WHO WAS WHO IN CALIFORNIA BIRDING
1965-1990
A HISTORY and CHRONOLOGY
OF YEARLY HIGHLIGHTS
OVER the QUARTER CENTURY 1965-1989

The State List and listers

text by Don Roberson
photos by Don Roberson unless
otherwise indicated; all photos copyrighted
to the photographer indicated; all rights reserved
 
In 1980, Joe Jehl, Jr. published a paper in Western Birds entitled "Trends in the state list of California birds" [WB 11:103-110]. The article describes some of the history of the growth in the California state list and has a number of interesting conclusions and ramifications. It begins this way:
It is hardly surprising that California, with its large size, seacoasts, and varied topography would harbor one of the most diverse assemblages of birdlife of any state. The number of species recorded within its boundaries is exceeded only by Texas and the difference is small.1 Grinnell and Miller (1944) recognized 427 species as having occurred naturally. Adjusted for the inclusion of [established] introduced species, shifts in taxonomic concepts, and critical reexamination of some early records, the 1944 list contains 431 species. In the subsequent 3.5 decades, the state list has continued to increase at an astonishing rate and by the end of 1979 stood at approximately 535 species, a 24% increase.
Jehl's review ended at 1979; my web project ends in 1989. Using the figures given by Jehl, and then those cited by the CBRC in their reports during the 1980s, and adjusting where necessary for taxonomic changes, here's a short table showing the growth of the California state list. Jehl's figures showed a growth rate of almost 0.7% a year, or about 3 birds a year, between 1944 and 1979 (with a slow rate in the 1950s and an upswing in the '60s and '70s). In the 1980s the growth rate grew to 0.95% a year, or about 5 new California birds a year. By 1989, the State list had increased 36% since Grinnell & Miller's (1944) survey of the California avifauna. Almost all this growth was due to the discovery of vagrants.
Year
Total
Year
Total
1944
431
1969
499
1949
442
1974
519
1954
447
1979
535
1959
454
1984
561
1964
473
1989
586

Footnote 1: The official California list would pass the official Texas list in 2005, but the difference still remained very small (628 to 627).

COMPARATIVE STATE LIST TOTALS  1969-1989

The following is a reasonably accurate re-creation of the ranked California list totals by the State's top birders as of the date cited in each table. There was no known compilation prior to that published in the first volume of Birding magazine in 1969; it is probable that some active observers did not submit lists initially in early1969, so I use the most complete report in Dec 1969 (using Oct 1969 lists) as the starting point. It appears that all active observers submitted State list totals to the ABA from about Oct 1969 through1978. In the mid-1970s, however, many California listers chose to use a NIB approach to listing (="no introduced species" included), and this difference in approach dramatically affected the "rankings" shown in Birding listing supplements in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thus those publications cannot be trusted unless you happen to know who did and who did not use the NIB approach. I happen to know all that stuff.

Starting about 1976, I conducted personal surveys of all top California listers to record their totals, and regularly compiled those statistics. This was most extensive in the late 1970s but I have occasional updated surveys through March 1988. I have relied heavily on these compilations in this presentation. Beginning about 1980, some top State birders stopped submitting lists to the ABA for various reasons. Some were in protest of certain ABA decisions, and for others, it was thought unseemly for bird tour leaders to submit personal listing totals. It was been impossible to determine the actual numbers or rank of California birders from published ABA sources since the early 1980s. However, my personal surveys during the '80s permit this reasonably accurate re-creation through March 1988. I have not conducted these types of surveys since then.

Don Roberson
Oct 1969
Guy McCaskie 472
Shum Suffel 437
Cliff Lyons 433
Joe Greenberg 432
Arnold Small 432
Larry Sansone 428
Bruce Broadbooks 414
Ted Chandik 410
Herb Clarke 402
Ralph Mancke 390

of note

#14 Olga Clarke 377
#21 Bob Smart 326

 
 

source: Birding 1(6):12 (1969)

Jan 1971
Guy McCaskie 477
Shum Suffel 449
Rich Stallcup 445
Alan Craig 442
Cliff Lyons 440
Joe Greenberg 437
Bruce Broadbooks 435
Larry Sansone 434
Arnold Small 431
Pierre Devillers 424

of note

#11 Eugene Cardiff,
Dave DeSante
423
#27 Ralph Mancke 390
#33 Kim Garrett 375
#35 Scott Terrill 375
source: Birding 3:96 (1971)
Sep 1973
Guy McCaskie 486
Shum Suffel 465
Cliff Lyons 460
Bruce Broadbooks 453
Rich Stallcup 445
Hal Baxter 444
Alan Craig 442
Joe Greenberg 440
Lee Jones 440
Larry Sansone 440

