WHO WAS WHO IN CALIFORNIA BIRDING
1965-1989
GUY McCASKIE   [R. Guy McCaskie]
No one had a greater impact on California field ornithology and birding than Guy McCaskie. Guy was the godfather of California birding, the "agent for revolution" as described in the 1992 article by S.R. Drennan entitled "McCaskie as Mentor" (Amer. Birds 46: 204-213): "McCaskie raised the status of observation of complex avian events to a highly sophisticated part of the scientific procedure. He discovered serendipitously the large-scale and frequent occurrence of vagrants in California and took the lead in systematically exploiting that boon. He recognized the densifying properties of desert oases and coastal sites .... As a result, he found birds where no one before him dreamed of looking and set into motion the gears of change for the whole birding community through his leadership and example. He defined the leading edge for a generation of birding innovators by developing a method of critical field observation that was unique when he started and which, for many, is now the standard."

In the article, Guy himself describes his impatience with doing things the old way just going to look for birds one knew were there and his desire to find new birds. He talks of essentially memorizing the status and distribution of all California birds from Grinnell & Miller (1944) and then searching for new ones day after day on six hours sleep. The article concludes that "No one can see him objectively. Most of his recent past is legendary. He has a slew of assets in his favor and a few fissures in his nature. He is one of the most original, colorful, insightful, and influential people in the field of modern day birding."

Almost everyone else on the "top 40" list of California birders during the golden quarter century from 1965-1989 were disciples following Guy's lead.

Photo (above left):Guy showing his dog "Pinto" a rarity at the Salton Sea in Nov 1976; © Robert Copper
Photo (right): Guy at Furnace Creek Ranch INY, 29 May 1976 © Barry Clark
 

In the highly recommended American Birds article, various colleagues and protégés described this influence:
  • "That Guy McCaskie revolutionized California birding is a cliché and an understatement," wrote Kimball Garrett. "He taught us that birding can be surgical and rigorous (yet always fun), that there is rhyme and reason to the occurrence of vagrants, and that a birder's true legacy is that which is in print."
  • "Guy's arrival in California in the late 1950s was to cause not only a CHANGE in North American Ornithology, but a RENAISSANCE. Birdwatching was about to have its definition remodeled and its confining protocol burst open," said Rich Stallcup. "It was fun, too. There were endless conversations on bird-related topics during all-night drives to tomorrow's birding destination, there were outrageous adventures along The Road and there was the thrill of pioneering many areas that would become routine stops to thousands of birders a decade later."
  • "In the early years, Guy documented the occurrence of vagrants with voucher specimens, but through the years this practice has been replaced by taking detailed field notes," wrote Jon Dunn. "Guy and others created the California Bird Records Committee. It was designed primarily to evaluate sight records of vagrants... I often find it ironic that since leaving Great Britain in 1957, Guy has never returned ... [and] Guy's accent became thoroughly Americanized by the time I met him.... Despite growing older, Guy is just as active as he was 30 years ago driving all over the state at all hours and from what I can detect none of his enthusiasm for birding has diminished."
