March 1, 2011


Mike San Miguel on a pelagic trip out of Bodega Bay, California, September 9, 2009. Photo by Kristen Olson on Flickr.

There were many reasons to admire ardent conservationist Mike San Miguel, who died last year while conducting owl surveys for SoCal Edison in the San Gabriel Mountains. For one thing, Mike "offered his time and energy as a volunteer data reviewer for San Bernardino County, California," to quote eBird's tribute, and that was a big deal for me, because I happen to live and bird in San Bernardino County. For another thing, Mike led field trips for L.A. Audubon, offering his time and his considerable birding expertise to bring people closer to the life of the skies.

Mike's generosity of spirit meant that run-of-the-mill, garden-variety birders like me had the opportunity to go birding with one of the best field ornithologists in North America — except that I never did get the chance to go birding with him, because birding with Mike San Miguel was a Special Thing that I was saving for the future, when my birding skills would be better. And now it's too late.

"He was one of those guys that made you feel better when he was around. Because he was so full of the right stuff."*

Kimball Garrett reported Mike's death to the online community of California birders the day after the tragedy occurred, and handled the somber task with skill and eloquence. If I were ever faced with such a heartbreaking responsibility, it would be a miracle if I managed to write a message half as fine and heartfelt as Garrett's post about Mike. The folks at eBird weighed in with tributes of their own, and Mike's son and daughter added beautiful posts that speak volumes about their dad. All are very worth reading. His daughter writes:
I ask one favor of Dad's dear birding friends; next time you chase a great bird, get it in your sights and get a good look, take a moment to think of Dad. That way I'll know he's still out there birding with you.
Mike San Miguel was a beloved family man, a citizen scientist of the highest rank and an inspiration to more people than he could ever have imagined. My eBird-list-per-day resolution this year is in memory of Mike. "Birding with a purpose," Kimball Garrett called it — all our small lists and Mike's vastly more extensive ones helping people learn more about birds and the environment, now and a hundred years from now. A friend calls it "birding in the spirit of Mike San Miguel."

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