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Ice Finch Discovered By 14-Year-Old

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 17th, 2008

White-winged Diuca-Finch (Diuca speculifera) (This beautiful photograph is by RGibbo.)

Spencer Hardy.

Wilson Ring of the Associated Press has documented the remarkable story of 14-year-old Spencer Hardy whose work was pivotal in the discovery of the first bird other than a penguin to incubate their eggs on glacier ice.

University of Massachusetts Amherst geoscientist, Douglas Hardy, and his son Spencer, 14, stand at their home in Norwich, Vt., Tuesday, Nov. 11 , 2008, where the pair has recently received some attention after reporting what may be the first well documented evidence of a bird other than a penguin nesting directly on ice, in the Andes Mountains. Photo by Alden Pellett.

The white-winged diuca finch nest on the Quelccaya Ice Cap of Peru. The finch is among the highest-elevation nesting birds in the Western Hemisphere, if not the highest, at about 5,300 meters or more than 17,000 feet. Photo by Douglas Hardy.

A scholarly article on the white-winged diuca finch lists co-author Spencer P. Hardy’s affiliation as Marion W. Cross School. The word “Elementary” was dropped.

But to the ornithological world, the age of now 14-year-old Spencer Hardy is irrelevant to the phenomenon he helped document on a high-altitude ice field, in a mountain range he’s never visited, thousands of miles from his Vermont home: the first well-documented case in the world of a species other than penguins successfully nesting on the ice of a glacier.

“It gives you some idea of the adaptations that birds have undergone to utilize all spaces, all the niches that are out there, from living in Death Valley to living at 18,000 feet in the Andes in Peru,” said Wilson Journal Editor Clait Braun, of Tucson, Ariz., who published the paper by Spencer and his scientist father in September.

It wasn’t until Braun was finalizing the paper with the Hardys and he asked for the academic pedigree of Spencer that he found out the boy’s age. “I was pretty well stunned,” said Braun.

“We don’t get very many papers from people like that,” he said. He says most authors are graduate students or even older birders. Spencer’s co-author was his father Douglas, a glacier specialist with the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The journal itself was founded more than a century ago by young bird enthusiasts, Braun said. But by young, Braun meant men in their late teens and early 20s.

Spencer, who’s been interested in birds since he stared at flocks from his high chair, is now a ninth grader at Hanover (N.H.) High School, where he studies traditional high school science and other subjects. The birding is done outside school.

He seems unfazed by the attention his birding skills are bringing him.

“It’s a neat experience. I don’t have anything to compare it against,” Spencer said. “Hopefully, it will be one of many to come.”

His fascination with birds evolved into real-life study. At 6 or 7, he was working with established birders on local bird counts and breeding surveys.

Since he couldn’t drive, his parents had to take him where he needed to go, getting his parents involved, too.

His father started visiting the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru in 2003 as part of his work to help get a long-term climate history through dust trapped over the centuries in the ice at about 18,000 feet above sea level.

It was Spencer’s fascination with birds that led the elder Hardy to take pictures of every bird he saw in Peru.

After Douglas Hardy came home, Spencer would pore over the photos and use bird books to identify the species.

It was during that process that Douglas Hardy started noticing the nests on the ice. So the Hardys shared their findings with Norwich neighbor George Clark, a retired biologist from the University of Connecticut who has helped groom the young ornithologist.

Then they had to figure out which species made the nests.

“We got it down to two species, mainly from the size (of the nests) and what was around and abundant in the area,” Spencer said.

A feather expert at the Smithsonian Institution made the link to the finches.

“The discovery of this is really kind of a new frontier,” said Clark. “Physically, we think much of the globe has been covered… This is an area that people just haven’t visited.”

Two years ago, Douglas Hardy queried the Wilson Journal about a paper on the ice birds. He didn’t make an effort to list Spencer as a co-author until after he spoke with professional birders, who persuaded him that given Spencer’s level of input, he merited a co-author tag.

“My first step was to go to the editor and say, ‘I want to be totally honest with you, he’s my son, I can’t see objectively about this,'” Douglas Hardy said.

But Braun said the science – and Spencer’s contribution to it – was sound.

“It’s just not the casual person who can pick this stuff up and turn it into scientific prose,” Braun said. “Spencer deserves a lot of credit to get his Dad to get more information and then helping his Dad get it turned into a scientific paper.”

When the paper was finalized there was some discussion about which of Spencer’s schools should be listed. They chose the school he attended when the journal first accepted the paper, the Norwich elementary school.

Spencer’s birding is done outside his school, but he says his future, without a doubt, includes the formal study of ornithology. Source.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


7 Responses to “Ice Finch Discovered By 14-Year-Old”

  1. planettom responds:

    Great find and kudos to the father son duo.

    My father is a bird watcher and the older I get, the more I appreciate it.

  2. Artist responds:

    CONGRATULATIONS, Douglas and son Spencer Hardy!!

    Working in the finges of Science does have its moments. Good Luck in your future career, Spencer – let your dreams, like those little Diuca Speculiferas, take flight and soar.

  3. wrath of the real responds:

    Good for him! It is encouraging to know that it is possible a young student can demonstrate enough knowledge to merit a scientific Journal publishing. Dream realized :)

  4. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    I wonder if they bite.

    i was expecting a more bizzare bird. but i guess. :)

    This is beautfiul

  5. mystery_man responds:

    What an awesome story. I have no doubt that people of this age are capable of advances like this. As a teacher of science, I am constantly impressed by some students’ insights, contributions, and ability to think outside of the box. In a way, young minds are great for this type of work because they are not bogged down so much with any rigid dogma or being told how things are supposed to or not supposed to work. They can see things from a fresh, sort of “zen” mind, and approach new ideas from an angle of pure discovery.

    I am overjoyed that a young person like this has pursued this path and enjoyed the success he has. This is a great inspirational story for any youngsters out there who are interested in getting into science. It just goes to show that with passion and patience, there is much you can achieve no matter what your age, and you can follow your fascination with the natural world as a future career path.

  6. sschaper responds:

    Dr. Aggasiz would be proud.

  7. fortgeorge responds:

    Such a cool story! Congratulations to the Harpers!

    Hope you have a great career ahead of you Spencer!



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