My grandmother, Erma "Jonnie" Fisk
The Bird Lady
This picture hangs in the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth, Massachusetts, an institution for which my grandmother was a founding board member. "Amah" to us, and "Jonnie" to her many friends around the world, was an ornithologist. When she told children what her work was called, and they would invariably respond, with a quizzical look, "An ornith . . . huh?", she would lean down and say, "A bird lady, honey, a bird lady."
Her work with the Audobon Society included travels around the world. While working for the Nature Conservancy, she spent a winter by herself, occasionally provisioned by a friend who drove in to her isolated house from several hours away, beneath the Baboquivari Mountain Range in Arizona, banding birds and penning her book, "The Peacocks of Baboquivari". She wrote five books, including a primer on bird banding.
She was instrumental in the development and preservation of the Cape Cod National Seashore. In what turns out to be an apocryphal story, I've been told that she enlisted her grandchildren as "posts" for her least tern studies. I heard she made Molly, in particular, stand on the beach until one landed on her head, but Molly says that never happened!
That story may have come about because of George, the rescue barn owl in the picture. My cousin Sarah remembers: "'He was six starved inches of honey-colored fluff when he was brought to me', is the opening line of the article my grandmother wrote in The Florida Naturalist in 1971." Sarah has another photo of George perched on Amah's head, eating what appears to be a snake.
After a happy marriage, my grandfather and namesake, Bradley Fisk, left her widowed at 55. She woke up one day to watch the birds in her yard, as she often did, and decided to become an ornithologist. She spent the next 30 years living in Florida and South Orleans, Cape Cod. Her son, Brad Fisk, my mother's brother, lived next door to her on the Cape, in a house overlooking Arey's Pond, where he owned and operated the Arey's Pond Boat Yard. If you drove in to see him, you might well find him smoking a pipe and hand-carving a tiller on his porch above the pond.
Among many other stories and remembrances, I'll mention only one other accolade: a few years back, the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad and Tobago named a building after her.
It pained her greatly to see the ways that human encroachment impacted bird populations, migrations and habitat. She didn't like that. She also didn't like blue jays.
Though my grandmother, Erma "Jonnie" Fisk, died in 1990, when I went into the Manomet Center last week in search of this photograph and introduced myself as Johnnie Fisk's grandson, broad and loving smiles overtook everyone's faces, and the kindest and most endearing of tributes to her memory poured forth, unsolicited.
Contact me to sell your home or to arrange a private showing of any home for sale on the South Shore.
View all the homes for sale on the South Shore of Massachusetts at South Shore homes for sale.