In 40 years of chasing birds worldwide, Robbins has amassed more than 11,000 field recordings of avian vocalizations—birdsongs—every one now in the Macaulay, where they make up 3 percent of the Cornell University library’s recordings.
Researchers use the sounds to study many scientific topics, including how climate change is affecting bird ranges. That’s the subject of recent investigations that tapped some of Robbins’ first recordings, of chickadees, made in 1978.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction that you’re adding to the science,” says Robbins, who has discovered six new species and had one—the Ecuadorian Tapaculo (Scytalopus robbinsi)—named for him.
But there are personal rewards, too.
“I got into this as a kid, long before I appreciated the science,” says the longtime bird lover. “Migration still brings me to my knees: That on a spring day in May you get a south wind and overnight all these birds who’ve been migrating for two months from the Amazon basin show up in your backyard—I love that. It gives you a whole different perspective on the life of the planet.”
Indeed, it’s good to know there are still some tweets that can set the heart aflutter.
Listen to the bird calls below:
A popular bird with birdwatchers and sportsmen, “gentleman Bob” as he’s known in some parts, is easily identified by his distinctive two-noted whistle. An inhabitant of field and wood edge, the ground-dwelling quail has suffered major population declines in recent decades. The lovely song heard in the background of this recording is the Field Sparrow.
Despite its state-specific name, Kentucky Warblers are found as a breeder across the eastern United States and as far west as eastern Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. This one was recorded at the Fitch Natural History Reservation on the KU Field Station, the University’s biological field station north of Lawrence.
Black-billed Mountain Toucan
A denizen of the montane cloud forests in the Andes of South America from Venezuela south to Peru, Black-billed Mountain Toucans are known to range over long distances when foraging.
The safari vehicles—sturdy Toyota Land Cruisers with pop-up roofs that let us stand and drink in the vast panorama of grass and sky surrounding us—were circled up on a dusty Serengeti track, miles from civilization but mere yards from a parade of elephants tearing into an acacia thorn bush with ravenous gusto. We were close enough to hear the crunching of every leafy, spikey bite.
Rowe McKinley, e’70, b’71, one of 16 Flying Jayhawks on the “Tanzania Safari During the Great Migration,” grinned and called out what many of us were thinking at that moment and many others on the February trip: “Just like in Kansas, right?”
Yes, a journey halfway around the world to the African savannah produced surprising echoes of life back home. Bouncing across Serengeti National Park on roads that ran from gravel to mud to faint two-track paths at times felt a little like driving in the Kansas Flint Hills. Except this sea of grass is larger—12,000 square miles spread across Tanzania and Kenya, compared to 9,900 in Kansas and Oklahoma—and mostly flatter, with vast, treeless open plains broken only by the occasional kopje, rock outcroppings of 500-million-year-old granite that are favored perches of the big cats that call Serengeti home.
Much, much more common, though, were other-worldly moments of awe.
The big cats—lions and leopards—had a lot to do with that. Along with the African elephant, the Cape buffalo and the black rhinoceros, they make up the “Big Five,” the exotic bucket-list quintet that big-game hunters coined to highlight the five toughest animals to hunt on foot in Africa. We were shooting only with our cameras, but the Big Five still loomed as must-see fauna, and our guides made sure that crossing paths with each was at the top of their to-do lists.
We knew we were living charmed lives when we spotted the toughest get on that list—the shy, mostly nocturnal leopard—less than an hour after we arrived in the park. Guides often spend their last day with a tour group trying to hustle up a leopard encounter; we were still shaking off the dust of our bush flight, buzzing from our first wildlife sighting (a bulky antelope called a topi) from the tiny airstrip’s terminal, when an excited burst of Swahili on the Toyota’s shortwave alerted our guide, Neiman, that elusive chui was lounging in a tree not far up the road. And just like that—after 20-plus hours of flight time across three continents, a couple of bus rides and short bush-plane hop—we found ourselves hot on the trail in a surefire African safari.
Over the next week we saw three more leopards, countless lions (including a mating pair that fulfilled their biological imperative with complete disregard for the giggling gaggle of spying tourists), and dozens of elephants ranging from massive solitary bulls to large clans of cows and calves. Alerted by vultures dropping from the sky, we converged on a pair of cheetahs lounging in the shade, their bellies swollen from feasting on a young eland whose parents retreated forlornly in the distance. We intercepted the great migration of wildebeests and zebra and sat idling like drivers at a rail crossing, watching as long trains of the grazers moving in search of fresh grass rumbled across the road in front of us. Somehow, amid a teeming swirl of thousands of the animals, we were able to focus on one wildebeest as she gave birth and, within minutes, nudged her newborn to its feet.
