Small was a very active birder, both in California and around the world,
during our period of review (1965-1989). He was know for multiple achievements:
as a founder and President of the American Birding Association (ABA), as
a leading teacher and field trip leader in the Los Angeles area; as an
exceptional photographer; as the author of two books summarizing California
bird status and distribution; and as one of the State's top listers. He
was full of enthusiasm, loved to teach, and was a renowned story-teller.
Alas, Arnold passed away in 2000 [a separate memorial
page, written shortly after Arnold's death, is elsewhere on this web
Arnold grew up in New York City, and he was birding by 1943 under the tutelage of the leading lights of the Linnean Society in the mid-20th century. By the time he reached California in the 1950s, he was already an accomplished birder. He was Regional Editor of the Southern Pacific Coast Region for Audubon Field Notes for a number of years before the start of our period of review in 1965. Although rapidly overshadowed as California's leading birder by Guy McCaskie and his many discoveries in the 1960s, Arnold continued to study and photograph the birds of California for the rest of his life. In 1974, he published The Birds of California (Small 1974), which provided the first accessible annotated State list since Grinnell & Miller's great book on the distribution of California birds in 1944. Small's book was roughly divided equally between the annotated list and a review of habitats of California birds, liberally illustrated with Arnold's own photos (in black-and-white). Since Arnold's photos were actually all color slides, his next effort to review the State's avifauna (Small 1994) contained hundreds of great color photos taken by Arnold or his son, Brian.
Arnold was among the front-runners chasing California birds in the '70s and '80s, and I'd often run into him (plus Herb & Olga and sometime Bruce Broadbooks or Larry Sansone; they often traveled as a pack) at some remote locale chasing some great bird. One of the most memorable was in January 1986. After a small flock of Common Redpoll was found near Tule Lake up on the Oregon border, Arnold, Herb & Olga flew to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and rented a car. They were up before dawn, driving the icy roads to get to the site early. In the bitter cold they hit a patch of "black ice" and flipped the car, rolling it over completely and landing back upright. Shaken but undeterred — after all this was the first chasable Common Redpoll in the state! — they continued on. Just a few of us were there when they arrived in a badly banged up rental car. But getting his priorities straight, Arnold was out and looking for the birds immediately. [We all added the Redpoll to our State list that day.]
Arnold was just like that — undaunted, unruffled, and full of energy. His creativity made him a fine teacher, although I know very little about that side of his world. He had many ideas and dreams and ambitions. Although some of his books met with mixed reviews, but one must admire his efforts to go where no one yet had gone.
Photo (above) a boat on Monterey Bay, Sep 1976 ©
was a very active State birder. When the ABA first began publishing state
lists in 1969, Arnold was listed as #5 for California. He was again #5
for the State by the final listing that I've re-created from those days
in March 1988. In these 20 years his rank would vary dependent on his time,
his health, and his time spent away from California. Arnold had early on
become interested in the birding the entire world, and would add 700 species
to his life list in 1963 (with his first African safari) and over 1000
species on trips in 1966. He reached one goal — to see half the birds in
the world — by 1975 (at that time it was thought there were ~8000 species,
so 4000 was halfway; the story of that milestone bird is told in Small
1976). By the end of 1997, the ABA list report had Arnold at well over
6500 species in the world.
Arnold, along with Herb & Olga Clarke, devoted an enormous amount of time to photographing the birds of California. They published one book of photos together (Clarke & Small 1976); many of Arnold's newer shots would appear in Small (1994). Every autumn, Arnold, and Herb & Olga Clarke, would journey to Monterey to do a boat trip, often in connection with Arnold's UCLA class. It was during these pelagic trips that Arnold and Herb photographed seabirds extensively, although they also led many pelagic trips off southern California. Arnold's photography took second place on world birding trips, but he managed enough exceptional material that his slide how, entitled "Birding Planet Earth," was one of the most popular on the lecture circuit, and key-noted several birding conventions.
Arnold became president of the American Birding Association in 1976, and served for several years in that capacity during the ABA's early glory days. He was in the forefront of promoting birding as a great avocation [Stuart Keith wrote a short introduction to his presidency in Birding 8: 217-218 (1976)]. Some of his best times were at ABA Conventions in the 1970s when, hosting a party with Stuart Keith or Bob Smart, Arnold would swap anecdotes and tall tales. Good-natured ribbing was always a part of these scenes — indeed, birding was just FUN for them. This joy was liberally spread to anyone who cared to listen.
Arnold began taking his son, Brian, birding and photographing when Brian was as young as four years old. Today, Brian E. Small is one of America's best known bird photographers and serves as photo editor for Birding magazine.
Photo (right) shows Arnold with Benton Basham (center, himself a founder of the ABA) and Roger Tory Peterson (right) at op Mt. Pinos, 5 May 1983 © D. Roberson
Official Bird Name: The Great Buddha
Ticky Token: Yes
Selected publications 1974-1989:
All photos © to photographers identified on this page; all rights
All text © Don Roberson; all rights reserved.
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