of note

#34 Jon Dunn 401
#35 Van Remsen 401
#57 Joe Morlan,
Steve Bailey
359
#73 Don Roberson 346
source: Birding 5:247 (1973)
Dec 1975
Guy McCaskie 494
Shum Suffel 483
Jon Dunn 480
Rich Stallcup 479
Cliff Lyons 472
Larry Sansone 471
Bruce Broadbooks 470
Lee Jones 465
Hal Baxter 463
John Luther 460
Note: McCaskie reached #500 in 
May 1975 but with AOU lumps 
the number was adjusted by Dec. 
#13 Dick Erickson 457
#15 Ron LeValley 456
#17 Don Roberson 451
#20 Joe Morlan 447
source: Birding supp (1976): 15
Dec 1977
Guy McCaskie 501
Jon Dunn 489
Shum Suffel 487
Rich Stallcup 484
Don Roberson 481
Bruce Broadbooks 480
Larry Sansone 477
Lee Jones 476
Kimball Garrett 475
Arnold Small 475

Of note

#20 Eliz. Copper 464
#21 Dick Erickson,
Louis Bevier
463
#23 Donna Dittmann 462
#35 Richard Webster 454
source: personal survey (1978)
All lists are based on the then-current AOU/ABA taxonomy. The most dramatic change was the 32nd supplement to the 5th ed. AOU Checklist that reached general circulation in the middle of 1975. This was a "lumpers" revision, and many State listers "lost" such taxa as Blue Goose, Common Teal, Harlan's Hawk, Yellow-shafted & Gilded Flickers, Myrtle Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, and Slate-colored & Gray-headed Junco. There were some splits also: Thayer's Gull and Willow/Alder Flycatchers, for example. [Note that some of these taxa were later re-split by AOU and others may be re-split in the future.] The net effect on Guy McCaskie's list in mid-1975 was a loss of 7 species (see Birding 7: 238]; others were similarly affected.
Nov 1979
Guy McCaskie 504
Jon Dunn 498
Shum Suffel 494
Bruce Broadbooks 493
Larry Sansone 493
Don Roberson 492
Rich Stallcup 487
Arnold Small 486
Kimball Garrett 485
Lee Jones 484

source: personal survey (1979)

Dec 1981
Guy McCaskie 506
Jon Dunn 501
Bruce Broadbooks 498
Shum Suffel 498
Herb Clarke 496
Larry Sansone 494
Olga Clarke 494
Don Roberson 493
Arnold Small 493
Eliz. Copper 492

source: personal survey (1982)

Dec 1983
Guy McCaskie 522
Jon Dunn 518
Bruce Broadbooks 513
Herb Clarke 512
Arnold Small 510
Larry Sansone 510
Don Roberson 510
Eliz. Copper 510
Olga Clarke 509
Richard Webster 501
source: combo of personal survey (1982) & Birding supp (1984)
Oct 1986
Guy McCaskie 535
Jon Dunn 529
Bruce Broadbooks 528
Arnold Small 528
Don Roberson 526
Herb Clarke 525
Larry Sansone 523
Clyde Bergman 520
Olga Clarke 519
Richard Webster 515
source: combo personal survey (1986) & Birding supp (1987)
Mar 1988
Guy McCaskie 548
Bruce Broadbooks 542
Jon Dunn 542
Don Roberson 540
Arnold Small 539
Herb Clarke 536
Larry Sansone 534
Bruce Barrett 533
Olga Clarke 530
Clyde Bergman 530
source: combo personal survey (1988) & Birding supp (1992)
California State list totals are achieved by a combination of interest level, energy level, time and money (to chase distant rarities), access to information, and expertise, more or less in that order. But a sample taken over two decades, like this one, can say something about the overall level of interest in searching out State-level rarities. For example, compare the first two tables. In 1969, Ralph Manche was ranked 10th in the State; he reported the same total 2 years later and by then he is listed as 27th. At least 17 more dedicated or more energetic observers had passed him by. Rich Stallcup is in the top ten throughout the 1970s, but is missing at this level in the 1980s, a sign of Rich's change in emphasis from State listing to birding his local patch (e.g., Pt. Reyes) or leading tours. A very energetic birder could rise rapidly in the '70s: Jon Dunn was at #34 on the State list in 1973 but was #3 within two years, and #2 two years later. Of all the State's listers, only Guy McCaskie has maintained the same level of interest and energy throughout the period. 
GO TO
PART ONE
1965-1969
 HISTORY & CHRONOLOGY
GO TO
PART TWO
1970-1979
HISTORY & CHRONOLOGY
GO TO
PART THREE
1980-1989
HISTORY & CHRONOLOGY
GO TO
IN 1965-1989

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

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