Following an extensive search, Santa Barbara Audubon Society is very pleased to introduce to our members and the public our new Executive Director, Katherine Emery. Katherine is originally from New York and obtained her B.S. in Biology and Society from Cornell University. She traveled west to pursue graduate work at UCSB. Both her M.S. and Ph.D. are in Marine Science with an emphasis in hydrocarbon seeps and environmental science literacy. As a Fulbright Scholar, Katherine had the opportunity to explore ecology, conservation, and fishery issues in Italy.

… Continue Reading

Summer Match!


Thanks to 30 donors, we raised — and topped — our $20,000 summer Match challenge for the endowment. The result is that the Santa Barbara Audubon Society endowment has nearly doubled, helping ensure our financial footing.

We are very grateful to two longtime Audubon friends who initiated the Match with a total donation of $20,000. And we are very grateful to all of you who helped us match it!

Thank you to everyone who contributed!

SBAS Gets 1st Executive Director



Photo by David Levasheff
Our ED at Goleta Sanitary District after a Baird’s Sandpiper Sighting
Photo by David Levasheff

Co-Presidents Steve Ferry and Dolores Pollock are happy to introduce Santa Barbara Audubon’s first executive director, Cherie Topper. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of our search and look forward to working with Cherie,” report the co-presidents, summing up the feeling of the Board as a new era in the history of SBAS begins. … Continue Reading

SBAS Chapter History

We have added a new item to the About menu on the top of our page. Go there and click on History of SBAS. If you missed reading this three part series in ET or just want to refer to it again, it is now here. Enjoy.

A Brief History of Santa Barbara Audubon – Part Three

The 1980s: Watching Over the Land

By Isabelle T. Walker
As published in El Tecolote August-September 2013

A crested caracara flies over More Mesa in 1997--a biologically diverse  ocean-front parcel SBAS has been fighting to keep undeveloped  since 1982.
A Crested Caracara flies over More Mesa in 1997–a biologically diverse
ocean-front parcel SBAS has been fighting to keep undeveloped
since 1982.

The Gods and Goddesses who watch over birds must have been guarding our chapter in the 1980s too because, in addition to a handful of setbacks (including one very tragic one), Santa Barbara Audubon was blessed this decade with smart, energetic volunteers who considered the welfare of birds more than a pleasant avocation. It was during the 1980s that the now-famous ornithologist Paul Lehman, who had come to UCSB to complete a doctorate, joined our chapter. Not only that, he began coordinating our Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), wrote a regular column in this newsletter on noteworthy bird-sightings, testified at public hearings on County Flood Control practices, More Mesa development, the raising of Gibraltar Reservoir and more. Under Lehman’s guidance, our CBC topped the nation in 1988 with 218 species, and, with 215 species, we were just shy of the top spot in 1983.

Our chapter presidents this decade included Eileen Gray, Rob Lindsay, Chris Benech and Mary Ann Ambrose. But it was Rob Lindsay who served the longest of the group–three consecutive terms and part of a fourth. He began as Editor of El Tecolote (ET) in early 1981. But, as usually happens to good volunteers, his job ballooned. At a monthly board meeting in 1982, the twenty-something UCSB grad was nominated to be chapter president and did not say no. For several years, Lindsay served as both president and ET editor. He oversaw the chapter’s move into its first ever actual office, located at the Goleta depot, and was continually recruiting volunteers to staff it. In 1983, he alerted members to a local developer’s plan to develop multiple residences on a 330-acre parcel of coastal open space known as More Mesa. More Mesa was and is a uniquely biologically diverse area where numerous rare plants and birds thrive including White-tailed Kites, Merlins, Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. Lindsay, with help from other chapter leaders, spearheaded a fundraising campaign to oppose the plan, convincing the board to match donations up to $2,000.

“I remember going to the first hearing [on the project] and hearing the developer get up and say ‘birds don’t pay taxes,’ recalled Lindsay, “and then having the entire [Goleta Advisory] Council vote in favor of development, even though the university had … documented in tremendous detail how important More Mesa was biologically.”

