The death of Rich Stallcup last month deserves a special post as he was a great friend and mentor to me. I first saw Rich at the compilation dinner at the 1973 Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count.
I remember that it was a rainy and moody night and Rich was, of course, the master of ceremonies. As he went through the bird list of the count and got to the rarities – he did so in dramatic fashion.
I will never forget thinking how cool he was and inspiring he was. I thought to myself how I wished I could be like him when I grew up. I still feel that way.
Let’s face it, until Rich Stallcup came along, bird watchers were pretty much nerds. Birders still mostly are, but at least we had a cool cat like Rich Stallcup to remind us that one can connect with the natural world and birds and critters, be a conservationist, and still be a badass dude. If birding ever had a rock star – it was totally Stallcup. Dude had Mojo.
In the last few weeks it has been a bitter sweet pleasure to read and hear so many amazing anecdotes about Rich and his magical birding skill and abilities. He famously had a bird list of species of fish that he had identified being carried by Ospreys. I believe the list was up to 23. I was incredibly lucky to have been on quite a few field trips with him on land and sea during the last ten years. He had a cosmic connection to the natural world and he generously shared not just information but a way of seeing, connecting to, and interpreting the natural world.
We had a lot of memorable conversations about birds, art, and aesthetics. We exchanged old dusty bird books with illustrations of birds. We would admire and critique name brand illustrators of the 19th century but also 1920s 30s and 40s.
Again, Rich’s aesthetic seemed cosmic. It was not based in art and art history – he didn’t need that. He made sensitive and subtle observations rooted in the deeply considered connectedness of the natural world. He was also very supportive of my bird art.
He was generous with his compliments and it meant the world to me that he and his partner, Heather, came to my exhibition at the Bone Room Presents last January in Berkeley.
It was a pleasure to be on field trips with Rich’s Native Birds group and watch his amazing style and skills as a teacher and poet that spoke as an advocate of birds and ecology, and the environment. He, more than anyone I can think of, inspired literally thousands of people to watch and love, and care for birds. He was a real life Pied Piper. I am fortunate to have followed.