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REMEMBERING DAVE DeSANTE
Dave DeSante banner photo
Photo Credits: Inset: A recent photo of Dave at an 80th birthday celebration taken by his friend Hillary Smith. Landscape: The skyline at the Harvey Monroe Hall Natural Area where Dave studied birds for over 30 years. Photo by Bob Wilkerson.
Dave DeSante, the founder of IBP, the MAPS program and other important bird research initiatives, passed away on October 18, 2022 at age 80. Dave passed suddenly and peacefully while doing one of his favorite things- pursuing a sighting of a vagrant bird, which in this case was an ultra-rare Willow Warbler that showed up in Marin County. Dave was a true visionary whose passion and drive inspired all of us at IBP – and many others – to study and conserve bird populations. He also had a huge and loving spirit, and touched many of our lives in more personal ways. We will miss him greatly.
We invite you to share your remembrances of Dave on this page. To do so, fill out the form at the bottom of the page and give us a day or two to publish your note on the page.
In Gratitude, The IBP team
Remembrances
Dave was our founding inspiration to watch and study birds! We became, and still are, active birders due to his enthusiasm and knowledge. He was Carol’s Ornithology Professor at Stanford and allowed spouses and friends on field trips - so I joined the group. We had field trips with California’s greatest bird legends, Dave Gaines and Rich Stallcup, for example. We chased lots of the same rarities in California and shared both victorious and let down moments with Dave and friends. It is a sadder world without Dave in it! – Bob & Carol Yutzy
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An exceptional person, an exceptional legacy. – Hiram Gayosso
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I remember Dave's warm welcome on my first day working for IBP, his humility, and his inspirational stories. His love for nature and old friends just spilled out of his stories, and he could relate the challenges of his life's work with a great sense of humor. That's how I'll remember him, smiling and shaking his head over the wonder of it all. – Dr. Chris Ray
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I met Dave while pursuing the Parakeet Auklet at Land’s End in San Francisco in Summer 2017. I knew who he was immediately, but wanted to keep my cool. We had a nice walk back to the parking area after looking for the bird, and it came up that I was the crew leader for the Yosemite MAPS program at that time. He looked at me and said “Oh? I started that project back in 1989”. I folded and admitted to knowing exactly who he was. He found that amusing and we continued to chat for 10 minutes. In that brief conversation Dave shared truly inspirational words that have kept me pushing toward my many bird-related life goals. I have a lot to thank Dave for. A small thanks for the ornithological wisdom he shared with me SF that day, but much greater would be for creating innumerable opportunities for young ornithologists like me to find a path in this hectic career/life choice. Thank you, Dave. – Kurt Ongman
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Dave took me in during the very early days of IBP as an intern in the Burrowing Owl Census and mentored me through an amazing variety of projects and tasks. I owe so much to Dave that I can barely scratch the surface. His friendship, compassion, and selflessness were inspiring on so many levels. Thank you for everything you did for me to become the person I am today. – Zed Ruhlen
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What I remember about Dave is that he always seemed to be excited, enthusiastic, upbeat, cheery, and all sorts of stuff like that. I got to know Dave in the somewhat wild 1960s and 70s. We occasionally went on trips together and I saw him quite a bit at birding spots. I left the Bay Area and California in 1979 and thereafter saw Dave only occasionally at a CBC or I'd bump into him someplace when visiting California. The last interaction I had with Dave was on the phone probably 15 years ago or so. I remember that at that time it seemed as though he hadn't changed a bit and was the same upbeat Dave I had always known, and I could feel the twinkle in his eye. I'm sure he was just the same when chasing that Willow Warbler. Thanks Dave. You'll be missed. – Bob Rodrigues
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I didn't know Dave well outside of IBP, but when I needed a local guide to help Kenn Kaufman lead a kids bird walk for the bird festival, I asked Dave and on jumped right in. He was so kind and good to the kids and the guide and got much more involved with us after that. It was always a joy to see him and learn from him. He will be missed. – Jessa Taylor
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Grateful for many happy memories birding in the field with Dave, especially in the 60's and 70's. He was a good friend, a brilliant ornithologist, an inspirational conservationist, a great story teller, funny, kind and dedicated. My young son David Luther and I were especially blessed to be on Dave's research team the summer of '78 in the Harvey Monroe Hall Natural Area, where we lived and studied the breeding birds at 10,000' at the base of Mt Conness for 3 months. You are missed and remembered with joy, "Running Water". I'm sure you are telling stories with our good friends Rich Stallcup and Jon Winter and inspiring us to carry on! With heartfelt thanks, Susanne – Susanne Luther Methvin