Ultimately, the chapter joined with several other organizations to fight the project, and a benefit brunch at a local restaurant brought in $800 for a total of $4,000 raised to fight the development. In the end, the Coastal Commission nixed the project and the money was left in a legal fund for the chapter to use in future environmental battles.

Meanwhile, field trips and bird walks continued at a steady pace, and Lehman continued documenting season highlights in ET including, that year, a painted bunting present for ten days along Atascadero Creek in Goleta, a recorded first for the region.

Two watershed events happened in 1984. Over 64,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest stretching from Big Pine Mountain Road northeast to Santa Barbara Canyon and due east to Don Victor Valley and the Ventura County line was preserved as wilderness forever in the name of Dick Smith––the larger-than-life conservationist, chapter member, artist and environmental writer who died in 1977. The Dick Smith Wilderness resulted from the persistent urging of his friends on the Trails Advisory Committee, many of whom had been chapter leaders: Jim Mills, chapter president from 1970 to 1971 and Richmond Miller, president from 1964 to 1967, were among them. Bob Easton, Kenneth Millar and Fred Eissler were also part of the group. They petitioned US Congressman Bob Lagomarsino to make the designation and Lagomarsino, a conservationist in his own right, carried the legislation through the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives and secured its passage.

The death of SBAS field trip leader Dean Bazzi in 1984 was a  tragic loss to all who knew him. Photo courtesy of Betty Bazzi
The death of SBAS field trip leader Dean Bazzi in 1984 was a
tragic loss to all who knew him. Photo courtesy of Betty Bazzi

And then, in the pre-dawn hours of October 19th, Dean Bazzi, a 26-year-old UCSB grad and chapter field trip leader, was driving to Lompoc for a new job on the County Agriculture Commission when a deer ran onto the road in front of him. Swerving to avoid it, he crashed. His death was a blow to all who knew him. Bazzi had been an early protector of the Snowy Plover and spent copious hours patrolling Devereux beach, taking notes on nests and tire tracks. To honor him, the chapter funded a scholarship to the UCSB Environmental Studies program and a Botanic Garden Bird Check List. The scholarship is still going strong today.

The winter of 1984 was a good one for birding. There was a first ever sighting in the state of a Kentucky Warbler along San Jose Creek, and in the spring, Lehman saw a Belted Kingfisher in Goleta. Meanwhile, Columbia University sold More Mesa to a Sun Valley resort owner named Earl Holding, bringing a fresh infusion of uncertainty to the land’s future. Once again, chapter members were sent to their writing tablets and computers to urge county supervisors to preserve it as open space.

Paul Lehman, ornithologist extraor-dinaire and SBAS chapter member,  coordinated chapter CBCs for over a  decade.
Paul Lehman, ornithologist extraor-dinaire and SBAS chapter member,
coordinated chapter CBCs for over a

In 1985, Fess Parker’s monolithic hotel proposal came before the City. The chapter opposed it, judging it overly large and too great a drag on water resources. The airport proposed expanding a runway into the Goleta Slough and in 1986, the Western regional office of National Audubon Society reported only two pairs of Condors were currently nesting in California. That meant three pairs had lost mates in the previous year––an inauspicious sign if there ever was one.

Everyone knows a smaller version of Fess Parker’s hotel was approved but not everyone knows the City released a surprisingly sensitive Airport Master Plan in the mid-80s that included some of the best natural history and biology found in this kind of document, according to Mark Holmgren, retired curator of UCSB’s Vertebrate Collection, expert birder and chapter member. The plan led to the formation of the Goleta Slough Management Committee (GSMC), which Holmgren joined, as did, in later years, our recently retired chapter president, Darlene Chirman. Pat Saley, who staffs the GSMC, said the airport’s two runways each needed to have Runway Safety Areas of 1,000 feet. When that additional footage was created two years ago, Tecolotito Creek, which feeds the slough, was shifted west towards Los Carneros Road. But according to Saley, SBAS has been involved in the planning of this all along. “Whatever is done there is done in the most environmentally sensitive manner,” said Saley.