  • Richard Webster agreed: "The excitement of finding what is out there is something that Guy still has. I drag myself to the 3 a.m. meeting point for the drive to the Salton Sea and find myself in the presence of a bright-eyed McCaskie, raring to make what may his 400th early morning foray to brave the heat, mud, and rotting fish. Perhaps he will find his ninth species of tubenose for the Salton Sea. Perhaps he won't. Either way he will enjoy it, and be back next weekend...."
  • In an unpublished essay written after reading the American Birds piece, Jon Winter wrote: "[Guy] was always prepared to see and expect the unusual and was aware of what to look for... Guy was always looking... I recall reading in Audubon Field Notes in years past about all the wonderful birds he would see at the Salton Sea. What I did not know at the time was that for every trip he made to the Salton Sea, or some such place in which he found a good rarity, he had made ten previous trips to the same spot and struck out every time.... Persistence was one key to Guy's success.... Guy approached birding as he would an engineering problem that could be solved. [Guy is a civil engineer by profession.] Therein lies the secret to Guy's extraordinary ability: focus, discipline and structure."
  • Writing in 1980, Joe Jehl, Jr. (West. Birds 11:105) attributed the phenomenal growth in the California state list since the Grinnell & Miller (1994) survey to five factors, three of which he directly traced "to the influence the leadership and teaching of Guy McCaskie." "His knowledge has been widely transmitted, resulting in increased expertise among California birders in general. As a result, the growth of the [state] list has shifted from a one-man operation to a self-perpetuating and expanding process."
  • "How did he do it?" Robert O. Paxton asked rhetorically. "I think there were four qualities that McCaskie developed to Olympic levels in his early field days. First, he knew an enormous amount about what the common birds should look like, and what the likely rarities looked like. Second, he checked out every bird it detail. ... Third, he had an uncanny sense for vagrant traps and he checked those places far more closely than anyone else ever had. Finally, he never seemed to rest.... Sometimes he made you suspect that he just lucked on to rare birds in some mysterious way, but I am sure McCaskie's phenomenal success was based on very high levels of knowledge, skill, attention, and drive. The effect on young birders was electric, and soon a lot of them were developing the same intensity of field skills. Birding in California ceased to be a low-key pastime; it was never the same again after McCaskie."
Guy discovered and then popularized coastal and desert vagrant traps that concentrated migrants in spring and fall. Deep Springs College (above; the tiny green oasis in Deep Spring Valley INY) is just one example. Other famous examples include Furnace Creek Ranch, Pt. Loma, and the Tijuana River valley., not to mention his regular surveys of the Salton Sea. To visit the more remote spots (like Deep Springs and nearby Oasis Ranch in MNO) often required rough camping far from civilization. Guy was adept at these challenges; in this shot (right) he cooks up Dinty Moore stew over a campfire in Cottonwood Canyon on the INY/MNO border. [photo May 1979; © D. Roberson]