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I worked with Dave back in the 80s when he was gearing up for the MAPS program and was hustling money and statistics at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. He would stay with my family at our cabin when he visited, do a little eastern birding, and talk into the night about radioactive iodine, birds gone wrong on migration, estimating survivorship and fecundity, Wilson's Warblers, and simply enjoyed the endless exploration (and exposition) of birds that a freethinking scientist who lives birds can have. He changed things, took risks, helped people, was a good friend who could pick right up where we left off, and had an earth shattering snore. He will be missed. – Sam Droege
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Dave joined our RROS Bodega Bay pelagic trip last Sunday and was in high spirits and enjoyed the birds, whales, and company of old friends. Nancy and I ran into Dave first in March 1968 on the Dumbarton Bridge. As total novice birders, we had stopped to see if the salt marsh had any interesting birds. We noticed a beat-up Buick pull up across the highway as an excited hippie-type jumped out, binoculars at the ready. We figured he must know something about birds, so we walked across to introduce ourselves. It was Dave. We were soon joined by a highway patrol officer who ticketed us both for being pedestrians on the highway. So began several decades of intermittent encounters, always an education in many ways. We joined Dave and his Peninsula Free University birding class on their annual early spring Yosemite campout that May and scored 25 lifers. He introduced us to Rich Stallcup and PRBO where we cut our teeth on real birding. – Eugene Hunn
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I met Dave on the day he died. I'm saddened and shook by the day's event but in reading more about him, I see he lived a full life. He died doing something he loved, and that should give us all some comfort. Rest in peace Dave. – Mark Sawyer
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The first time I meet Dave was, I cannot remember, long time ago... I am glad to have met him and for his visionary bird banding and bird population work. Dave was without any doubt one of these rare birders who used his bins to see much farther that a single Willow Warbler in a tree. He leaves a huge legacy to North America, bird knowledge and conservation. MAPS, MoSI, IBP, and so many projects and initiatives...touching us far away from the borders...Happy you left in peace and sad to see this big hole in the North American Ornithological community and the loss of a friend. All my love to his family and friends around the world. – Manuel Grosselet, Mexico
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One particular memory stands out to me: in 2003 I was lucky to spend a few days at his research site just over Tioga Pass outside of Yosemite. This is the site he’d been studying for decades and was originally the 10k-foot site of well-known experiment studying effects of altitude on plants. Dave, Ramiro Aragon and I combed the study grid for breeding birds during the day, and then at night huddled around the campfire while Dave told us stories: working with David Gaines and others at same location in the 1970s and 80s; skiing up from Mono Lake on New Year’s Eve; a vengeful Clark’s Nutcracker not particularly happy that its cache had been found by a chipmunk; a mistaken trout air-drop into an alpine lake which had just been cleared of the invasive fish; and late-night parties in the old drafty cabin. It was a wonderful and ideal way to spend time with Dave, seeing his full humanity on display over the course of a few days—-not just his passion for birds, but for all the places and people he loved. Thank you, Dave, for changing my life. – Kerry Wilcox
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IBP Staff and Greater Bird Community- my sympathies as you mourn and honor Dave. As a MAPS station operator of 30 years, I think of all the lives we have touched and inspired through sharing MAPS banding with students, visitors, and volunteers just at our station alone. When one multiplies that by all the MAPS stations, the numbers of people his life and vision reached is truly remarkable. May sightings of rare bird species bring happy memories of Dave. With sympathy, – Lori Walewski, Wolf Ridge Naturalist and all the MAPS banding team
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I worked for IBP in 2006, 2007, and 2008. One of those hitches was to Alaska, and for that one Dave came along and spent a week with us. It rained the whole time and delayed the work, so we just went birding with Dave instead. It was awesome. I'm thankful I had a few chances like that to get to know him. I'm really sorry to hear he passed away. – Ted Snyder