As the days passed, we grew adept at identifying the many, many different African antelope, from the dog-sized dik-dik to the massive waterbuck and the ubiquitous impala. We spotted a few solitary black rhinos and great herds of Cape buffalo, including one bull that nearly crashed our al fresco dinner when a ranger chased him away from the swimming pool, where he and a mate had come to drink. Side-trips to Olduvai Gorge, a Maasai village and the Kibaoni Primary School, where Jayhawks donated more than 30 pounds of school supplies, put us in touch with Tanzania’s human culture, both ancient and current. And back at the lodges after a long dusty day on the safari trail, we gratefully accepted the warm hospitality of our hosts and the good company of our fellow travelers, who included groups from Johns Hopkins and Ole Miss. The dark nights occasionally rang with the calls of baboons and lions, and a skyful of stars—some familiar, some unknown to us—lit our way.
On our first night at the Serengeti Serena Lodge, one of five lodges and hotels we stayed at on the 12-day trip, we gathered for a welcome reception on a terrace overlooking a beautiful valley where the sun was setting behind green hills. We watched as a local band serenaded Fred, e’67, and Juilane Chana, d’68, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. On our last night there, the lodge treated us to a surprise barbecue, in recognition, our Gohagan tour director Lydian Eijsbouts related, that we were “a special group, always smiling and happy.” As we lingered after dinner under the cooling night sky, in the flickering light of bonfires set to create a festive mood (and to ward off the very real threat of marauding wildlife), we could hear a chorus of many singing voices coming nearer and nearer. Soon a line of lodge staff—bartenders and waiters and chefs in their tall white toques—paraded into our gathering, serenading us with a Tanzanian song as they passed around a cake festooned with a single Swahili word: Kwa heri. Goodbye.
As the song faded away, a lone voice piped up with a familiar refrain. Slowly at first, and then with gusto, the whole table joined in. “Rock chalk, Jayhawk” rang out across the African night, as our hosts smiled in surprise. We hadn’t really understood the words of their song, and likely they were mystified by ours. But the feeling behind both was clear enough: The world is full of wonders, and aren’t we lucky that, together, we’ve shared a few.
The Flying Jayhawks trip to Tanzania took place Feb. 1-12, 2018, and was hosted by Steven Hill, associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. View more pictures from the trip on Flickr. Pictures may be downloaded for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
Rod Ernst, third-generation owner of the iconic downtown Lawrence hardware store Ernst & Son, died Jan. 23, the store announced today on its Facebook page. Ernst is the subject of a feature story in the current issue of Kansas Alumni. He was 84.
Ernst began working summers at 12 and became a full partner in 1961. For many years the three generations worked side by side in the Mass Street store, which Philip Ernst Sr. opened in 1905.
“The store was what he did, and he did it to the very end,” said Gregg Anderson, ’81, who began working for Rod Ernst as a KU student and returned to work part-time at the store after a long career in the hardware industry. “He could have retired and sold out, but he chose to keep doing his family’s work.”
Anderson added that Ernst’s definition of “family” was expansive; it took in employees past and present, including the dozens of KU students he hired over the decades.
“It was a foot up for kids who wanted to go to school. If you had a big test, Rod had no problem with you sitting at the front desk looking at notes between customers, and he took an interest in what you were doing,” Anderson said. “A lot of them never lost contact; they’re still part of the hardware family.”
Visitation will be from 2 to 4 Sunday, Jan. 28, at Warren-McElwain funeral home in Lawrence, and the funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 29, at First United Methodist, 10th and Vermont.
Read Steven Hill’s feature about Ernst for Kansas Alumni magazine below.
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Wendell Castle, Nirvana (chair), 2007, Gift of Wendell Castle, 2013.0216
Wendell Castle, f’58, g’66, a sculptor hailed as the founding father of the American art furniture movement, died Saturday at his home in Scottsville, NY. He was 85.
Castle used sculptural techniques to creature modernist tables, benches, lamps, coat racks and clocks that were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Spencer Museum of Art and dozens of other venues, pioneering a new art form that applied the techniques of modern sculpture to furniture-making. Two of Castle’s works, a KU-blue chair titled “Nirvana” and a sculpture called “Hanging in the Balance,” are on view in the Spencer’s permanent galleries.
