WHO WAS WHO IN CALIFORNIA BIRDING
1965-1989
DON ROBERSON  [Donald E. Roberson]
Don Roberson is a native northern California birder best known for his publications, his knowledge of and devotion to Monterey County, and his extensive State birding in the 1970s. He began birding on his own when he was 13 years old after reading about Christmas Bird Counts in Reader's Digest, but did not intersect with the wider birding subculture until he moved to Berkeley in 1972. He first appears in American Birds in fall 1971 in southern California (under the name "Don Raberson," two Blue-footed Boobies still at the Salton Sea 6 Nov 1971) and in fall 1972 in northern California (Virginia's Warbler in Marin County). A protégé of Van Remsen and Laurie Binford, he actively participated in the birding group centered around U.C. Berkeley in the mid-1970s, although he went to college and law school elsewhere in the Bay area. He actively birded the entire State in the mid-to-late 1970s, especially during "Big Year" efforts in 1975 and 1977; he published a small book about the latter effort (when he was second to Guy McCaskie) in 1978 (Birders' California). His tome on rarities from Alaska to California appeared in 1980 (Rare Birds of the West Coast).

Roberson moved to Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in April 1979 and has resided there ever since. He focused heavily on Monterey County birds during the 1980s, and published Monterey Birds, an authoritative status and distributional review, in 1985. [This book eventually went out-of-print, but an entirely new edition appeared in 2002.] He was also a major force in Monterey County's breeding bird atlas project (1988-1992), and was the senior editor of its publication (Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Monterey County, 1993). During his surveys of Monterey County he 'discovered,' arranged access, and popularized birding at privately operated Moonglow Dairy in Moss Landing, and was also one of the earliest birders at the Big Sur R. mouth. He led numerous Monterey Bay boat trips (and continues to do so today) and also sailed aboard several 'platforms-of-opportunity' research cruises farther offshore. He was the voice of the Monterey rare bird alert for many years in the '80s and '90s.

Photo (left or above): 14 Oct 1973 Pt. Diablo MRN © Van Remsen
 

Roberson served 7 years on the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) during the period here under consideration, and was Secretary from 1986-1990. He spearheaded the CBRC's 'old records review project' when he personally contacted hundreds of observers, and visited all the State's museums, to obtain details of early records or photos of old specimens. He also acted as a fill-in Regional editor for American Birds in one season [later, in the 1990s, he would serve five years as a landbird Regional editor].

Don organized the Big Day teams that tied Texas in 1983 (an effort extensively covered by the media), and then led the team that beat Texas and set the national record in 1984 (these were both Big Days using an airplane). He participated in many other Big Day efforts during the period, many of which set monthly or county-level records. In fall 1989, just as our period of review concluded, he spent four months at sea in the eastern tropical Pacific as a seabird observer aboard a NOAA tuna-porpoise cruise. This experience, combined with a Chapman research grant to visit east coast museums, led to a series of papers on the i.d. and distribution of tropical seabirds that would be published in the 1990s.

Don became interested in foreign travels in 1975 when he was a part of Van Remsen's pick-up tour of Colombia. His travels became more frequent in the 1980s and after the close of our period of review. He will shortly reach two world birding goals: seeing a member of every bird family, and observing half the birds in the world (~5000). He has continued to be an active birder in Monterey County, and both the county and his world travels are featured on his web site. He has continued to chase vagrants for his State list, and now has the second highest California list (after Guy McCaskie).

Photo (right): 29 May 1978 Mesquite Springs, Death Valley INY © Brad Schram


Official Bird Name: American Woodcock
Ticky Token: Yes
 
Significant bird records during our period: Many records of local interest, especially in Monterey County; those of Statewide interest include:
  • White-eyed Vireo  7 June 1977 Pt. Reyes MRN 2nd CA record
  • Streaked Shearwater  9 Oct 1977 Monterey Bay MTY 2nd CA record [co-finder]
  • Pyrrhuloxia 18 July 1974 Westmorland IMP 5th CA record
  • Mississippi Kite  25 May 1976  Furnace Creek INY 5th CA record
  • Connecticut Warbler  22 Sep 1974  Stovepipe Wells INY 1st interior CA record
  • Wilson's Storm-Petrel  1 May 1978  Monterey Bay MTY 1st spring CA record
  • Lark Bunting  26 May 1978  Lanfair Valley SBE 1st confirmed breeding record in CA [co-finder]
  • Blackburnian Warbler  29 Dec 1986-Mar 1987  Pacific Grove MTY 1st wintering record in CA
  • Mottled Petrel  12 Dec 1984  Pt. Pinos MTY 7th CA rec, only 2nd seen from shore
  • Black-headed Gull  20 Mar 1979  Stockton SJ 7th CA rec, the bird returned for 8 consecutive years
  • Cerulean Warbler  25 Oct 1979  Carmel R. mouth MTY 7th CA record
Various others since 1989, including singing Blue-winged Warbler and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Selected publications 1975-1989:

