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Experiencing my first tornado


The astonishing variety of birds in America
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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Another personal thing, it’s perhaps trivial but it, I think, illustrates the camaraderie in the department. I took a great interest in the birds of America. There’s an astonishing variety, as you know, of brightly coloured, big, small... even on campus, and it was a large campus with a lot of natural woodland in it. It was a continuous delight to find these. I had to buy books on spotting American birds and see if I could... and I saw at least 100 species, I suppose. But because of my interest it percolated down from staff to staff wives, and Andy Timnick’s wife was a keen bird-watcher and she said, ‘Would you like to join our bird- watching group, and I said, yes I’d love to do that. I didn’t quite understand the implications of it.

I was on... in a hall of residence which was only 100 metres from the chemistry department, so that was very handy. In those days, each room had a telephone which again was, of course, unheard of in an English college or a hall of residence, but I was happy to have the telephone there. I’ll say in a moment another reason why it was important. But one morning at four o’clock, Midge Timnick rang me up and she said, ‘Happy bird-watchers! Are you ready for an expedition?’ And so I said, ‘Yes, it’s only four o’clock’. She said, ‘Yes, I’ll be round in half-an-hour. We’re going to Mio, Michigan to spot a Kirtland warbler’. So I said, ‘Alright’. I’d never heard of a Kirtland warbler, but briefly a Kirtland warbler was a little bird that had been discovered by Kirtland in America. It was precisely the same as a little bird that had been discovered in the Bahamas a couple of thousand miles to the south in the Caribbean. One of them in their migration, as it turned out, had fallen down in Ohio and they then realised it was the same bird, but it’s such a remarkable bird, a little yellow breast and a lovely song, it only breeds in a little place near Mio, Michigan, nowhere else, and it breeds there because there are jack pines, a small type of pine tree, and it likes to build its nest about 10 metres, five to 10 metres above ground. So it needs saplings and there had over the centuries been periodic bush fires which burned down the trees, opened the pine cones which then sprout, grow up and, at the right height, the Kirtland warbler comes in and that’s the story of the Kirtland warbler. But we went there and we saw some other wonderful birds at the time. But that was the sort of thing for bird watching.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: USA, Mio, Michigan, Kirtland warbler, Bahamas, Caribbean, Ohio, Andrew Timnick

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011