In 2015 the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City organized an exhibition that paired Castle’s early 1960s pieces with new work, highlighting the restless, inventive creativity that drove him throughout his 60-year career always to strive to accomplish something new.
“There have been times when I made something that has been very successful, and there would be buyers out there if I wanted to make a lot of them,” Castle told Kansas Alumni on the eve of the exhibition. “But I don’t want to make a lot of them. I want to move right on. … I don’t believe it’s true art if there’s no risk.”
The Emporia native returned to campus several times over the years, including in 2013, when he received an honorary Doctor of Arts from KU, and in 2008, when the Spencer organized an exhibition of his curious, whimsical clocks: “Wendell Castle: About Time.” The showstopper was a bell-shaped aluminum piece with a motor inside that caused it to roll slowly on the floor, tracing a complete circle every 12 hours.
“Because the sculpture is not perfectly round and the surface it rolls on is never perfectly flat, the piece occasionally encounters resistance, like a wheel caught in a rut,” Kansas Alumni reported. “At such moments the sculpture must build momentum to overcome that resistance, and it rocks in place before lurching forward.”
“It illustrates, in a primitive kind of way, one of Einstein’s thoughts about time, that time moves in fits and starts,” Castle said. “We all know that: If you’re waiting for something time takes forever. If you’re having a great time, time flies.”
The Spencer Museum of Art published this video in 2013 in anticipation of Castle’s honorary Doctor of Arts degree. In the video, Castle discusses his decision to study art at the University of Kansas. For more coverage of Castle and his achievements, click here.
Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia and recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, received an honorary doctorate from KU tonight at the Lied Center.
Chancellor Doug Girod and former Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little participated in a hooding ceremony that awarded Santos, b’73, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for “outstanding contributions to achieving peace in his country and the world.”
Elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, Santos won the Nobel Prize for helping broker a peace agreement that ended the civil war that ravaged Colombia for 54 years, killing more than 220,000 and displacing nearly 6 million. The Colombian government and FARC rebels signed a peace deal in November 2016 that was ratified a week later by Colombia’s Congress.
“This added, obviously, to the immense pride those of us at KU and alumni around the world felt for our fellow Jayhawk,” Girod said. “His success also really highlights the efforts of our own faculty, students, staff and alumni in our efforts to make this campus a welcoming place for students from around the world.”
“I am very humbled and deeply moved to be standing here before you all to receive this degree from my beloved alma mater, where I graduated 44 years ago,” Santos said. He credited his brother, Luis, j’70, then attending the William Allen White School of Journalism, for his decision in 1969 to attend KU. “He wrote to me, saying that this was a great university and that I would love it. And I did. Since then I have been a proud Jayhawk, and I shall always be to the end of my days.”
Santos is the 15th person to receive an honorary degree since KU began awarding them in 2012.
Joanna Slusky, a KU assistant professor of computational biology and molecular biosciences who won a Moore Inventor Fellowship for her work designing a protein that could help stem antibiotic resistance, was named today as the recipient of a $2.3 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Slusky’s work in protein design, the subject of a cover story in the current issue of Kansas Alumni, led to her involvement in the University’s successful 2016 bid to land an $11 million, five-year NIH grant that established the KU Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE): Chemical Biology of Infectious Disease. Asked to contribute research on antibiotic resistance, Slusky turned to a protein she’d invented—dubbed S1245—and stored in a freezer in her lab. After initial tests proved encouraging, she expanded the research to focus on E. coli bacteria with funding from the $825,000 Moore Fellowship.
The New Innovator Award, part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects. Slusky says the grant will allow her to expand her focus from E. coli to other bacterial infections which have similar methods of antibiotic resistance.
“The Moore project is really focused on, ‘Let’s make something,’” Slusky says. “The way that this New Innovator Award is structured, it gives me the ability to really explore the science that’s causing this to happen, so that we can use it potentially for other things as well. The science behind this kind of protein-protein interaction should be useful for other inventions that would be against antibiotic resistance, specifically other inventions that might be useful for other types of bacteria, for other types of antibiotic resistance that we could expand into.”
The increasing resistance of harmful bacteria to antibiotic drugs is a growing problem worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2 million people in the United States become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die from these infections. Worldwide, the death toll from drug resistance in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis is 700,000. A 2014 British study projected that by 2050 10 million people will die each year because of increasing resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs, surpassing the death rate from cancer.