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It is difficult to overstate the influence of Dave on my life and career. He gave me my first field job as a MAPS intern in Yosemite in 1992, later hired me to work as a field and office biologist, and again lured me back to IBP after grad school to work on MoSI. His ideas, enthusiasm, vision, and big heart have inspired me throughout my career. I’ll never his greeting me early in the morning that first day in the Hodgdon Meadow campground with a big hug and a smile after I’d just arrived from a long east coast flight, late night drive, and camp set-up. I am grateful for his guidance and patience in those early days as he had to get me, a neophyte birder and bander with zero west coast birding experience, quickly up to speed for a busy summer in Yosemite. I’ll miss his passion, his stories, chasing birds with him, and just hanging out with him watching a Giants or Warriors game on the TV. I feel lucky to have known him as a friend, colleague, and mentor for so many years. Thanks for everything, Dave. – Jim Saracco
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I have the honor of having been Dave's first intern back in 1990. A fairly urban, born-and-raised Jersey girl who had never seen a tent before, I left my boyfriend of 5 years, threw my belongings in my Ford Bronco II and drove cross country, parking at truck stops and sleeping atop my stuff. I had a BS in English and no science or field experience...I'd cold called Dave after finding info about IBP (currently, just Dave) while visiting the Cape May Bird Observatory. It was kismet....he had just secured Hodgdon Meadow as a banding station and needed an intern. On pretty much good vibes alone, he welcomed me to the MAPS Program. I was nervous...until I arrived at his home in Second Valley (Inverness) and a messy-haired smiling hippie in a Guatemalan shirt opened the door, walked me through the cottage to the back, hopped over a tiny creek and brought me to the Squirrel's Nest (a treehouse w a laptop and a telephone). The Institute for Bird Populations, circa 1990. Dave put his trust in me that summer, and for about the next 10 years I stayed with the MAPS Program as a field biologist. Though I eventually left IBP and went on to become a landscape, edibles and habitat gardener, I have found that I mainly plant things to attract birds, that they have become the soul of my life, and I owe that to Dave. I kept in touch with him on and off throughout the years, and was fortunate to have had a belated birthday dinner with him in mid-August. I can't really express the impact Dave has had on my life....how much love I have for this man. His photo is on my desk and he continues to inspire and nurture me. Dave, I love you. That Willow Warbler ushered you outta here, but you'll always have a place in my heart. – Hillary Smith
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I met Dave as an intern on IBP's Burrowing Owl Project in 1992. At that time, IBP operated out of a shed in Dave's backyard and Sabrina (the other intern) and I did almost all our work at the house that IBP provided for us (the little yellow cottage in Inverness that I'm sure many of you will remember, or lived in yourselves). Later that year, he hired me as the second MAPS Program coordinator, a position I held for the next six years while also developing IBP's Education and Outreach Program and helping create the North American Banding Council. Like most geniuses (yes, I'll call Dave that), he was complex and not always easy to work with or for. He had firm ideas and they didn't always align with mine (I've also been told I'm not the easiest person to work with or for). He thought big and took chances, and some of his ideas seemed quite unrealistic at the time. Yet I look back and marvel at what IBP has become from its very humble beginnings and remember the many times he displayed enormous compassion, faith, and trust, in me and in the universe. The way in which he often spoke of others showed the warmth and empathy that were sometimes hard to see under his gruff and stressed-out exterior in IBP's early days; I think he mellowed out considerably over the years (as perhaps many of us do)! I owe Dave more than I can say here for giving me my first big career break and we all owe Dave immeasurably for what he did for birds and the planet. – Ken Burton
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It was because of Dave’s MAPS project that I got my break into the bird world. Later, he helped me along the way whenever he could. Years later, I was thrilled when he reached out and said he was coming to Texas to bird and needed to find a Swainson’s Warbler. We had a great time driving the back roads and celebrating the find afterward. What a great life he had filled with friends and meaningful inquiry. I remember being at a PIF meeting in the RGV and he noticed a pattern in male PABU from a talk he heard. Within the hour, an impromptu data sleuthing session in the MAPS data had developed a hypothesis connecting the MX caged bird trade to PABU declines in Texas. Policy change in Mexico wasn’t far behind. He was that kind of conservationist. Like so many here, I am so very grateful to have crossed paths with the ever-cheerful, curious, and kind human. Rest In Peace Dave. – Richard Gibbons