In the second half of the decade, the California Condor’s existence on the planet was hanging by a thread, with more birds dying and infighting among those working to save it. In 1986, when Chris Benesh was chapter president, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife called for the removal of all remaining California Condors from the wild. There were not many to begin with but even so, little consensus existed among our chapter’s roughly 1,200 members. Even National Audubon filed an injunction to prevent it. It failed however and the last wild Condor, AC-9 was ultimately trapped by cannon net and taken to the San Diego Zoo.

“AC-9 was one who entertained me two summers past, although I support the recovery program, I can’t help think of how much more promising the current program would be if it had begun 50 years earlier.”

Another battle joined that year was County Flood Control’s practice of indiscriminately destroying habitat in local creeks, including Atascadero and Carpinteria–habitat responsible for making Santa Barbara a magnet for birds. An informal agreement between birders and the department as to the amount of clearing that would take place was ignored and again, protest letters from SBAS members were urged and sent to County Supervisors. In September 1987, after public hearings that included testimony from Lehman and other biologists, Flood Control agreed to hire a biologist to help them find less destructive ways of clearing creeks beds.

Any chapter member wanting a break from activism had to have been disappointed that year because the City’s plans to raise the level of Gibraltar Reservoir were adding to the Least Bell’s Bireo’s many troubles. SBAS––whose own vice president in 1982, Jim Greaves, single-handedly discovered what turned out to be the largest population of Least Bell’s Vireo in the state––stood in strong opposition. Any raising of the water level in Gibraltar would submerge Mono Creek, our activists asserted, which was part of the vireo’s critical habitat. Thanks primarily to Greaves’ biological studies for the US Fish and Wildlife, the plan was abandoned.

In 1988, Santa Ynez Valley formed its own chapter, La Purisima, and a new system of dues splitting with National Audubon began draining our finances. No Dick Smith or Golden Trout Camp scholarships were given and no donations were made to conservation projects. Joy Parkinson, a chapter founder and never one to be trifled with, wrote the chapter’s first direct appeal to the membership for donations. “We have over 900 members,” Parkinson wrote, “If everyone gave one dollar, we could print two more issues of ET or give a Dick Smith and Golden Trout Club scholarship to two recipients.”

While the chapter was settling into new digs at the Goleta Valley Community Center, a fetching dark-eyed owl with spots inhabiting old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest was taking center stage in a national controversy over the conflict between habitat and economic interests. At once, the nation was awake to the fact that birds’ survival can’t be taken for granted, and that, amid myriad pressures and interests at work in the modern era, there were times when people were going to have to make a lot of noise on their behalf.

To Be Continued?

A Brief History of Santa Barbara Audubon – Part Two

Waking Up to the 1970s

By Isabelle T. Walker
As published in El Tecolote June-July 2013

Union Oil’s 1969 blowout on Platform A jolted our nascent chapter into high gear, just as it jolted the entire community into a state of active alarm. Santa Barbara Audubon members—particularly chapter board members and officers—who had been active before the spill became even more so. Monthly messages from chapter presidents in El Tecolote contained more calls to write, testify or boycott something or other in the interest of habitat or an ecological struggle.

Here is chapter President Tomi Sollen’s message of 1974, “Let’s all strive for conservation of our natural resources . . efforts to keep more oil drilling out of the channel, trail bikes from destroying our wilderness areas, clean water, air, open spaces and abatement of noise pollution.”

A handful of issues carried forward from the 1960s to the decade of Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. The chapter’s long-cherished goal of converting the Bird Refuge into a home for wild, migrating birds was one of them. The project had been stymied by lack of money, conflicts with the adjacent Child’s Estate and a stubborn population of domestic ducks and geese. In 1972, Brad Schram and Lana Wood of The Natural History Museum rowed out and collected 150 goose eggs from the Refuge’s islands in an effort to keep the population down. In 1974, the City Parks Department finally agreed to embark on a master plan for the Refuge. Thirty-five thousand dollars was allocated and most of the elements the chapter wanted were incorporated, including an irrigation system and a paved parking lot.

