Remembering Rich Stallcup

by on April 01, 2013

 
PRBO Conservation ornithologist Rich Stallcup and partner Heather Cameron counting birds in Novato. Photo by Juliet Grable.
 

 

In December 2012, the Bay Area, and the world, lost one of its most eloquent spokespeople for and about birds. Rich Stallcup, a cofounder of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (now PRBO Conservation Science), was an unrivaled birder and teacher. Here are two of the dozens of remembrances posted on PRBO’s online guestbook:

More than anyone else, Rich was the person who made me more aware of the amazing world of birds, most inspired me to be a naturalist, and made me aware of the diversity of the natural world.

I met Rich only a few months after moving to California in 1980. The state’s rich bird diversity captivated me, and I associated Rich’s extraordinary expertise with that feeling. When I did my first prbo Birdathon, Rich was kind enough to invite me to join him, but we had to do it on a day when Rich was teaching a class in Monterey. I met him in the predawn gloom of Robinson Canyon, where we managed to find pygmy and other owls. Then we dragged several cars of birders along for the whole day and still managed to find 150 species!

We had a nickname for Rich, Mr. Magic, as he was always finding rare birds. Yet after years of hearing about Rich’s birds I realized that he wasn’t just lucky. His years of experience allowed him to know what weather conditions and other factors would put birds at the Point or in any small patch of trees and how to find them. And he reminded us that “there is always something uncommon to discover, yet there is discovery and wonder even in the common things.”

[David Wimpfheimer, professional Bay Area naturalist]

***

With Rich, birding was a nearly mystical experience and he approached it from that perspective, consciously or unconsciously, I am not sure which. I think I favor the latter description, though. He had the soul of a poet, the mind of a scientist, and the spirituality of a shaman. This is not a combination of talents often found in a birder. Rich’s influence went well beyond just identifying birds. He has become a part of the flow of life itself, part of the essence of what animates the natural world. He crawled around inside the mind of a bird and saw it as a shaman would see it. Placed in that context, the ability to identify birds isn’t really very important; it is all rather clinical. To those of us fortunate enough to have known him, Rich led you to a higher purpose through birding; an understanding of your spirit.

[Jon Winter, wildlife biologist and birder]

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