Guy participated in a record-setting Big Day (with Cliff Lyons, Scott Terrill, and Jon Winter) in April 1972. Their route was from the Salton Sea to San Diego. It was the highest Big Day in North America at the time, although this was before the institution of ABA Big Day rules which require a uniform approach to this event.

Guy was instrumental in the formation of Western Field Ornithologist and the California Bird Records Committee. Guy was the first WFO president and served on the editorial board of California Birds for its first three volumes [it would become Western Birds in vol. 4]. Except for the few years when the CBRC bylaws required a vacation from the Committee (e.g., after two consecutive 3-year terms), Guy was a constant member of the CBRC throughout the period. [Today, in 2005, he serves as the non-voting Secretary for the CBRC]. He also edited every seasonal report in the Southern Pacific Coast Region throughout our 1965-1989 era.

Official Bird Name: Magnificent Frigatebird
Ticky Token: Yes

Significant bird records: Too many to mention. Jehl (1980, "Trends in the state list of California birds," W. Birds 11:103-110) states that Guy "has participated in the discovery of at least 22 [first state records] and between 1962-1966 accounted for 14 of 20 additions." Here is a selected set of important records between the fall of 1964 and the end of our survey in 1989:
First state records:
  • Red-throated Pipit (flock) 12 Oct 1964  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Philadelphia Vireo  9 Oct 1965 Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Thick-billed Kingbird  19 Oct 1965  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Broad-winged Hawk  11 Dec 1966  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Pine Warbler  22 Oct 1966  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Grace's Warbler  29 Oct 1966  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Wood Thrush  18 Nov 1967  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • White-rumped Sandpiper  6 June 1969  north end Salton Sea RIV
  • Red-faced Warbler  30 May 1970  Brock Ranch IMP [co-finder]
  • Sprague's Pipit  19 Oct 1974  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Stejneger's Petrel  17 Nov 1979 off Pt. San Martin MTY [co-finder]
Second state records:
  • Blue-winged Warbler  26 Sep 1964  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Blackburnian Warbler  fall 1964  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Gray Catbird  fall 1964  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper  spring 1967  Salton Sea RIV
  • Cerulean Warbler  26 Oct 1967  Pt. Loma SD
  • Mississippi Kite  2 June 1968  Furnace Creek INY
  • Baird's Sparrow  5 Oct 1981  Pt. Loma SD
  • Wedge-tailed Shearwater  31 July 1988 north end Salton Sea RIV [co-finder]
  • Neotropic Cormorant  22 Apr 1972  West Pond near Imperial Dam IMP thought at the time to be the second CA record; now thought to be the previous year's bird [the State's first record] returning [co-finder]
Third state records:
  • Yellow-green Vireo  23 Sep 1967  Tijuana R. valley SD
  • Curlew Sandpiper  27 Apr 1974  Salton City IMP
  • Le Conte's Sparrow  27 Oct 1974  Furnace Creek INY
  • White Ibis  10 July 1976  north end Salton Sea RIV
  • Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel  24 Sep 1977 Monterey Bay MTY [co-finder]
Other important records:
  • Buller's Shearwater  6 Aug 1966  Salton Sea first inland record in CA
  • Black-legged Kittiwake  summer 1967  Salton Sea one of 1st inland recs
  • Mew Gull  9 Apr 1969  Salton Sea first inland record
  • Snow Bunting  14 Nov 1970  Scotty's Castle INY first s. CA rec
  • Sooty Shearwater  14 Aug 1971  Salton Sea first inland record
  • Leach's Storm-Petrel  15 Sep 1976  Salton Sea one of 1st inland recs
  • Black Rosy-Finch  31 Mar 1980  nr Bridgeport MNO first n. CA rec in 75 yrs
  • Wood Thrush  15 Nov 1986  Furnace Creek INY 7th CA rec, first inland
  • Rufous-backed Robin  24 Nov 1989  Desert Center RIV 6th CA rec
  • Curlew Sandpiper  4 July 1981  San Elijo Lagoon SD 7th CA rec, 1st in SD
  • Pectoral Sandpiper  Feb-Mar 1982  Salton Sea first to winter in CA [co-finder]
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush  2 Oct 1987  Pt. Loma SD   second s. CA rec
Numerous other records of importance post-date the era under consideration here, including California's first Little Bunting on Pt. Loma SD, 24 Oct 1991, one of the most impressive of all California vagrants