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I was a MAPS intern in 1995 in the Willamette and was so lucky that Dave brought me into the IBP flock after that season. One memory I have is taking a road trip up to Humboldt county with Dave in search of a vagrant. My memory escapes me of what Dave was looking for, but I remember the trip fondly. We may have even slept on Ken Burton’s living room floor if my memory serves me right! The spirit, energy, and passion that he exuded while looking for this bird and in all things he did will live on in my memories of Dave. His smile, his laugh, and the many stories he would weave at the potlucks we had over the years are fond memories indeed. I was blessed to have been in is orbit for several years. You will be missed Dave. – Pilar Velez
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I go back to 1963 or 1964 with Dave, when he was a Materials Sciences grad student at Stanford, newly arrived from Ohio, who loved chasing birds but had not yet become a student of them. He and Rich Stallcup and I would run all over the state. I even have a hazy memory of driving with Dave to Honey Lake in NE California over a President's Day weekend, then deciding after we got there that all the good birds were in San Diego that weekend, so altering course south - with 6 flat tires en route. A few years later, when Dave had changed to studying birds and I was back from college, we also co-edited at least one issue of American Birds regional reports. His enthusiasm for birds was contagious and teaching at Stanford inspired many to become avid birders. But Dave was enthusiastic about lots of things - whether the Grateful Dead or Van Morrison's Brown-Eyed Girl. He also did a lot of research on where to find birds, even in the days before Jim Lane's early bird-finding guides, let alone the internet. By 1971 he had a VW bus and we took a Spring break trip to Texas, and I was amazed by the preparation he had done on where to go and find birds. That trip included stopping to visit Jack Whetstone, one of the first "Resident Biologists" at then-Point Reyes Bird Observatory, in New Mexico, where we watched a Northern Goshawk try to take a Belted Kingfisher. We also ran into Victor Emmanuel at High Island, looking for early Hooded Warblers, long before he started VENT. Thinking about Dave brings back all kinds of long-forgotten memories. I'm sorry that we have not seen each other very often in the intervening years, probably last at one of the memorials for Rich. How perfect that Dave passed while in pursuit of a vagrant warbler, even if not a wood warbler. – Art Wang
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No one could give a data dense presentation in a way that was understandable like Dave. He could give you a window into how his wonderful brain worked. So sorry to hear he is gone. – Dan Casey
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I had the great pleasure of working for Dave at Palomarin and the Hall Natural Area back in the early 80s. Dave could be fun. He could be fiercely intense. He was such an intelligent and sensitive person and he ensured that all of us banders and gridders learned a lot about avian ecology. My favorite memories though are of Dave reading us Leon Dawson’s colorful essays from the Birds of California. He loved to read the Bufflehead account, because at the end of it, after Dawson admires the great beauty of the male, he casually “gives him the left barrel,” a passage that never failed to shock and leave us howling. Dave was a kind soul. He will be greatly missed. – George Wallace
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It's been too long for me to remember if I ever met Dave during my time at the National Audubon Society or after, but his name loomed large in everything we did. Projects like MAPS and the other work of the IBP were foundational for the Important Bird Areas (IBA) program when it was imported to North America. And I'm certain we must have consulted with him when making birding junkets to California. Sorry to hear of his loss, and happy for a life well-lived. – Fred Baumgarten
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I was fortunate to meet Dave in 1980 after I moved to Point Reyes along with so many of the luminaries of the birding world. Of course he was more than a birder. His pioneering work on bird migration and navigation influenced and taught so many. Although I saw him many times over the years, I really got to know him and enjoyed his passion for birds on a three-week trip in Peru in 2009. His excitement and passion over every new and wonderful bird was almost contagious. A few months ago he left a long phone message about a mystery tanager that we had seen on that trip. The bird had just recently been recognized as a full species. Again his excitement was almost palpable even just on the phone message. How ironic and special that he transitioned into a different place while birding and finding a new bird. He will be missed. – David Wimpfheimer
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I miss you, Dave. Darn. Dang. And darn. I believe you brought this song to the Mono Basin in winter 1989 to honor the death of Dave Gaines:
"When I let go I fly to the sun.
Take my remains where the wild waters run.
Scatter them there in the clear desert air
where the Canyon Wrens call.