Numerous and repeated hearings on oil drilling in the channel never failed to bring one or more SBAS members to the microphone. At one key Congressional hearing in 1973, Robert Kasson, SBAS Conservation Co-Chair, said, “We remember the well-meant statements and claims by employees of oil companies. They asked us to trust them and to have faith in their technological expertise. We got the big spill of 1969 and in addition day by day pollution so at this very minute our beaches are not fit to walk on.”

(In 1987, the County Supervisors approved an air-pollution mitigation plan that allowed Exxon to expand its offshore oil development in federal waters off our shores.)

US Gypsum’s 1970 proposal to construct an open-pit phosphate mine on the west slope of Pine Mountain––a mile-and-a-half from critical Condor habitat––was a concern all the way through 1976 and had chapter members repeatedly testifying and writing letters in opposition. Fortunately, the mine was never built. The chapter also protested Exxon’s Las Flores Canyon onshore oil processing plant––which was ultimately built––and a 320-site camp development at Zaca Lake––ultimately denied.

Between 1970 and 1977, chapter membership doubled from 500 to 1,171. In 1972, Supervisor Jim Slater appointed one of SBAS’s founders, Joy Parkinson, to the County Parks Commission. From there she advocated and facilitated, along with chapter Vice President and County Planning Commissioner Cherie Bratt, the county’s 1975 purchase of Lake Los Carneros for $1.25 million. It was on the brink of being sold to Boise Cascade for houses and a golf course. Parkinson and Bratt travelled to Sacramento to meet with William Penn Mott, Jr., director of the State Parks Department. They convinced him to come and see the lake and after a bike ride around its pastoral edge, he agreed it was worth saving and found the money to do it.

Parkinson served a total of five terms as chapter president—three of them in the 1970s.

The backdrop to all this activism included all the varied and usual activities that accompany a growing community of bird lovers and watchers––field trips, rare bird alerts, Christmas Bird Counts and a monthly newsletter that seemed perennially short handed. In 1970, 12 members of the chapter met Ron Hein of California Fish and Game in the Mugu marsh to drag it with ropes in search of endangered Clapper Rails. They found two, thus establishing the marsh as a habitat of an imperiled species.

Our Christmas Bird Counts numbered in the high 190s and low 200s most of the decade. But in 1977, a 214 species total had us number one in the nation. Among the 214 were Whistling Swans, Roadrunners and a Western Tanager.

The late Dick Smith––friend of SB Audubon  and conservationist extraordinaire
The late Dick Smith––friend of SB Audubon
and conservationist extraordinaire

The death of Dick Smith at age 56 in 1977 was a major blow not only to the chapter but to everyone who cared about the back country. Smith was a journalist––he wrote for the News-Press—an artist, an environmental steward, and all around conservationist in the classic sense of the word. He played a major role in educating the community about conservation issues, through his columns, art and stamina.

“He had the most interesting ability to work with nature and technology,” said Parkinson. “He would make life difficult for himself if he could,” said our 1971 Chapter President Jim Mills about Smith’s fondness for roughing it outdoors, where he spent oodles of time with his horse and dog. The chapter established a Dick Smith Scholarship Fund to the Audubon Camp of the West, and later joined the effort to have a section of the San Rafael Wilderness renamed The Dick Smith Wilderness, an effort that succeeded.

As the decade came to a close, the distressing predicament of the California Condor came into focus. Brad Schram, SBAS president from

At the end of the 1970s, the reality of the california  condor’s plummeting population hit home.
At the end of the 1970s, the reality of the California
Condor’s plummeting population hit home.

June 1977 through early 1978 said, “When it appeared that the Condors were beyond being in trouble but on their way out, I proposed, naively, that SBAS take a vote in favor of captive breeding program. And the vote passed.” However, at that point, many chapter members were still opposed to the idea, and willing to say so.

Schram said the Condor’s situation wasn’t an urgent issue until the late 70s and 80s, when it became clear the population was actually plummeting.

