Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In Memory of Brian Walton

walton_and_lee_and_sunset.jpgHello all,
Below is a message written by Dr. Eric Johnson, retired Ornithology Professor, Cal Poly, SLO, in memory of recently deceased Brian Walton, Director of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group......
Brian had a strong attachment and love for the Hi Mountain and Huff’s Hole area. Brian found and reported nesting peregrine falcons at Huff’s Hole in the early 1970’s, at a time when the species was very endangered and extremely rare throughout it’s range in the West. For several years a nest watch was set up by the Forest Service to protect and monitor this peregrine site, and I was hired as one of the full-time nest guards at Huff’s Hole in 1978, my first introduction to the Hi Mountain-Huff’s Hole area.

At the time, in the late 70’s, Hi Mountain Lookout was still an active Forest Service fire lookout. For several years in the late 1970’s volunteers from Morro Coast Audubon Society conducted a yearly Huff’s Hole peregrine falcon nest watch, staffing and occupying Hi Mountain Lookout before the Forest Service lookout would come on duty each year during the fire season.
Over a period of several years Brian Walton and his SCPBRG staff conducted innovative endangered species management techniques at the Huff’s Hole and Hi Valley peregrine falcon and prairie falcon nesting cliff sites, by removing and captive-hatching thin, fragile peregrine eggs (and encouraging double clutching at the wild nest), cross-fostering young peregrines into nests with prairie falcons, and setting up a hack box release site for young peregrines.
Indirectly, the very concept of the Hi Mountain Lookout Project -now functioning as biological field research station and interpretive center- would never have come about without Brian’s influence and the history of events that took place at Huff’s Hole near Hi Mountain…a legacy of his efforts and involvement which began there more than three decades ago.
Brian attended and spoke to the group at the annual Hi Mountain Lookout Project open house event in October, 2005. We were very pleased that he was able to visit and see all the work accomplished at the lookout since he had last visited there many years ago. He spoke about the special connections with people and places that can develop and will be maintained over a lifetime, and lives that are changed and career paths established at a place as special as Hi Mountain.
On July 17th several SCPBRG staff made a memorial climb to the top of Morro Rock. Brian Latta repelled down to the southside peregrine eyrie and collected eggshell fragments. The event was also attended by several of Brian Walton’s family and friends. The memorial event in Brian’s honor was written about in the local newspapers.
Steve Schubert Volunteer Coordinator, Hi Mountain Lookout Project www.condorlookout.org
Eric Johnson’s message:
To the group: I am informed by Jamey Eddy that Brian Walton, Director of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, suffered a massive stroke and died yesterday, June 15.
Brian was a graduate of Cal Poly in the early 70’s. He was a student in my Ornithology class, and did his senior project with me on Cooper’s Hawks in SLO County. He subsequently obtained a Master’s degree from San Jose State, where Dick Mewaldt made him work on Song Sparrows in the hope that Brian would learn to look on ‘dicky birds’ as more than just raptor food!
At Santa Cruz, Brian and his group were directly responsible for the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon on the Pacific coast, from California to Washington, and in the Cascades and the Sierra. Many of you worked for him as nest monitors, at Morro Rock, Diablo Canyon, the Big Sur coast, and especially Huff’s Hole.
Brian’s program of captive breeding, fostering, nest manipulation (double-clutching), and hacking Peregrines was his life’s work, and if you see a Peregrine you probably owe Brian a ‘Thank You’. More recently he and his people have been actively involved in the recovery of the U.S. population of Aplomado Falcons.
Brian had a special place in his heart for the Peregrines of Morro Rock, and swore that as long as he had anything to do with it the Rock would always fledge Peregrines. As far as I can recall he was true to his word.
Brian encountered health problems when in his early 30’s (Type I Diabetes) but tried never to let that interfere with his work. He finally underwent a combined kidney and pancreas transplant, which was successful for years.
Brian was devoted to birds of prey, and a Conservationist who indeed truly made a difference. He will be sorely missed.
Eric Johnson, Stuart, VA