Natural History Theatre: Episode I

Documerica was an initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency that employed freelance photographers to capture environmental scenes in their own backyards. Between 1971 and 1977, citizen naturalists documented urban pollution, national parks, folklore traditions, farming, wetland ecosystems, forests and everyday life in the 1970s.

Inspired by Documeria, Natural History Theatre will interpret a photograph from the vintage collection in each episode of the series.

Scene: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, May 1973. Two bird-watchers gaze toward the West Pond.

Jamaica bay birdwatchers june 1973

Girl: “I don’t know, Carl. I’m looking at a duck, sort of brownish, with a light-colored bill. It’s paddling past that clump of grass. See it?

Guy: [looks through binoculars] Yeah—[squints]

Girl: What do you think it is? [Flips through Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification] OK, I’m going to say ruddy duck. But wait, it’s not that small. Um, widgeon? I’m gonna go with an American widgeon.

Guy: Baloney, Pam. You can clearly see the dark head stripe. It’s most likely a green-winged teal.

Girl: Carl, those are listed as “rare” in this season. What are the chances some stray teal found its way to Queens and just thought, “I was on my way to Boca but heck, I’ll just relax here?”

Guy: All I know is, that’s not a widgeon. [peevishly lights cigarette and peers through binoculars again]

Several minutes pass.

Guy: OK, you’re right. It’s a widgeon. That’s just terrific.


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