Chautauqua County is promoting itself as the "World's Learning Center," and nothing better exemplifies that ambition than the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown.
Located on 27 wooded acres with hiking trails, the institute at 311 Curtis St. is the home of the collected works of Jamestown naturalist Roger Tory Peterson. He authored and illustrated the first practical field guide to the birds of eastern North America in 1934. Before his death at age 87 on July 28, 1996, Peterson crafted 53 nature guides, including volumes on wildflowers, trees and shrubs, insects, fish, geology, astronomy, and reptiles and amphibians.
"Nature education is our only mission," explained James M. Berry, president of the Peterson Institute. "We want to teach teachers and other nature educators like Scoutmasters and church group leaders how to share the wonders of the natural world by providing them with training resources, teaching methods, lesson plans and an award-winning Web site (www.rtpi.org)."
To honor Peterson's legacy, the institute is holding the second annual RTP Birding Festival this week, Thursday through June 13. The festival kicks off at 7 a.m. with the Whirlwind Warbler Tour, led by U.S. Forest Service ornithologist Scott Stoleson in the Allegheny National Forest. Registration for the festival is $20, with other activities a la carte; the tour, transportation and lunch cost $40.
On Thursday evening, Berry will unveil some rare pieces of art and memorabilia from the Peterson Collection, followed by a presentation by Florida Gulf Coast University wildlife ecologist Jerome A. Jackson on "The Ivory-billed Woodpecker." A controversy arose in 2004 over an alleged Arkansas sighting of a male of this possibly extinct bird and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service now says it is believed the bird still exists. The 7 p.m. reception and lecture cost $25.
Friday's activities include a number of birding field trips that cost $15, followed by a screening of "Galapagos, Wild Eden," a film by Peterson that has not been seen in 40 years. It was recently digitally remastered by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Admission is $10 to the 7 p.m. screening in the Scharmann Theater on the Jamestown Community College Campus, which is adjacent to the institute.
"We have arranged modestly priced festival housing at JCC," said Berry. "Visitors can stay in a dorm suite with continental breakfast for $50, or $90 for a couple." Reservations can be made at the RTPI Web site or by calling 665-2473.
The sex lives and social antics of birds are the topic of a banquet speech Saturday by Bridget Stutchbury, a biology professor from York University in Toronto. She is the author of "The Private Lives of Birds," which explains the science behind the surprisingly sophisticated and often amusing behavior of birds. The lively dinner talk, costing $30, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Hamilton Center at JCC.
Sunday's activities include a free bird-banding demonstration from 7 a.m. to noon, a self-guided tour of the woodlands surrounding the institute from 7 to 10 a.m. ($5), a guided tour of the Peterson Collection with archivist Marlene Mudge from 9 a.m. to noon ($15) and a walking tour of Peterson's old birding haunts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ($10).
>The bird building
The three-story RTP center, which opened in 1993, is a beautiful and inviting place to learn. It was designed by "modern traditionalist" Yale architect Robert A.M. Stern, who sought to reflect the region's natural elements, industrial past and cultural legacy.
Resembling an Adirondack lodge, the structure incorporates tree trunks and glacial granite stones, Swedish woodworkers-style board-and-batten wooden siding in pastel colors, and pounded-brass Arts and Crafts carriage lamps and chandeliers.
The inside is filled with warm, natural light, a Roycroft table from East Aurora, Gustav Stickley mission oak chairs and the Peterson Collection of 200,000 color slides, 600 reels of documentary film, 120 cubic feet of personal papers preserved in acid-free conditions, 10,000 volumes of books, journals and magazines, 300 limited-edition lithographs and 1,200 original works of art, including the gorgeous color plates used to illustrate his nature guides.
Of special interest to nature educators and amateur ornithologists are drawers and drawers filled with preserved birds and a small collection of extinct species. "I think of these specimens as 'CSI for Birds,' " explained Berry. "They offer forensic evidence of what individual birds existed in a particular place at a particular time. Like trees, birds are rooted in a specific territory, so these study skins can reveal what type of bird was once living in what now may be a vanishing habitat, covered over with asphalt or an old factory."
The preserved species, which can be viewed by appointment, are also a great original source for aviary artists to check the accuracy of plumage colors and body proportions. Children also can get their hands on such things as the wing of a great horned owl in the center's Discovery Room. Also available are children's nature books, coloring books and 10 pairs of binoculars for observing the feeding station just outside the window.
Outside, there is a nature trail with a self-guided tour and two gardens -- butterfly and botanical -- maintained by local garden clubs.
>The art of nature
"Peterson was a prolific artist and we invite nationally known contemporary nature artists to exhibit their works in our galleries," said Berry. "Seeing the Trees: Gouache and Oil Paintings by Thomas Paquette" is on view through July 11. Using opaque pigments ground in water, Paquette captured scenes of wooded areas surrounding the institute in his vivid watercolors. His work has been described as "combining a realist's view with an impressionist's use of color."
From July 17 through Aug. 19, metal sculptor Mary Taylor will present "Nature From Steel and Bronze." Her three-dimensional wildlife pieces include peregrine falcons, northern flickers, a 5-foot-tall giraffe, an 8-inch ladybug and other woodland creatures in welded steel and cast bronze.
The institute will host a meet-the-artist reception with Taylor at 6 p.m. July 22, combined with the first annual "RTPI Wine and Dine Benefit." Guest chef is Jamestown native Cesca Wellman of the Hess Collection Winery in Napa, Calif. The cost for the food and wine pairings is $60 per person.
If you go:
The RTP Institute is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday and closed Monday; (800) 758-6841 or www.rtpi.org. Admission: $5 adults, $3 children and $12 family.
A $25 "Ticket to Jamestown" allows admission to the Peterson Institute and six other area attractions for one price. The ticket is valid for one year and includes Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, Audubon Nature Center, Robert H. Jackson Center, Fenton History Center, Reg Lenna Civic Center and a "free skate" at Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena. Call 664-6256 to order tickets.
If you don't wish to stay in the JCC dorms, the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Hotel, 1103 W. Third St., Jamestown, is a neat castlelike accommodation run by Joe Haight and retired Jamestown pediatrician Dick Lisciandro. Its 10 restored rooms have four-poster beds, carved wardrobes, simulated fireplaces and private baths with original 1930 pictorial ceramic tiles. The B&B is a short walk down an oak tree-lined street from downtown Jamestown. Rooms range from $130 to $140, including full breakfast; 720-5267 or www.theoaksbandbhotel.com.
Another handy downtown two-bedroom suite with breakfast (and dinner) is Maison MacDuff, located above MacDuff's restaurant at 317 Pine St. The eatery's chef/owners, Gary and Donna Templin, restored the 1873 townhouse with dark wood beam ceilings. MacDuff's is named after the family's West Highland terrier. News restaurant reviewer Janice Okun gave 3 1/2 stars to their European-style menu. Room and breakfast for two cost $100, or $380 for a room for two nights, dinner and two "Ticket to Jamestown" passes; 664-9414 or www.macduffsrestaurant.com.
For a lighter lunch fare, there is another downtown cafe with a canine connection, Cooper's Cyber Cafe at 100 E. Third St. Animal lovers Bob and Sally Szustakowski also named their deli after the family pooch and call their hot and cold sandwiches ($3.50 to $8.50) by various dog breed names. Tips are donated to the Chautauqua County Humane Society ($5,513 this year so far) and the walls are covered with photos of dogs available for adoption; 338-0344 or www.cooperscybercafe.com.