hills. Daddy killed several at one shot out of a flock of about 20 in the top of a big pine tree over 100 ft. high (short leaf pine). In 1858 very large flocks so large and so low that Daddy and other school kids would run thru them with arms spread. The birds moved out of their way just far enough to keep from getting caught by the children.”

Undoubtedly straggling bands of passenger pigeons survived in Mississippi for  perhaps a decade afterwards but were likely exterminated–well before the turn of the century. Yes, I was grasping at straws, but I knew where to look for the information I needed about the natural world in the state of Mississippi and thanks to Fannye Cook I found it. Whether you’re a hunter, a hiker or just someone loves Mississippi, buy this book, support local conservation groups, and care for your share of the planet.

And remember Martha.

 

Mississippi Nature Guides

Mississippi stretches from the foothills of the Appalachians to the Gulf of Mexico, and her western border, her namesake, is one of the greatest rivers in the world. The state provides both residents and visitors with a wide range of natural environments: shady alluvial swamps, sunny beaches and barrier islands, rolling wooded hills, spacious piney woods and open prairies, all the home of a rich spectrum of living creatures. While this selection of materials does not claim to be definitive, it was created by Mary Stripling, who is uniquely qualified to make such a list of guides to identifying plants and animals in Mississippi.

Mary is now enjoying retirement, but as the librarian at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson from 1978-2010, she interacted with biologists in every realm of nature. Mary has been an avid birder and leader in the Jackson Audubon Society since the mid 1980’s, and has traveled extensively on birding ecotourism trips to destinations like New Zealand, Kenya, the Amazon and Central America, as well as to birding hot spots in North America. In each case she has used a field guide appropriate for each area. She has also utilized most of the other guides on the list while pursuing butterflies, dragonflies, turtles, freshwater mussels, insects, etc. and by helping museum guests identify all the various critters they find in the field or their backyards.

“Over the years there has been an explosion of nature field guides for North America, the eastern United States, Mississippi and surrounding states,” Mary says. “I’ve consulted with the biologists and botanists at the museum regarding the most accurate guides for each discipline. Some books included in the list are not field guide size such as Sibley’s Tree Guide, Fishes of Inland Mississippi and Birds of Mississippi, but all serious naturalists should study guides at home; you should be prepared to know what you might encounter before going into your own backyard.”

Mary includes asterisks by the titles most necessary for a Mississippi nature library. “These books will give you the most bang for your buck; for the most part the list is of selected general field guides, is not inclusive and does not include specialty guides such as guides for tiger beetles, wasps, warblers, hummingbirds, hawks, etc. I’ve included a few animal sound CDs for learning bird and frog songs and two are unique to Mississippi (the Mississippi bird and frog songs recorded by Bill Turcotte).” Mary was responsible for updating the original Mississippi bird and frog cassettes to CDs and revising the accompanying booklets. “No attempt has been made to include mobile digital apps for plant and animal identification, even though in the past few years apps have made a huge impact on nature watching. They are wonderful devices to take to the field especially for compactness, ease of use and for accessing sounds.”

But, she adds, “It is always great to curl up in your easy chair and enjoy a good read with your favorite field guide to get ready for your next outing.”

For a fuller appreciation of our state’s natural environments and their denizens, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson offers an absorbing collection of informative displays as well as exhibits of living plants and animals. As a center for research and support, the Museum helps to preserve and protect the swamps, the barrier islands, piney woods, prairies and living things that Mississippi calls her own.

VENOMOUS ANIMALS AND POISONOUS PLANTS

Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America
Turner, Nancy J. and Szczawinski, Adam F.
Timber Press; 1991

A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants, North America, North of Mexico
Foster, Steven; Caras, Roger A.; National Audubon Society; National Wildlife Federation, and Roger Tory
Peterson Institute.
Houghton Mifflin; 1994 (Peterson field guide series).

*Poisonous Plants and Venomous Animals of Alabama and Adjoining States
Gibbons, Whit; Haynes, Robert; and Thomas, Joab L.
University of Alabama Press; 1990

Poisonous Plants of the Southeastern United States
Everest, John W.; Powe, Thomas A., and Freeman, John Daniel.
University of Florida, Florida Cooperative Extension Services, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; 1996

*Venomous Snakes of Mississippi, [pamphlet]
Terry L. Vandeventer
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 1994 (free)

BIRDS

Birds and Birding on the Mississippi Coast
Toups, Judith A.; Jackson, Jerome A., and King, Dalton Shourds
University Press of Mississippi; 1987; 303 p.