The scientists behind that study also compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and Slusky has theorized that six of the 10 should be susceptible to a protein like S1245. “So far, with the Moore work, we’ve only been playing with one of the six,” Slusky says. “Now we can say, let’s try to generalize this so that we could see if we can impact six of ten.”
Can a professor’s invention turn the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Read “The Protein in the Freezer,” a feature story on Joanna Slusky’s research from Kansas Alumni magazine, issue no. 5, 2017.
Back in 1989, when Frank, c’75, and Jayni Carey published The Kansas Cookbook: Recipes from the Heartland, people who grew their own vegetables, bought meat from a local rancher or favored the village diner over corporate chain restaurants most likely weren’t called locavores or foodies. A lot has changed since then, and in their long-awaited follow-up, The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table, the Careys share 220 recipes that highlight this “new twist on the way we cook.”
Reflecting the growing popularity of “farm-to-table” and local, seasonal cuisine, The New Kansas Cookbook updates traditional homemade favorites like vegetable beef soup, chicken and noodles and apple strudel while also tapping the expertise of the growing ranks of Kansas chefs, bakers and brewers with dishes that showcase local products. Standouts include Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat Maple Bread (it features a popular beer from Manhattan’s Tallgrass Brewing Company, not bison perspiration) and Chestnut Cornbread Dressing, which uses as its chief ingredient the distinctive nuts grown by Chestnut Charlies of Lawrence.
Whether drawn from chefs or home cooks or from the Careys (who together published two other cookbooks; collaborated on Jayni’s local television cooking show, “Jayni’s Kitchen”; and contributed a feature story to the summer food issue of Kansas Alumni), the recipes show how today’s Kansas cooks embrace ethnic cuisines, sophisticated cooking techniques and ingredients both exotic and local. A particularly apt example is Grandmother Quillec’s Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Prunes, which adapts a family recipe from the Provence region of France that has long been a staple of Café Provence, a Kansas City bistro named one of the Top 100 restaurants in the United States by OpenTable and best overall restaurant in Kansas City by Zagat. Pork tenderloin, a Midwestern staple, combines with Port wine and special French prunes in a dish inspired by family tradition and refined by the creativity of a respected chef. Mix that inclusive approach to cooking with the lively features on Kansas people and foodways that the Careys sprinkle throughout, add a heaping helping of artful illustrations drawn by Kansas artist Louis Copt, ’96, and you have a recipe for a delightful cookbook that serves up a full menu of delectable dishes, from every-day to special occasion.
The New Kansas Cookbook, by Frank and Jayni Carey with illustrations by Louis Copt, is published by the University Press of Kansas and is available for $29.95.
When a Houston woman needed white blood cells to help her complete an intense round of chemotherapy, her family and friends put out a plea for donors. Answering the call were members of the Alumni Association’s Houston Network, who rallied to her aid after a notice was posted to their Facebook group by alumna and family friend Natalie Bogan Morgan, j’06.
Lois Coots, a former Kansan who lives now in Houston, was diagnosed in 2009 with a form of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) that later developed into leukemia. While at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston undergoing an intensive 30-day round of chemotherapy in October, Coots developed an infection and learned that she needed white blood cells before she could finish the treatment.
“It was an emergency situation,” says Morgan, who lived in Houston before recently moving to Overland Park. “She has two daughters, and they figured they’d donate and drum up other people and it would be fine. But one by one people just kept getting rejected.”
White blood cells have a short shelf life and donors must meet strict matching requirements. Doctors told the family they needed to line up 10 donors, but after exhausting their personal contacts they had found only one match.
Jayhawk calls for help
Watching the health crisis unfold from Kansas, Morgan—a close friend of Kyra Coots, Lois’s daughter—posted a heartfelt plea for donors on her Facebook page. Longtime friend Nick Kallail, assistant vice president of alumni programs and career services for KUAA, saw the message and suggested that she post it to the Houston Network’s Facebook group.
“I was like, Nat, you’ve got a built-in family who love you; blast that Houston group and they’ll jump on it,” says Kallail, d’04, l’07, who was a Houston Network volunteer before joining the Association staff. “It’s a great group and everyone’s always willing to help. It’s just a great combination: You’ve got Jayhawk family and Houston hospitality.”
“That was the tipping point,” Morgan says. “People who didn’t know this family just dropped what they were doing and called to set up appointments. I put the call out on a Thursday night, and several Jayhawks were there by 11 a.m. the next morning going through the screening. It was so uplifting.”
