Founder of bird observatory dies at 67

12/27/2012

Richard Stallcup, a renowned bird observer whose lifelong connection with wildlife guided him in the creation of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory 48 years ago, died on December 15 from leukemia. He was 67.

Mr. Stallcup, a Novato resident, garnered praise among birding and other conservation groups across the world as a hero who “inspired and taught so many of us about the beauty and magic of birds in our natural world,” wrote Ellie Cohen, president of the observatory, now known as PRBO Conservation Science.

His work appeared in numerous scientific journals and seven books that chronicled his studies of birds and their migration patterns. Among his roles was that of regional editor for American Birds, a journal of the American Birding Association. He was president of Western Field Ornithologists, a research group that studies birds across the western regions of the United States and Mexico, and he served as regular contributor to a monthly newsletter run by the observatory.

His death was a “huge loss to the conservation and birding community,” said Melissa Pitkin, director of education and outreach for the observatory who worked with Mr. Stallcup for the past 15 years.

His passing has prompted many to reflect on a legacy of research and more than 1,000 wildlife expeditions across California and Arizona.

Mr. Stallcup, whom Ms. Pitkin said spent “pretty much everyday of his life outdoors,” grew up in Oakland before moving to Marin County, where, as a young adult, he co-founded the
observatory.

His contributions drew recognition from a range of wildlife and conservation groups, including the American Birding Association, which in the early 2000’s awarded him with the regional Ludlow Griscom Award, given to those who have “dramatically advanced” research and studies of bird populations.

But perhaps what earned him the most respect was what many described as a “magical” connection with wildlife. He uncovered rare species of birds and other wildlife, and tracked errant migration patterns of birds across Point Reyes.

Mark Rauzon, a wildlife biologist and professor of geography at Laney College in Oakland, was convinced of Mr. Stallcup’s “shaman-like” abilities after a 1994 expedition to Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. There, they caught a glimpse of a Sooty Albatross, a type of seabird rarely found in the northern hemisphere.

Exploring with Mr. Stallcup “was like adding another sense to one’s own,” Jules Evens, a local wildlife biologist said in a press release from the observatory. “He seemed to anticipate an animal’s presence before it was visible or audible.”

“It’s one thing to be keen, but quite another to draw a sub-Antarctic albatross into his sphere,” remarked Mr. Rauzon, who was among dozens of admirers who eulogized their friend’s legacy in comments posted online in the past week.

About 150 people turned out last Tuesday at PRBO Conservation Science’s Petaluma office to honor Mr. Stallcup’s life and work. A commemorative dinner is scheduled for January 26; to RSVP, contact (707) 781.2555 ext. 356 or ewilliams@prbo.org.