*Birds of Mississippi
William H. Turcotte and David L. Watts
University Press of Mississippi, 1999

*A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 6th ed.
Roger Tory Peterson & Virginia Marie Peterson
Houghton Mifflin, 2010.  (Peterson Field Guide Series)

Guide to Birding Coastal Mississippi and Adjacent Counties
Toups, Judith A.; Bird, Jerry L., and Peterson, Stacy Jon.
Stackpole Books; 2004; 168 p.

Mississippi Bird Watching: A Year-Round Guide
Thompson, Bill.
Cool Springs Press; 2004; 165 p.

*National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Dunn, Jon L. and Jonathan Alderfer.
National Geographic; 6th Rev Updated edition, 2011;  576 pages.

*Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
Lee Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 2008

*The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
David Allen Sibley
Knopf, 2003

*The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd ed.
David Allen Sibley
Knopf; 2014

BIRD SOUNDS

*Backyard Bird Song [CD]
Richard K. Walton and R. W. Lawson
(Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin Co, 1991

*Birding by Ear: A Guide to Bird-Song Identification – Eastern and Central North America [CD]
R. K. Walton and R. W. Lawson
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin Co, 1989

Prothonotory warbler (photo by Bill Stripling)
Prothonotory warbler (photo by Bill Stripling)

Mississippi Bird Songs [CD]
William H. Turcotte
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 1985, 2008

TREES

A Field Guide to Eastern Trees: Eastern United States and Canada
Petrides, George A.; Wehr, Janet, and Petrides, George A.
Houghton Mifflin; 1988;  272 p.

Identification of Southeastern Trees in Winter
Preston, Richard Joseph
North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service; 1976; 113 p.

Mississippi Trees
Hodges, John D.; Evans, David L.; Garnett, Linda W., and Mississippi Forestry Commission.
Mississippi Forestry Commission; [200-?].(This book is free and updated every few years.)

Native Trees for Urban Landscapes in the Gulf South
Brzuszek, Robert F.
Crosby Arboretum; 1993; 11 p.

*Native Trees of the Southeast : an identification guide
Kirkman, L. Katherine; Brown, Claud L., and Leopold, Donald Joseph.
Timber Press; 2007; 370 p.

*The Sibley Guide to Trees
Sibley, David.
Knopf, 2009; 426p

*Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Louisiana
Charles M. Allen, Dawn Allen Newman, and Harry H. Winters.
Allen’s Native Ventures, 2002

*Trees of the Southeastern U. S.
Wilbur H. Duncan and Marion B. Duncan
University of Georgia  Press, 1988. Reprinted, 1992.

Trees of Mississippi : and other woody plants
Dukes, George H. and Stribling, Bob.
Poplar Petal Pub; [1997?]

WILDFLOWERS, MUSHROOMS, FERNS AND OTHER PLANTS

Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America
Turner, Nancy J. and Szczawinski, Adam F.
Timber Press; 1991; 311 p.

*A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms
Nancy S. Weber and A. H. Smith
University of Michigan, 1985

An Illustrated Guide to Tidal Marsh Plants of Mississippi and Adjacent States
Lionel Eleuterius
Pelican Press, 1990

Louisiana Ferns and Fern Allies  (out of print)
John W. Thieret
University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980

*Louisiana Wildflower Guide
Charles Allen, Ken Wilson, Harry Winters
Allen Native Ventures, 2011

A Mississippi Woodland Fern Portfolio
George H. Dukes, Jr.
Poplar Petal Publishers, 2002

Mushrooms of Mississippi: and Other Fungi and Protists
George H. Dukes, Jr.
Poplar Petal Publishers, 2000

*Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast : Landscaping Uses and Identification
Leonard E. Foote and Samuel B. Jones
Timber Press, 1989

*Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Louisiana
Charles M. Allen, Dawn Allen Newman, and Harry H. Winters.
Allen’s Native Ventures, 2002

Southeastern Flora
www.southeasternflora.com
A superior, searchable website done by John Gwaltney, Southeastern Flora is an online resource to assist you in identifying native or naturalized wildflowers you may find in the southeastern United States.  Currently there are over 1,980 species listed on this site and over 41,400 pictures to help you identify what you’re looking for.  You can easily identify trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants without knowing how to read a plant identification key. Simply define a few traits about your specimen, and the visual photo search results will help you narrow your selection to the exact species. Note the Plant Picks List, which is a valuable aid.

*Wildflowers of Mississippi
S. Lee Timme
University Press of Mississippi, 1989

Wildflowers of the Natchez Trace
S. Lee Timme and Cale C. Timme
University Press of Mississippi, 2000

REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS

The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana
Dundee, Harold A. and Rossman, Douglas A.
Louisiana State University Press; 1989; 300 p.

