Friend, mentor, poet, birder extraordinaire: Rich Stallcup had many facets. As a long-time friend and cohort, I witnessed him mature into an extraordinary teacher in the field and a dedicated conservationist.
|Photo courtesy Jason Thompson.|
We first met in December 1966, at Limantour Estero. John Luther and I were on a birding outing there with Dr. Howard Cogswell, and Rich was scouting the lagoon. I can still see him standing there, with long hair and a twinkle in his eye, as we talked about birds and the vision for the newly founded PRBO. Even to Howard, an ornithologist and professor at Hayward State, Rich was already legendary for his birding abilities. If anything new was happening with bird study, Rich was there, and he soon joined Howard’s Bay Area gull-censusing team.
The early 1970s were inspirational and formative—a time of birding discovery that we will cherish forever. It was a privilege to be part of a crazy group that combed every corner of California and Southeast Arizona, looking for birds and “herps” (reptiles and amphibians), with Richie as our mentor and friend. In 1974, we did a big year, aiming to see 400-plus species in California. We would bird for five days straight in some big swath of the state, then return home for two days for John to work nonstop while Rich and I did big days in the yard and got ready for the next trip!
He was truly amazing to be with in the field, having a sixth sense of where to find unusual birds. When we weren’t looking for rare birds, we were owling at night or bounding across the ocean on pelagic trips. We brainstormed constantly on where, when, and why rarities would show up at “islands” of trees in the desert or along the coast. Rich focused on Point Reyes and Monterey—areas that became pilgrimage destinations for birders and renowned for rarities in fall and spring.
In the 1980s, birding exploded to become a nationwide passion, and careers related to birding and conservation multiplied. Rich and many of us became involved in worldwide birding tours, while continuing to nurture conservation in northern California. The PRBO Bird-A-Thon, begun in the mid-’80s and spearheaded by Rich, became part of our yearly birding calendar. As a Bird-A-Thon counter every year, I joined Rich in celebrating and supporting the growth of PRBO Conservation Science.
It has also been my privilege in recent years to serve on the PRBO Bird-A-Thon planning committee with Rich, sharing stories and ideas for the future of conservation science on our planet. As head of this committee, Rich was sensitive to others and insightful about what we needed to do; he always set the bar high, leading the way himself. He remained ever the keen birder and friend, with wit and poetic insight, but he also fully realized his avocation as a teacher, writer, and conservationist.
Rich will always be eternally youthful in my mind, his presence and mission for a healthy planet remaining very much alive in us. Thank you, Rich, for the smiles, the amazing adventures, the stories, the inspiration.