I live out my days in the ancient one's ways
Dancing the ledges
Riding the waves
Listening to voices for thousands of years
Laugh with their laughter
Cry with their tears.
When I let go I fly to the sun..."
You are gone but not forgotten. I sing this song for you. Always.– Desert Peach – Emilie Strauss
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I met Dave in our early days at Stanford, he as a grad student and I as an undergrad. It began when Dave offered a class on birds through the Midpeninsula Free University, complete with evening lectures and weekend field trips. I could hardly believe my luck! Dave was determined to learn everything possible about the birds of California, and was generous in sharing that knowledge. He was a superb teacher--open, gregarious, enthusiastic, energetic, and awesome at finding and identifying birds, be they hard-to-detect residents or surprises from afar. With such an attractive personality, it was no surprise that Dave was also (in the vernacular of the time) a chick magnet.
As his most avid student, I followed Dave whenever and wherever possible, from Fort Bidwell to Imperial Beach, usually in his '64 Chevy Impala. Though I was a California boy, my life list soared--saw-whet owl (Olema), goshawk (Tulelake), black swift (Yosemite), black-chinned sparrow (Carmel Valley), lark bunting (Pigeon point) and on and on. As both of us were on tight budgets, couch surfing and sleeping in the great outdoors were the norm. We never stayed in a motel. It helped that he seemed to know every serious birder in California, and we would join up with them when visitng their home grounds.
His great intellect produced a flow of new ideas about the lives of birds, no doubt encouraged by his close friendship with Rich Stallcup. His special interest was in migrants from the east and midwest that found their way to California--indeed, migrants rather like Dave himself. Following his passion, he asked to leave his research on engineered materials and transfer to the biology department. He took the required courses (we attended some of them together) and promptly passed the qualifying exams. The rest is history. – Michael Perrone
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Dave, who taught an Ornithology course as a grad student at Stanford, was my introduction to birds and birding back when I was a student in the early 1970s. He was a breath of fresh air compared to many of the other courses I was taking, and inspired me to eventual become an ornithologist myself. I still remember the buzz his paper on reverse mirror orientation made at one of the Cooper Meetings early in my grad career, and was always impressed with his success (and inventiveness) with the whole MAPS program. He was an important player in California bird biology, and will be missed by many. – Walt Koenig
I first met Dave at a protest at the San Diego Zoo where the last CA condor was taken into captivity in the mid-80s. Dave was dressed as a condor! We were friends ever since and I enjoyed every birding adventure he took me on. His enthusiasm about every bird we saw was contagious and his knowledge encyclopedic. His project Vital Rates of North American Landbirds to put his decades of data on the web on 158 landbird species for any academic (or anyone else) to freely use to further the knowledge and study of these species is astonishing and incredibly generous. We will miss Dave and his memory will always be a blessing. – Todd Steiner
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My now-husband was Dave's post doc in the mid 90s. Dan wanted to propose to me, and chose to give me (and himself) a pair of binoculars rather than a ring. Of course he consulted with Dave for what to buy. "These are so great you can appreciate looking at a toilet through them!" Those Zeiss binoculars are still the ones I use, and I always think of Dave, his generosity, his kindness, and most of all that childlike enthusiasm, when I use them. It always makes me smile. Thank you, Dave, for the joy you brought to this world. – Jennifer Gervais
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If not for Dave, I might not have spent the last 40+ years studying birds. Dave’s enthusiasm and knowledge during a 3-day Birds of Yosemite course in 1975 turned me on to birds, and his guidance and encouragement while a field assistant on his subalpine bird project in 1978 and 1979 gave me confidence. The last time I saw Dave was five summers ago when several of us from those summers in the Sierra returned to camp and hike among the lodgepole and meadows we surveyed long ago. These are precious memories for which I am forever thankful to Dave. – Craig Benkman
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Dave was such an inspiration, and helped launch many bird conservation careers, self included. My first real bird job was as a MAPS intern in Yosemite in 1997, and it changed my life. Later that year - shortly after a series of breakdowns on Kansas highways and my swearing to never return - I got a call from Dave asking if I'd like to come back as a MAPS biologist. In Kansas. But there was no way I could turn him down! A year later I was pulled into the fold in the Pt Reyes office, where I was awed by Dave's knowledge, compassion, drive and vision, and learned so much from him and the incredible team he assembled. His enthusiasm was boundless and contagious! Two memories come to mind: him literally bouncing on the decks after seeing a blue whale on a pelagic trip off Bodega Bay, and his exhilaration when we spotted a Black Rail just as the sun was setting on a king tide day. Thanks Dave for the memories, and for all you've done for the birds and the people who, like you did, work to protect them. You'll be greatly missed! – Nicole Michel