*A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America
Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins
(Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

*A Guide to Mississippi Frog Songs, [CD]
William H. Turcotte
MS Depart of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 1988

Mississippi Herpetology
Ren Lohoefener
MS State University Research Center, 1983 (Out of Print)

*Salamanders of the United States and Canada
Petranka, James W.
Smithsonian Institution Press; 1998, 587 p.

*Snakes of eastern North America
Ernst, Carl H. and Barbour, Roger William.
George Mason University Press; 1989; 282 p.

Snakes of North America: Eastern and Central Regions
Alan Tennant and R. D. Bartlett
Gulf Publishing Company, 2000

*Snakes of the Southeast
Whit Gibbons and Mick Dorcas
University of Georgia Press, 2005

*Turtles of the United States and Canada
Ernst, Carl H. and Lovich, Jeffrey E. 2nd ed.
Johns Hopkins University Press; 2009; 827 p.

*Venomous Snakes of Mississippi, [pamphlet]
Terry L. Vandeventer
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 1994 (free)

FISH

*A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes : North America North of Mexico. 2nd ed.
Brooks M. Burr, John Sherrod, Lawrence Page, E. Beckham, Justin Sipiorski, Joseph Tomelleri
(Peterson Field Guide)  Houghton Mifflin, 2011

*Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters
H. Dickson Hoese and Richard H. Moore
Texas A&M University Press, 1998

*Inland Fishes of Mississippi
Stephen T. Ross
University Press of Mississippi, 2001

MAMMALS

A Field Guide to Mammals of North America
Fiona A. Reid
(Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 4th ed., 2006

Black bears
Black bears

*Handbook of Mammals of the South-Central States
Jerry R. Choate, J. Knox Jones, Jr., and Clyde Jones
Louisiana State University Press, 1994

Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species
Mark Elbroch
Stackpole Books, 2003

The Marine Mammals of the Gulf of Mexico
Bernd Wursig, Thomas A. Jefferson and David J. Schmidly
Texas A & M University Press, 2000

Mississippi Land Mammals: Distribution, Identification, Ecological Notes
James L. Wolfe
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, 1971 (free)

*The Wild Mammals of Missouri
C. W. Schwartz and Elizabeth R. Schwartz
University of Missouri Press, 2001

INVERTEBRATES (divided into categories)

»Beetles

*Beetles of Eastern North America
Arthur Evans
Princeton University Press, 2014

»Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies and moths. 2nd ed.
Carter, David J. and Greenaway, Frank.
(Smithsonian handbooks series) New York: Dorling Kindersley; 2002; 304p.

*Butterflies and Moths : a guide to the more common American species
Mitchell, Robert T.; Zim, Herbert Spencer; Latimer, Jonathan P., and Nolting, Karen Stray.
Rev. and updated ed.
St. Martin’s Press; 2002; 160 p.

*Butterflies of Mississippi: a field checklist
Mather, Bryant and Dingus, Eve.
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; 1994. (free)

Butterflies of the East Coast : an observer’s guide
Cech, Rick  and Tudor, Guy.
Princeton University Press; 2005; 345 p.

Butterflies Through Binoculars
Jeffery Glassberg
Oxford University Press, 1993

*Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History
David Wagner
(Princeton Field Guide series) Princeton University Press, 2005

The Common Names of North American Butterflies
Miller, Jacqueline Y.
Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press; 1992; 177 p.

*A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies
Paul Opler, Vichai Malikul, Roger Tory Peterson
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

*Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America
David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 2012

*Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America
Amy Bartlett Wright
(Peterson First Guides) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

»Dragonfiles And Damselflies
Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East
Dennis Paulson
(Princeton Field Guide Series) Princeton University Press, 2012

*Dragonflies Through Binoculars: A Field and Finding Guide to Dragonflies of North America
Sidney W. Dunkle
Oxford University Press, 2000

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies
Blair Nikula and Jackie Sones
Little, Brown and Company, 2002

»Insects
*A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico
Richard White, Richard White, Donald Borror, Donald Borror.
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

*National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders
Milne and Milne
Knopf, 1980, 1996 992p.

*National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America
Arthur V. Evans
Chanticleer Press, 2007, 496p.

»Spiders
Common Spiders of North America
Richard A. Bradley
University of California Press, 2012

*A Guide to Spiders and Their Kin
Herbert W. Levi, Lorna R. Levi, Nicholas Strekalovsky.
Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press, 2001