WHO WAS WHO IN CALIFORNIA BIRDING
1965-1989
JON L. DUNN
Jon Dunn was (and remains today) a major force in California birding, particularly in southern California and for his impacts on the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC). Born in Los Angeles County and birding by the age of ten, Dunn was an early protégé of Guy McCaskie and learned extensively from birding with him in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and fellow Los Angelino Kimball Garrett emerged as leading experts in southern California by the early 1970s. He began serving of the CBRC in 1977 and remained a constant presence there throughout the period, except for enforced absences (11 years during our period of review).

By the 1980s he was considered one of the primary experts on field identification in North America, an expertise that would eventually earn him positions on both the American Birding Association (ABA) and American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) Checklist Committees. Perhaps his most notable achievement was as the "chief consultant" of the widely popular National Geographic Field Guide (1983), a revolutionary volume at the time of its publication and now available several editions later. It entirely changed the way observers looked at birds and birding.

Dunn joined the WINGS tour group in the 1980s and has been a professional bird tour leader ever since. He moved to Ohio for a time in the 1990s but has now returned to California and resides near Bishop, Inyo County. Throughout the period under consideration here, he was at the forefront in learning about and disseminating knowledge about the status and distribution of southern California birds. The Birds of Southern California, co-authored with Kimball Garrett (1981), is now an out-of-print classic. Earlier, in the 1970s, he authored a series of identification papers in the Western Tanager, the newsletter of the Los Angeles Audubon Society, that were widely read and influential.  His Field Guide to Warblers of North America, co-authored with Kimball Garrett and published in the Peterson series in 1997 (after the close of our period), is considered the definitive work on that identification topic.

photo (right or above): 20 Sep 1974 on a trip to Santa Barbara I. © D. Roberson

 

Dunn was a very active California birder in the 1970s, rising quickly on the State list until he reached #2, behind Guy McCaskie, by 1977, a position he held through the late 1980s when he finally was away so much on bird tours that he began to miss crucial State birds. By then, however, Dunn was a professional tour leader and no longer formally submitted bird lists. In the '70s, however, he participated in several impressive Big Day efforts, including the still current non-airplane State record on 29 Apr 1978: 231 species [with K.L. Garrett, J.V. Remsen, and R.E. Webster].

His career as a bird tour leader has sent him throughout North America and across much of the globe, with an emphasis on southeast Asia. Dunn has led many tours to Malaysia and Thailand, and his experiences with Asian migrants have been invaluable in evaluating North American claims of Siberian vagrants. His expertise on bird identification has led to many projects, including a two-volume video set on gull identification.

Dunn was among those who pioneered the potential of vagrant traps in Kern County and discovered the importance of wetlands in the Antelope Valley of Los Angeles County. Since moving to Bishop, east of the Sierran divide, he has birded Mono and Inyo counties more extensively, and today has the top list in Mono County.

photo (right) 15 Jan 1975 Hog Lake TEH © Van Remsen
photo [below] 9 Oct 1978 Goleta SBA © Brad Schram Jon Dunn (left) and Richard Webster run for a White Wagtail

as the story goes, Richard drove from Ventura to Encino to pick up Jon before heading north to chase the wagtail what a guy!
 

In the photo (above), Jon Dunn sits next to Wally Sumner (center) and Van Remsen (left) at a birders' party at Lake Arrowhead in July 1976. These three await their 'just desserts' for doing a Big Year in 1976. Unbeknownst to them, that will be a whipped cream pie in the face to be delivered by (L to R) Donna Dittmann, Jolee DeLew, and Susanne Luther. This shot (© B.B. Roberson) is before that delivery, and only Van, of the three of them, appears concerned.

Official Bird Name: White-necked Puffbird
 
Significant bird records: Numerous and extensive records of local interest. Among those of Statewide importance were
  • Gray-tailed Tattler  23 July 1981  Lancaster LA 1st CA record
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull  18 Dec 1984  south end Salton Sea IMP 2nd CA record
  • Louisiana Waterthrush  7 Aug 1985  Deep Springs INY 2nd CA record
  • Red-faced Warbler  14 June 1973  San Gabriel Mts. LA 2nd CA record [co-finder]
  • White-rumped Sandpiper  16 June 1976  south end Salton Sea IMP 2nd CA record [co-finder]
  • Black-headed Gull  14 June 1973  Arcata HUM 3rd CA record [co-finder]
  • Hudsonian Godwit  9 May 1980  Edwards AFB, LA 3rd CA record, first chasable
  • Yellow Wagtail  19 Sep 1982  Pt. Pinos MTY 4th CA record
  • Streak-backed Oriole  6 Nov 1977  Furnace Creek Ranch INY 6th CA record, 1st for interior
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  27 Sep 1989  Gaileo Hill KER 6th CA record, 1st chasable
  • Pyrrhuloxia  7 May 1983  east of Lancaster LA 8th CA record
  • Sharp-tailed Sandpiper  5 May 1982  Lancaster LA 1st spring CA record
  • Yellow-throated Warbler  23 Apr 1974  San Diego SD 2nd spring CA record
  • American Oystercatcher (3 birds)  14 Aug 1977  Salton Sea IMP 1st inland record in CA
  • other important inland birds include Laysan Albatross (5 May 1976) & Leach's Storm-Petrel (15 Sep 1976)
  • Least Flycatcher 26 Nov 1978 Brock Ranch IMP remained to winter, 2nd to winter in CA

Selected publications 1963-1989:

  • Dunn, J.L. 1975-1979. A series of identification articles in Western Tanager, L.A. Audubon Soc. [many specifics are listed in the bibliography in Roberson (1980) Rare Birds of West Coast
  • Luther, J. S., McCaskie, G., and Dunn, J. 1979. Third report of the California Bird Records Committee. West. Birds 10:169-187.
  • Garrett, K.L, and Dunn, J.L. 1981. Birds of Southern California: Status and Distribution. Los Angeles Audubon Soc., Los Angeles.
  • Dunn, J.L., and E. A. T. Blom, chief consultants. 1983. National Geographic Society Field Guide of the Birds of North America. Nat. Geogr. Soc., Washington, D. C., and as sole 'chief consultant' in succeeding editions
  • Lehman, P., and Dunn, J.L. 1985. A little-known species reaches North America. Am. Birds 39:247-250.
  • Dunn, J.L., Morlan, J., and Wilds, C.P. 1987. Field identification of forms of Lesser Golden-Plover. Proc. 4th Intern. Identification Meeting Eilat 1st-8th November 1986.
  • Dunn, J. L. 1988. Tenth report of the California Bird Records Committee. West. Birds 19:129-163.
Selected publications since 1989:
  • Dunn, J. L., and Garrett, K. L. 1990. Identification of Ruddy and Common Ground-Doves. Birding 22:138-145.
  • 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.
  • Dunn, J.L., and Rose, B.J. 1992. A further note on Arctic Loon identification. Birding 24: 106-107.
  • Dunn, J.L. 1993. The identification of Semipalmated and Common Ringed Plovers in alternate plumage. Birding 25: 238-243.
  • Dunn, J. L., K. L. Garrett, and J. Alderfer. 1995. White-crowned Sparrow subspecies: identification and distribution. Birding 27: 182-201.
  • Dunn, J. L., and K. L. Garrett. 1997. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Houghton Mifflin, New York.

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

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