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Dave was passionate about so much, from birds to Grateful Dead, attending concerts at an advanced age. He always stopped to chuckle about life, like when he made fun of himself saying a plush condor was watching over him, just waiting. Thanks for being an inspiration and having so much foresight! – Joanna Wu
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What a fine person we have all lost. My favorite memories of Dave are not bird stories. I was introduced to Dave by Rich Stallcup in 1970. One of my memories is when I was honored to be one of his "aids" in his vision quest somewhere around 33 years ago, shortly after his son Forrest was born. He fasted for two days and on the second day he did a sweat by himself in a small sweat lodge that was prepared for him and then after that he was blindfolded, and we walked him up to the top of a hill where he spent the night alone and blindfolded. The next morning, we went and got him, walked him back down the hill and removed the blindfold, and had a small feast prepared for our hungry friend. We each had a special gift for him in honor of his quest. I wrote a very personal special song for him which I sang for him and gave him a recording of it and the original copy as well. I never sang that song again. It was his alone.
Then there was the time that a group of Stanford alumni hired him to be the naturalist on a whitewater trip down the Snake River. He asked me to be his +1. We went down through class 3 and 4 rapids in wooden boats a la John Wesley Powell with "Litton's Dories". One afternoon we followed behind the dories in a small two person inflatable kayak and got thrown out of it on two occasions while traveling through a series of very large "haystacks". I'll never forget our crazy laughing and wide eyes as we scrambled back on to the boat only to get tossed out again. Good times for sure. Then there were the party's at PRBO with Rich et al, and good times at the cabin up in the Yosemite swapping songs and stories with the great Dave Barret who told wonderful renditions of native American stories about the Raven and the coyote etc. there was the time Dave's VW bus broke down at the entrance to Whitewater canyon outside of Palm Springs on the way back from a trip to Southeastern Arizona. We ended up getting it towed to his brother Gil's house in southern California somewhere and spending the next week rebuilding his engine in his brother's garage. Missed the trip to see the condors that we were headed to see with the rest of the car caravan.
The last time I saw him was on his birthday earlier this month he invited my wife Martha and I to come a day early and spend a couple of nights with him. He always brought me chili rellenos when he'd come over for one of my birthdays and so I made him my "special" shrimp relleno dish for his birthday. He said it was the best thing he ever tasted. We had a wonderful evening and he regaled us for hours with a number of great stories from the past. My favorite was a long involved one about meeting his son Forrest's mother Eden. Quite a story too. When she got pregnant, he was unsure of where this development was going to take his free-spirited life. But of course, in the end he said that it was the BEST thing that EVER happened to him. I feel badly for his little grandson who he doted on, who will never get to know him except in pictures and stories. He had a wonderful time at his party the next day in Lagunitas at Samuel B Taylor park and lots of folks turned out for the get together. His son Forrest and wife Sara really put their hearts into making it a special day for him. Many of his well-regarded birding buds showed up and he said it was his best birthday ever.so.... I'll miss you forever, my friend, Running Water. Thank you for everything you were to me.......Singing Lizard. – Peter Alsing
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Dave was running the Landbird Program at Palomarin when I came to work at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory in January, 1980. So I saw a lot of him, but my first memory of his inspiring enthusiasm for birds didn’t come until late September that year when a Phylloscopus warbler turned up on the Farallones. But which one??? Identification was a challenge. Hell, communications were a challenge. No cell phone cameras, no internet. All we had was often sketchy marine band radio for verbal descriptions through crazed exchanges between Dave at PRBO and Peter Pyle on the island. I’ve never witnessed greater bird passion. Dave didn’t get to see the Phylloscopus from the Farallones, at least not when it was alive. It died on the island and went to Cal Academy, where the tentative island ID of Dusky Warbler was eventually confirmed. As we all know, he was chasing another Phylloscopus on October 18, this time a Willow. He dipped on the Willow, but I’d like to believe he’s gotten to see them both by now. – Burr Heneman
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Dave and IBP were important in the career development of hundreds of avian conservationists all across the continent. What a terrific legacy he has left behind. – Jim Siegel, USFWS - National Conservation Training Center
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I first met Dave in the early 1980's and was struck by his incredible enthusiasm. Remarkably, based on many subsequent meetings, it never seemed to diminish over time. He was a true visionary and totally dedicated to bird conservation. I especially appreciated 2 characteristics of Dave's work in developing and administering a large avian monitoring program: (1) his interest in using MAPS data to address really interesting/important questions about avian populations (and not simply asking whether they were going up or down) and (2) his efforts to find the appropriate analytic approaches for the questions that he posed. He was one of the good guys for sure and will be missed. – Jim Nichols