“Captive breeding didn’t hit us straight until the late 70s, when we realized how critical [the situation was],” said Schram. “There was a realization that the counts had been too optimistic, that Condors were traveling farther than they thought and there had been more double counting”

As history has shown, 1979 was only the start of Condor’s politically fraught and drama-packed journey back to existence––a journey that is still in progress.

Onward to Part Three – Watching Over The Land

A Brief History of Santa Barbara Audubon – Part One

The J Girls

By Isabelle T. Walker
As published in El Tecolote April-May 2013

Early SBAS presidents at NAS convention in Sacramento.  From left, Rich Miller, Nelson Metcalf, Ruth Holbrook, and Joy  Parkinson. Photo by Jan Hamber
Early SBAS presidents at NAS convention in Sacramento. From left, Rich Miller, Nelson Metcalf, Ruth Holbrook, and Joy Parkinson. Photo by Jan Hamber

When it comes to birthdays and anniversaries, 50 is indisputably big. And so this year, as Santa Barbara Audubon (SBAS) marks its 50th anniversary, we can pause to tally our accomplishments and look back with pride as they are many and varied. Put together, they are a chronicle of Santa Barbara’s evolving environment and changing views on conservation. Since 1963, when the old Museum of Natural History’s Bird Study Group became a National Audubon Chapter, our members have been advocating fiercely for birds and bird habitat, while simultaneously delighting in their complexity and beauty by organizing and leading bi-weekly free bird walks, monthly field trips, and education programs.

Our chapter was there when the brand new zoo tried to saw off a portion of the Andree Clark Bird Refuge for an exotic bird exhibit, and worked diligently to ensure the entire property would be dedicated to the purpose its owner had intended––a refuge for wild birds. In 1964, our second president, Rich Miller testified at a U.S. Congressional hearing on the proposed Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964––encouraging its passage. (It did pass and paved the way for the creation of The San Rafael Wilderness four years later, the nation’s first.) We were there on January 28th, 1969, when Union Oil’s Platform A blew out, spilling between 80 and 100 thousand barrels of crude oil into the sea, covering shorebirds and other wildlife. SBAS members responded with grassroots activism, and many also hand carried blackened Grebes, Cormorants and other birds off the beach and to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where volunteers did their best to save them.

Though the chapter was founded in the summer of 1963, for 30 years it had had been quietly gestating in an upstairs lab room at the Museum, and on weekly field trips into the hills and valleys around Santa Barbara. It was in that room, and on those museum-sponsored sojourns where Santa Barbara’s most devoted bird lovers gathered to learn from ornithologists like Ralph Hoffmann (the Museum’s director who founded the group in the 1930s), Egmott Rett, and Waldo Abbott, Hoffman’s successors. Known as the Bird Study Group, it had roughly 80 members but only 25 attended regularly. The Bird Group might have continued on as it was, content in the peaceful joys of learning and birding, had it not been for two adventuresome young mothers relocating to Santa Barbara from the San Fernando Valley. Joy Parkinson and Jan Hamber, known as the J Girls, met in the mid-50s, when they were neighbors in a Van Nuys apartment complex. Both had toddler-aged sons and an affinity for the natural world. They began taking trips into nature with their kids. The birds intrigued Hamber, already a California Audubon member. Parkinson loved plants. But one day, when the two were sitting outside together, Hamber raised her seed-filled open palm and a bird flew onto it and nibbled.

“No plant in the world would ever do that,” Parkinson remembers thinking. “That was it. I was lost.”

Hank and Jan Hamber and son  Robert bird watching in 1964.  Courtesy SB News-Press
Hank and Jan Hamber and son Robert bird watching in 1964. Courtesy SB News-Press

Parkinson moved to Santa Barbara with her family in 1958. They lived in Summerland; Hamber and her family were regular visitors. A year later, the Hamber family moved to the area as well, and the J girls joined the Bird Study Group. The study group was affiliated with National Audubon Society for purposes of the Christmas Bird Count. But as the 50s gave way to the 60s, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted more people to the threats facing the natural world, Hamber and Parkinson began talking up the idea of a Santa Barbara Audubon chapter.