Selected publications by R. Guy McCaskie 1963-1989:
  • McCaskie, R. G. 1963. The occurrence of the Ruff in California. Condor 65:166-167.
  • McCaskie, R. G. 1964. Three southern herons in California. Condor 66:442-443.
  • McCaskie, R. G., and Banks, R. C. 1964. Occurrence and migration of certain birds in southwestern California. Auk 81:353-361.
  • McCaskie, R. G. 1965. The Cattle Egret reaches the west coast of the United States. Condor 67:89.
  • McCaskie, R. G. 1966a. The occurrence of Red-throated Pipits in California. Auk 83:135-136.
  • McCaskie, R. G. 1966b. The occurrence of longspurs and Snow Buntings in California. Condor 68:597-598.
  • McCaskie, G. 1968a. A Broad-winged Hawk in California. Condor 70:93.
  • McCaskie, G. 1968b. Noteworthy vireo records in California. Condor 66:442-443.
  • McCaskie, G. 1970a. The Blue Jay in California. Calif. Birds 1:81-83.
  • McCaskie, G. 1970b. The Broad-billed Hummingbird in California. Calif. Birds 1:111-112.
  • McCaskie, G. 1970c. The occurrence of four species of Pelecaniformes in the southwestern United States. Calif. Birds 1:117-142.
  • McCaskie, G. 1970d. A Red-faced Warbler reaches California. Calif. Birds 1:145-146.
  • McCaskie, G. 1970e. Occurrence of the eastern species of Oporornis and Wilsonia in California. Condor 72:373.
  • McCaskie, G. 1971a. Rusty Blackbirds in California and western North America. Calif. Birds 2:55-68.
  • McCaskie, G. 1971b. A Pyrrhuloxia wanders west to California. Calif. Birds 2:99-100.
  • McCaskie, G. 1971c. The Wood Thrush in California. Calif. Birds 2:135-136.
  • McCaskie, G. 1973. A second look at the exotic waterfowl. Birding 5:45-47.
  • McCaskie, G. 1975a. The Sprague's Pipit reaches California. West. Birds 6:29-30.
  • McCaskie, G. 1975b. Le Conte's Sparrow in California and the western United States. West. Birds 6:65-66.
  • McCaskie, G. 1975c. A Rufous-necked Sandpiper in southern California. West. Birds 6:111-113.
  • McCaskie, G. 1983. Another look at the Western and Yellow-footed Gulls. West. Birds 14: 85-107.
Selected co-authored publications as senior author
  • McCaskie, G., and Prather, R. R. 1965. The Curve-billed Thrasher in California. Condor 67:443-444.
  • McCaskie, R. G., and Banks, R. C. 1966. Supplemental list of the birds of San Diego County, California. Trans. San Diego Soc. Natl. Hist. 14:157-168.
  • McCaskie, G., and DeBenedictis, P. 1966. Birds of Northern California: An Annotated Field List. Golden Gate Audubon Soc., San Francisco.
  • McCaskie, G., Stallcup, R., and DeBenedictis, P. 1967a. The occurrence of certain flycatchers in California. Condor 69:85-86.
  • McCaskie, G., Stallcup, R., and DeBenedictis, P. 1967b. The status of certain fringillids in California. Condor 69:228-229.
  • McCaskie, G., Devillers, P., Craig, A. M., Lyons, C. R., Coughran, V. P., and Craig, J. T. 1970. A checklist of the birds of California. Calif. Birds 1: 4-28.
  • McCaskie, G., and Suffel, S. 1971. Black Skimmers at the Salton Sea, California. Calif. Birds 2:69-71.
  • McCaskie, G., DeBenedictis, P., Erickson, R., and Morlan, J. 1979. Birds of Northern California: An Annotated Field List, 2d ed. Golden Gate Audubon Soc., San Francisco.
  • McCaskie, G., DeBenedictis, P., Erickson, R., and Morlan, J. 1988. Birds of Northern California: An Annotated Field List, 2d ed., reprinted with Supplement. Golden Gate Audubon Soc., San Francisco.
and a few post-1989 publications:
  • McCaskie, G., Dunn, J.L., Roberts, C., and Sibley, D.A. 1990. Notes on identifying Arctic and Pacific Loons in alternate plumage. Birding 22: 70-73.
  • McCaskie, G., and Webster, R. E. 1990. A second Wedge-tailed Shearwater in California. West. Birds 21:139-140.
  • McCaskie, G., and Roberson, D. 1992. First record of the Stejneger's Petrel in California. West. Birds 23:145-152.
  • McCaskie, G. 1993. A Little Bunting reaches California. West. Birds 24:95-97.
  • McCaskie, G., and Patten, M. A. 1994. Status of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana) in the United States and Canada. West. Birds 25:113-127.
  • McCaskie, G., and Vaughn, C.E. 2004. The Common Eider reaches California. West. Birds 35: 219-221.
and as co-author other than senior author
  • Hetrick, W., and McCaskie, G. 1965. Unusual behavior of a White-tailed Tropicbird in California. Condor 67:186-187.
  • Luther, J. S., McCaskie, G., and Dunn, J. 1979. Third report of the California Bird Records Committee. West. Birds 10:169-187
  • Luther, J. S., McCaskie, G., and Dunn, J. 1983. Fifth report of the California Bird Records Committee. West. Birds 14:1-16.
  • Patten, M.A., McCaskie, G., and Unitt, P. 2002. Birds of the Salton Sea: Status, Biogeography, and Ecology. Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles.
  • Pyle, P., and G. McCaskie. 1992. Thirteenth report of the California Bird Records Committee. Western Birds 23: 97-132.
  • Winter, J., and McCaskie, G. 1975. 1973 report of the California Field Ornithologists Records Committee. West. Birds 6:135-144.

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

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