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My Dearest Friend David:
I met you when I was living through the most important period of life: in 2002, when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child, a son. When we arrived to Chocoyero Reserve, Nicaragua in November 2002, I had the honor to meet you and Peter Pyle. At the four-day workshop we talked about birds, bird banding, and learned about the MoSI program, and we shared methodologies about how handle a bird, how to safely and ethically remove it from a net, and how to take careful and accurate data. I remembered you asked me if I felt good with everything, and I told you: "Yes, I'm really happy being here with all of you, learning and sharing knowledge and experience", and you smiled!
When I shared with you some of my work experience in the remote Río San Juan area of Nicaragua, you asked about a Nicaraguan Seed Finch, which would be new for your life list, and I remember your eyes brightened when we were talked about that bird. You you asked us, “How can I get Los Guatuzos Natural Reserve to see it” And we planned your journey to this magical place. You took a plane from Managua to Río San Juan, went by boat across Lake Nicaragua to the Papaturro river, and you got at to the site. You met our team of biologists and technicians that had been working with the MoSI program since February 2002. It was an amazing honor for them to show you that bird that you added to your life list. I know you enjoyed being a naturalist until your last moment.
Thank you for all your humbleness in sharing your knowlodge with us, and teaching us about the ethical aspects of bird banding that many seem to have forgotten. Take care and fly high. I am sure, we will meet in each season when all these amazing birds fly south. Warm regards to you and all the team from IBP. Take care all of you, we will be in touch. – Heydi Herrera Rosales
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Ah Dave,
I'm sorry to hear of your passing. Reading all of these amazing accolades from so many of your friends now reminds me so clearly of how much I learned from you. And, more importantly, of the love and exuberance that you spread forth into this world. My mind and heart are now awash with dazzling sweet memories . . . from Palomarin, Fern River, howling at the full moon in the High Sierras, and that darned marmot . . . The memories go on and on, yet always come back to your laughing face with pollen on your nose. – Jack Swenson
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The chance to work for Dave and IBP transformed my life, just like it did for so many others. I was a couple of years out of college, trying to figure out how to contribute to conservation, and Dave (and Hilary Smith!) gave me my first break - a job banding birds in Kings Canyon National Park in 1992. At the training session in May, I met more wonderful people (Orianne Williams and Zed Ruhlen), and I got to hold a mind-blowing male Townsend's Warbler in my hand. By the end of the first week, I told Orianne I loved it and that I wanted to do it again, not just that summer, but the following year as well. That next spring, Dave took a chance on me, and for the next 3 years, I got to be an IBP biologist, traveling all over the country, learning and teaching others about banding, ageing, and sexing birds, writing the original MapsPROG proofing program in dBase, and writing reports and analyzing banding data (on computers so slow it took several minutes just to save databases and documents!). I didn't have a place to stay my second summer while supervising the Sierra Nevada stations, so he let me sleep on his back deck (I will always remember those foggy nights on the deck with gray foxes sneaking around!). We had an old dot matrix printer that Dave had to put in the work freezer to cool down so it would print our reports to the USFS. Dave loved to explain, with a twinkle in his eye, that we had to hold our tongues out of the left side of our mouths in just the right position for that damn printer to work. Later, Dave asked Peter Pyle to let me volunteer on SE Farallon Island for a fall - what proved to be the most amazing 11 weeks of my birding career. Sharks, warbler fallouts (Lanceolated Warbler!), peregrine falcons, shorebirds, seabird counts at sunset with orcas breaching and the Golden Gate bridge lit up in the background... all thanks to Dave (and Peter!). Every December, we would help Dave with his outer Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count circle. Long walks counting shorebirds and seabirds along Drake's beach to Drake's Estero. Cups of clam chowder afterward. I was always amazed by his ability to tally our final bird list for the day by running through all the bird families in North American in taxonomic order in his head. He graciously invited us to share a few days with him at Hall RNA in the High Sierra to help with bird surveys in August. It was there, lying on the tundra at night watching the meteor showers that I saw the only shooting star I've ever seen go from one end of the sky to the other. And it was there that a Harlequin Duck flushed from an alpine lakeshore, sending Dave into apoplexy with joy at the news. Dave would take us out to his secret spots on Point Reyes to see spotted owls in the coast live oaks and to watch herons and egrets hunt for voles and rails during the rising king tide on Tomales Bay. So many fond memories. One time, Dave came back from a week of meetings, travel, bad weather, and airports. He said how the day before was the only day of his life he could remember where he didn't actually see a single bird and how empty that made him feel, one day without birds. That's what happens when birds become part of your soul.