Sorority members step up
Among those responding was a group of Alpha Delta Pi alumni led by Jane Johnston Mumey, j’86, a Houston attorney. Less than 15 minutes after Morgan’s post hit the Houston Network page, Mumey wrote to say that she and her sorority sisters could report to MD Anderson immediately, because they are already screened white-cell donors.
“This was perfect for us, because so many of our members are pre-screened for the Ronald McDonald House,” Mumey says. Alpha Delta Pi’s Houston alumni group volunteers extensively at the city’s Ronald McDonald House, which supports families of critically ill children, donating blood, white cells and platelets when needed. “Within hours we had four women from our group who were already pre-screened” and ready to donate, Mumey says. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to do that.”
Only days after Morgan posted her request with the Houston Network, the family lined up the needed 10 donors. “It would not have happened if so many Jayhawks had not jumped in to do it,” Morgan says. “Six or seven of the donors that we knew of were Jayhawks. The family was just blown away. I think it just says a lot about the University and it just says a lot about the Jayhawk family after you graduate.”
Mumey seconds that notion.
“I knew Jayhawks would do that. We’ve all stuck together. And to be far away from campus, to have that feeling that this happened, when we’re all the way down here—I don’t think all groups respond like that. We really have a lot of spirit and it doesn’t stop when we graduate.”
A happy outcome
Thanks to the donated cells, Kyra Coots says, her mother was able to finish her chemotherapy and return home. She returned for a second round of chemo last week, and Kyra says the family takes comfort in knowing that—should complications arise again—they’ve got a list of willing donors who have their back.
“Before Natalie started helping me, we only had one person confirmed,” Kyra says. “It was a low point, because you’re thinking to yourself, How am I going to find nine people if the dozens and dozens of people who said they’d do it were turned away? I myself was turned away. It’s a very helpless feeling, knowing you can’t do anything.
“When Natalie’s friend suggested she post it on the Jayhawk board, I was like, Wow, that’s a great idea. These people definitely don’t know my mom, they may not even know Natalie, but we’ll see if they respond. The response was overwhelming. You can’t put into words—you want to thank all these people, you want to hug them, you want to get to know them and say thank you, but I just think they’ll never realize the magnitude of how it touched our family and how it saved her life.”
Becky Mandelbaum, c’13, is the winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the University of Georgia Press announced this week.
A graduate of the KU English department and winner of the Lawrence Arts Center’s Langston Hughes Creative Writing award in 2013, Mandelbaum will receive $1,000 and have her short story collection, Bad Kansas, published by the press in fall 2017.
Established in 1983 to bring the work of gifted emerging writers to a national readership, the Flannery O’Connor Award is regarded as a major showcase for short story writers. Previous winners have included alumnae Antonya Nelson, c’83, (The Expendables, 1989) and Kelly Wells, j’86, c’89, (Compression Scars, 2002). The award is named for the late fiction writer Flannery O’Connor, a Georgia native.
“This shows major promise in her career, and I think to many of us at KU it’s not a surprise,” says Laura Moriarty, s’93, g’99, associate professor of English, who taught Mandelbaum in her graduate-level writing workshop while Mandelbaum was still an undergraduate. “We knew she was going places and an award of this magnitude shows we were right. She worked with a lot of people and has many, many fans in the KU English department, and we were absolutely thrilled that she got this kind of award. It’s a huge honor.”
“What’s most impressive about this collection of stories, in which Kansas is as much a metaphor for dislocation and disconnection as it is a state, is that Ms. Mandelbaum has us fretting about matters worth the bother,” says fiction writer Lee K. Abbott, Flannery O’Connor series editor. “What lines we dare not cross, how deep love can cut, what to stop wishing for, when to worry that the world is wobbling out of round, and why we tell the lies we must. Hers are characters riven by need, kids and adults about to go which-away toward a betimes terrible self-knowledge. Bad Kansas is so good it hurts.”
Putting together an entire magazine devoted to food and drink has been great fun for us at Kansas Alumni, and we’ve heard (through the grapevine, mostly) that our look at cuisines past, present and future in issue No. 4 has been a big hit with readers as well. We’d love to hear that feedback directly from you: If a story from the current issue jogged a food memory or whetted your appetite for more culinary adventure, email us a note at email@example.com.
Of course, culinary topics have long been an abiding interest of ours. The adventure, passion and life’s work that food so often inspires seems to produce a cornucopia of fascinating characters and tasty storylines, which we’ve happily celebrated in our pages over the years. Here are a few of our food favorites from issues past. Enjoy!