Morlan has long been one of the premier birders in California. Joe grew
up in the East but has been in the San Francisco Bay area since the late
1960s. He has lived on both sides of the Bay and has taught birdwatching
classes through the San Francisco adult school system since the 1970s.
He first appears in American Birds in winter 1972-73 (he is cited
for a half-dozen records) and rapidly became one of the best birders in
the Bay area as a protégé of Van Remsen. He was among those
who met weekly to work out identification as they reviewed specimens at
the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley, where Van had evening access.
He quickly gained stature as one of the Bay Area's leading bird experts.
Joe was the voice of the Bay Area rare bird alert for many years, and the machine was actually in his home long past the end of our period of review. As he taught more and more classes on birds, at differing levels of expertise, he became a mentor to an entire generation of new observers. No other California birder has taught adult-level birding classes for so long and so extensively. The classes include field trips, taking Joe and his students throughout the Bay Area incessantly, and his knowledge of Bay Area birds is perhaps unmatched. He is particularly active on Pt. Reyes, but over the years has seriously birded the entire State. He served as a Regional Editor for American Birds for 4 seasons in the 1970s.
Joe was first elected to the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) in 1981 and has been a constant presence on the Committee ever since, excepting bylaw enforced absences after every two terms. In our period of review, he served for 8 years. He has consistently been one of the most influential CBRC members.
photo 20 June 1992 on a boat just off S.E. Farallon I.
© D. Roberson
has long been interested in the details of bird identification, and he
authored several papers on difficult topics. His discussion of White Wagtail
identification and its forms is a classic (Morlan 1981). Joe (with Dick
Erickson) undertook the problem of convincingly documenting the Pt. Reyes
skylark in a peer-reviewed journal (Morlan & Erickson 1983). Additional
i.d. papers are cited below. In the late 1980s he (along with Don Roberson)
took a series of CBRC submissions that proved to be first state records,
and turned them into publications available to all. Joe wrote the identification
portions of these papers (e.g., Stallcup et al. 1988, Trochet et al. 1988,
Daniels et al. 1989). He was invited to the 1986 international bird identification
meeting in Eilat, Israel, where he attended and presented a paper (see
Dunn et al. 1987).
His acknowledged expertise extends to the status and distribution of birds in northern California. Joe and Dick Erickson revised the classic.bar graph booklet on northern California in the late 1970s (McCaskie et al. 1979) and updated it again in the late '80s (McCaskie et al. 1988). The latter remains in print and is still an excellent source of information on the timing of occurrences and bird migration in the northern half of the State.
Joe was one of the first to recognize the value of the internet in disseminating bird information. His website on California Birding is consistently considered the best website for Statewide birding information, rarity details and photos, and many other features. This latter achievement, though, obviously occurred long after the close of our period of review.
photo 18 Dec 1978 at Spaletta Ranch, Pt. Reyes MRN ©
Official Bird Name: Wood Stork
Ticky Token: Yes
Selected publications 1981-1989:
All photos © to photographers identified on this page; all rights
All text © Don Roberson; all rights reserved.
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