My time at IBP built the foundation for the rest of my life and career. Dave brought amazing people together then (Hilary, Zed, Orianne, Jim, Peter, Dani, Ken, Eric, Pilar) and ever since (just look at IBP's staff page!) to work on behalf of birds. His passion rubbed off on everyone, and that passion transformed my life, it changed how I see the world. Dave, thank you for everything.
My sincerest condolences to Dave's family and everyone with IBP, MAPS, and MoSI that knew and loved him. – Brett Walker
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It is with sad hearts that we at 350Marin acknowledge the passing of Dave. Dave sat on our steering committee for around a year or so. He brought with him his expertise of nature, helping us think through concerns that we had before us as a climate change organization. We appreciate his clear commitment to the environment and of course, the beautiful birds, and we will miss his presence in Marin. – 350Marin
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Visionary is a good word to describe Dave. He really was one of the visionaries of 20th century ornithology, and his vision was to make songbird banding a scientific activity relevant to conservation. MAPS is a great idea and has the potential to transform nongame bird banding from a series of local studies to a critical program that allows for integrated models of bird populations that can be used to get at the important questions as to why bird populations are changing. Dave had the fortitude to try to put together such a program. The enormous effort that took, and his willingness to sacrifice time to the painful aspects of fundraising and management, was clear to those of us who watched him operate as a scientist and a manager. He had very close ties to the (then) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, not only to the Bird Banding Laboratory but as importantly to the quantitative group. He wanted the program to be a success, and he knew that there were daunting technical issues in estimation from many stations with sparse data and transient birds. Knowing what you don't know and forming collaborations to fill those gaps is the mark of a great scientist. It is a tribute to Dave that so many people have shared his vision and worked to support and expand MAPS by banding, managing, and analyzing the data. Sam Droege summed up Dave pretty well: "God, he had the ideas!" – John Sauer
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Dave's love of birds was contagious. I met Dave when I was an undergraduate at Reed College and his enthusiasm for birds and the natural world steered me into a career in ornithology. I spent the summer of 1977 doing field work at the Harvey Monroe Hall Natural Area with Dave, several other students from Reed and a few other folks that Dave inspired and brought into the fold. At the end of the field work that summer, a few of us went on a birding blitz from the Sierras to SE Arizona and all places in between. I will never forget that trip and the amazing world that Dave introduced me to.
I stayed in touch with Dave throughout my career and was continually amazed by the energy and enthusiasm that Dave brought to everything he did. When he started IBP and embarked on developing the MAPS program, nothing like it had ever been done. Despite the daunting challenge of setting up hundreds of banding stations across the country, training thousands of banders, implementing a standardized banding protocol, and soliciting, checking and storing the data all on limited funds, Dave never wavered in his commitment. Thanks to his efforts, we now know more about the demography of songbirds in North America than ever before, and the data continue to provide insights into bird dynamics. Dave, aka Running Water, Fan-tailed Warbler your love and enthusiasm for this earth and all its inhabitants will be missed but not forgotten. – Luke George
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Dave was my ecology professor at Reed College in the late 70's and he was so inspiring - birds are so cool and his energy was so positive. He changed my life and many others' as well. He will be missed! Many happy memories. – Coral Mirth Walker
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