WHO WAS WHO IN CALIFORNIA BIRDING
1965-1989
HERB & OLGA CLARKE
Herb and Olga Clarke are longtime California birders living in Glendale, Los Angeles County. Herb may be best known for his exceptional bird and nature photography, and Olga for her long association with the Los Angeles Audubon Society (LAAS) as the book store manager and tour leader. Both, however, have been very active birders throughout the State since the late 1960s. Herb was listed as #9, and Olga at #14, in the first major listing of State birders in 1969, and by 1981 they were both among the top ten listers in California. They remained there through the end of our period of review (1989), with Herb reaching the #4 spot in 1983. These lists represent a very high level of birding activity throughout the entire State, chasing down almost every 'chasable' rarity. Herb has often added to the necessary documentation through his incredible photos.

Herb grew up back East and has been a birdwatcher since childhood. He met Olga in Louisiana while he was in the Army, and showed her the wonders of birding along the Gulf Coast while courting. They got married, moved to California, and have been constant companions ever since. Olga became a well-known birder in her own right and proved to have a great talent for leading bird tours. She currently leads a wide variety of tours to such exotic locales as Costa Rica, the Galapagos, and southeast Asia. Besides her birding ability, Olga is known for her cooking (her hors d'oeuvres have often been enjoyed by birders out in the field!) and her southern charm.

Herb & Olga are often associated in our collective memory with the late Arnold Small. Herb and Arnold spent years photographing together around California, and pioneered such techniques as setting up a water drip at Corn Springs once a fabulous desert oases with Elf Owls before overrun by ORVs and photographing the migrants that dropped in [some were shown in their now out-of-print Birds of the West (Clarke & Small 1976)]. Sometimes the visitors to the water drip would include eastern vagrants: superb shots of breeding-plumaged Blackpoll and Yellow-throated Warblers appear in Herb's "Southern California" book (Clarke 1989). Herb and Arnold would also often teach UCLA field ornithology classes, and they would always be among the leaders on the annual LAAS pelagic trip on Monterey Bay.

Photo (above) at overlook to Yosemite Valley, Aug 1976 © H. Clarke
 

Herb's photography has been recognized internationally. He has given a wide variety of lectures and has been published widely. His two photo books introducing new birders to California birds (Clarke 1989, 1995) contain nothing but great shots. More recently, he has branched out to butterfly photography (e.g., Heath & Clarke 2004).

Herb's lens selection is legendary (photo right), and his photos share certain characteristics: they are shot in the wild of wild birds; they are crystal clear and sharp; and they show only natural perches and background. Herb avoids photos of birds on wires, telephone lines, posts and other man-made substrate. His photo are meant to show the real bird "in the wild." Since retiring from his career in commercial sales, he and Olga have both crammed their lives with travel, photography, and enjoying nature.

Photo of Herb (right) at Tule Lake NWR headquarters, SIS, 4 Jan 1986 © D. Roberson
 


Official Bird Name: Herb Clark's Nutcracker
Official Bird Name: Olga Louisiana Waterthrush
 
Significant bird records: many records of local interest, and those of Statewide import include
  • Brown Booby  3 July 1965 (adult male brewsteri)  San Miguel I., SBA 7th CA record, first adult male

Selected publications 1965-1989:

  • Clarke, H., and Small, A. 1976. Birds of the West. A.S. Barnes & Co., Cranbury, N.J.
  • Clarke, H. 1989. An Introduction to Southern California Birds. Mountain Press, Missoula, MT.
Selected publications since 1989:
  • Clarke, H. 1995. An Introduction to Northern California Birds. Mountain Press, Missoula, MT.
  • Heath, F., and Clarke, H. 2004. An Introduction to Southern California Butterflies. Mountain Press, Missoula, MT.

All photos © to photographers identified on this page; all rights reserved. Top photo courtesy Herb Clarke.
Louisiana Waterthrush photo © Todd Easterla
All text © Don Roberson; all rights reserved.

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