Luther is an active California birder, based out of his home in the Oakland
hills in the San Francisco Bay area. He first appears in Audubon Field
Notes/American Birds in the winter 1971-72 issue, when he is credited
with observations from both northern and southern California. Throughout
our period of review he taught biology at the College of Alameda, but has
since retired to live the life of leisure.
John was the second person to serve as Secretary of the California Bird Records Committee. He won election to that job in 1977 and served for five years, publishing three different CBRC reports as author or senior author. During his tenure the Committee adopted formal bylaws, instituted staggered terms of office, and required long serving members to sit out a year after two consecutive 3-year terms. John also served as President of Western Field Ornithologists (1979-1980).
John and his then-wife Suzanne were at the center of birding social scene in the 1970s, hosting several major birding parties at their residence. Their son, David, came along on birding trips when very young, riding in a 'inside-the-car' play pen through Death Valley. [David would become a well-known San Francisco area birder in the 21st century.] John was a constant presence on WFO boat trips and at WFO conventions throughout our period of review.
Photo aboard boat enroute to Davidson Seamount MTY 17
Nov 1979 © D. Roberson
John has long had a special interest in learning the entire state of California. In 1975, he did a serious 'Big Year' in 1975, finishing in a tie for second that year with 418 species. By the end of '75 he was among the top ten listers in California.
His interest for all of the State went well beyond these achievements. In the '80s he began traveling to all 58 counties in California to bird seriously in each of them. An initial goal was to be among the first to have recorded 100 or more species in every county, and he was. In more recent years — after the close of our period of review in 1989 — John continued to work each county, slowly amassing additional species in each, and finding a wide range of vagrants and new county records in the process. In very recent years, into the 21st century, John became the first (and still the only) birder to record 200 species in each of California's 58 counties. He even has 300 species in 12 different counties. His 'total tickies' (the combined total of all 58 personal county lists) exceeds 14,800 — about 1000 ahead of his nearest competitor. These heights are unprecedented, and the effort to locate 200 species in every county has given John an amazing understanding of bird distribution throughout the State.
John's interest have not been limited to county birding. An all-round naturalist; he has traveled widely across the globe in search of birds and nature experiences. He has passed on a wealth of information to others through his teaching and his willingness to share with other observers.
John's experiences brought to our attention the concept of "bird names" in the late 1970s. Through his friends in the Texas birding community in the early 1970s, he was given the name 'Aplomado Falcon.' He used his name proudly when back in California, and in time the idea caught fire, leading to a short frenzy of 'bird naming' by an anonymous, by structured, committee in the late 1970s [see more details on a separate page]. The whole concept blazed and burned out by the early 1980s, but the names remain as a memory of that era. 'Aplomado Falcon' continues as a part of John's email address to this day.
Photo (right) 23 Jan 1982 in the Yolo Bottoms near Davis
YOL (at the Gyrfalcon) © D. Roberson
Official Bird Name: Aplomado Falcon
Selected publications 1979-1989:
All photos © to photographers identified on this page; all rights
Painting of Aplomado Falcon from R.T. Peterson (1973) A Field Guide to Mexican Birds
All text © Don Roberson; all rights reserved.
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