  • Roberson, D. 1975a. California and Stallcup - the best of both in '74. Birding 7: 172-178.
  • Roberson, D. 1975b. 500 in one state - a new landmark. Birding 7: 237-238.
  • Roberson, D. 1977. Death Valley days. W. Tanager, Aug 1977 issue.
  • Roberson, D. 1978. Birders' California. Amer. Birding Ass'n, Boulder, CO.
  • Roberson, D. 1980. Rare Birds of the West Coast. Woodcock Publ., Pacific Grove, CA.
  • Roberson, D. 1982a. The changing seasons-summer '82 (summary of North America). Am. Birds 36: 948-953.
  • Roberson, D. 1982b,  Introducing the new ABA birds. Birding 15: 116-130.
  • Roberson, D. 1984a. The changing seasons-spring '84 (summary of North America). Am. Birds 38: 877-882.
  • Roberson, D. 1984b. Identification quiz - Xantus' Murrelet. West. Birds 15:43-44.
  • Roberson, D. 1985. Monterey Birds. Monterey Peninsula Audubon Soc., Pacific Grove, Calif.
  • Roberson, D. 1986. Ninth report of the California Bird Records Committee. West. Birds 17:49-77.
  • Roberson, D. 1987. The ten most likely additions to the ABA checklist. Birding 20: 353-363.
  • Roberson, D. 1989. More on Pacific versus Arctic Loons. Birding 21: 154-157.
Co-authored publications as senior author:
  • Roberson, D, Morlan, J., and Small, A. 1977. A Streaked Shearwater in California. Am. Birds  31: 1097-1098.
  • Roberson, D, and Pitelka, F.A. 1983. Occurrence of Willow Warbler in North America refuted. Condor  85: 258.
  • Roberson, D., and Baptista, L. F. 1988. White-shielded coots in North America: A critical evaluation. Am. Birds 42:1241-1246.
Co-authored publications as junior author:
  • Remsen, J. V., Jr., J. S. Luther, and Roberson, D.1976  A Ringed Woodpecker Celeus torquatus in Colombia. Bull. Brit. Ornith. Club 96: 40.
  • Stallcup, R., Morlan, J., and Roberson, D. 1988. First record of the Wedge-tailed Shearwater in California. West. Birds 19:61-68.
  • Trochet, J., Morlan, J., and Roberson, D. 1988. First record of the Three-toed Woodpecker in California. West. Birds 19:109-115.
  • Daniels, B. E., Hays, L., Hays, D., Morlan, J., and Roberson, D. 1989. First record of the Common Black-Hawk for California. West. Birds 20:11-18.
  • Erickson, R. A., Morlan, J., and Roberson, D. 1989. First record of the White-collared Swift in California. West. Birds 20:25-31.
  • Gordon, P., Morlan, J., and Roberson, D. 1989. First record of the White-winged Crossbill in California. West. Birds 20:81-87.
Selected publications since 1989:
  • Roberson, D. 1990. North American bird records committees. Birding 22: 276-285.
  • Webster, R. E., Morlan, J., and Roberson, D. 1990. First record of the Sooty Tern in California. West. Birds 21:25-32.
  • Roberson, D., and Bailey, S. F. 1991. Cookilaria petrels in the eastern Pacific Ocean: Identification and distribution. Am. Birds 45:399-403, 1067-1081.
  • McCaskie, G., and Roberson, D. 1992. First record of the Stejneger's Petrel in California. West. Birds 23:145-152.
  • Roberson, D. 1993a. Fourteenth report of the California Bird Records Committee. West. Birds 24:113-166.
  • Roberson, D. 1993b. A note on hybrid white geese. Birding 25: 50-53.
  • Roberson, D. 1995. "Special attention - Little Curlew" in Middle Pacific Coast Region (D. G. Yee, S. F. Bailey, D. Fix, and D. S. Singer, eds.), p. 97. Am. Birds 49:97.
  • Roberson, D. 1996. Identifying Manx Shearwaters in the northeastern Pacific. Birding 28:18-33.
  • Roberson, D. 1998. Sulids Unmasked: which large booby reaches California. Field Notes 52: 276-287.
  • Roberson, D. 2002. Monterey Birds. 2d. Monterey Pen. Audubon Soc., Carmel CA.
Photo (above right) shows (L to R) Terry Clark, Don Roberson, and Jolee DeLew at Furnace Creek INY, 29 May 1986 © Barry Clark
More recent mug shot (right) at a PhotoShop class ~2002

All photos © to photographers identified on this page; all rights reserved.
All text © Don Roberson; all rights reserved.

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