By 1962 enough interest had been stirred up that a poll was taken of the [Bird Study] Group and a large majority elected to form the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. A steering committee was formed to draw up a constitution, recruit members, (a minimum of 35 new members was necessary to form a new branch); to elect a board of directors, and in June 1963, the Santa Barbara Audubon received its [official] charter from The National Audubon Society.
––Joy Parkinson

The fledgling chapter encompassed a vast area at first, from Santa Barbara County’s northwestern edge south to Camarillo and inland to Ojai, Santa Paula, and Fillmore. The size of Delaware. As other Audubon chapters gradually established themselves, ours shrank down to essentially the the South County region.

The first SBAS Board president was Nelson Metcalf, and the inaugural Board included Waldo Abbott, Irma Cooke, Margaret Millar, Janet Hamber, Ruth Holbrook and others. Parkinson chaired the Membership Committee; Hamber edited El Tecolote and ran a Rare Bird Alert (basically a phone chain). By September 1963, SBAS’ account had a balance of $182.00 and no office space. Irma Cooke was known as Cookie, because she brought cookies and hot cocoa on the field trips led by Abbott. Margaret Millar was Conservation Chair and alerted members when important review boards and Council hearings were planned.

In the winter of our first year, the chapter began speaking up for the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, attending City Council meetings and doing research, ultimately preventing the zoo from taking a portion of the property. A letter-writing campaign was launched to prevent the building of the Sierra Madre Ridge Road which would have opened the San Rafael Wilderness, the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary, and other condor sensitive areas to streams of cars and recreational traffic. Santa Barbara Audubon partnered with the Trails Advisory Committee and The Sierra Club to stop the road from being built until its effect on the Condor could be studied. The road was delayed until further study was done, and never did get built. The chapter had a committee to organize a campaign supporting the passage of The Wilderness Preservation Act of 1965. And, according to old editions of El Tecolote in 1964, there were 36 Rare Bird Alert calls, including a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Louisiana Heron, an Eastern Kingbird, and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Other battles were waged too: against a proposed subdivision around Lake Los Carneros, a proposal by Pacific Bridge Company to turn Goleta Slough into an industrial park. (That idea collapsed when a UCSB professor and activist got into a boat and rowed up the slough, proving it was a navigable waterway and under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.)

Parkinson was chapter president on January 28th, 1969, when Platform A blew out off our coastline.

Courtesy SB Historical Museum
Courtesy SB Historical Museum

I didn’t’ sleep, the phone rang so often . . . somebody called me and my husband jumped down her throat and it was one of the Board members. Scared her to death. He said ‘My wife’s ready to flip. She doesn’t get any rest. People start calling at 5 in the morning they call till midnight.’ People trying to sell me things to save the birds.

Fred Hartley, the gruff, outspoken president of Union Oil even called Parkinson as the disaster was unfolding.

He apologized. After he finished calling, the phone rang again and it was his personal secretary. She said, ‘Did he talk to you?’ I said ‘Yes, he did.’ ‘He was trying to apologize and it’s hard for him.’ I said, ‘Well it’s very hard for me with what’s going on.’ She said, ‘I understand but he really feels terrible.’

In the May 1969 edition of El Tecolote, Parkinson wrote that SBAS members had performed “yeoman service” in response to the spill. They wrote letters, circulated petitions, rescued birds, paraded with picket signs, and more. The chapter protested the use of detergents to break up the oil, demanded the cessation of all oil operations in the channel, and submitted testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution. SBAS also raised funds for Santa Barbara’s Citizen Committee for the Environmental Defense Fund to fly Victor J. Yannacone Jr., a New York Environmental Defense Fund attorney, to town to discuss legal recourses. “Later, of course, Santa Barbara founded its own Environmental Defense Center,” Parkinson wrote in a short history of the chapter. “I’d like to think that maybe SBAS had a small part in inspiring its creation.”

Onward to Part Two – Waking Up to the 1970s