My apologies for cross posting.
I would like to personally thank each and every person for their kinds
words about my father. He was an extraordinary man, father, Grandfather,
husband, and friend.
While attending Cal State Long Beach in 1990, I had a course in Marine
Biology. One of the "labs" for the class was a field trip to Upper
Newport Bay and Bolsa Chica. One portion of the "lab" was on coastal
flora and fauna of southern California. It brought back memories as a
child in the 1970's when my father and I ran around the state looking
for birds. I remember calling up my Dad and suggested that we spend a
day birding, just like we had done in the "old days". He was hooked all
over again, and hooked with an enthusiasm and zeal that never waned for
the next 21 years. He was an unstoppable presence in the birding
community until his untimely death on Wednesday night.
People have often asked me when I started birding. My answer has always
been, "it is in my blood". For as long as I can remember, Dad had a pair
of binoculars around my neck. Memories of being in our old VW van,
heading to his banding stations at Buckhorn Campground, Morongo Valley,
Fish Canyon, and Deep Springs College, as a child in the early 70's are
forever chiseled into my memory. Trips to the far reaches of the state
as a child will never be forgotten. The "Big Year" trip in 1975 may have
been the most memorable. Sleeping under the stars at Furnace Creek or
Mesquite Springs, Tombstone hopping at Fort Rosecrans, crossing the
Whitewater River on his shoulders at the north end of the Salton Sea,
are fond memories. I recall days where he contemplated pulling me out of
school to take me down to San Diego to look for a Philadelphia Vireo and
Blackburnian Warbler at Fort Rosecrans Cemetery. Or dragging me down to
Malibu in 1974 to look for the King Eider. A classic "Mike" moment was
when he left my mother and sister and a house full of guests on New
Year's day with the Coppers and several other birders to chase a
Trumpeter Swan at Legg Lake. As I grew into my high school years, my
interest for birding faded and so did my fathers. In the 1980's he
focused on his job and his family. His interest in birding and banding
was slowly fading. He took up hobbies such as playing basketball,
collecting baseball cards, collecting wine and building his rock walls
in the backyard.
One thing that never diminished was his constant battles for the
environment and local conservation. His wars against the Army Core of
Engineers in the late 60's and early 70's were epic. Confronting
quarrelsome and arrogant representatives from various Construction
firms, city managers, or just people he ran across butchering native
habitats never ended. He was well respected because he always fought for
what is right. He did this with such grace and poise, that rarely did
make enemy's. His battles with conservation were also waged at home.
The oak trees around the yard were never trimmed, despite years of
pleading from both my mother, sister and myself. His "native grass
garden" was never pleasing to the eye in the backyard and horrified my
mother as it looked un-kept, and cluttered. But Dad never gave in.
I suggested to him a few years ago that he set up more than two
hummingbird feeders in the backyard, just to see what happens. Well,
thousands of hummingbirds later, and gallons upon gallons of sugar water
later, Dad had easily one of the greatest Hummingbird feeding stations
west of Arizona. I recall the hours we spent during peak Hummingbird
migration looking at those feeders, drinking wine, talking about the
kids, the Dodgers, birds, whatever was on our minds. His "yard list" was
nothing short of spectacular. I am not sure of the final number, but he
amassed well over 225 species. Such rarities as Dickcissel, Bobolink,
Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Blackpoll Warbler, Summer Tanager,
are just a few that come to mind. I remember his "best" bird of the yard
was either a White-headed Woodpecker or the Yellow-belied Sapsucker that
spent the winter in the backyard this past year. We would spend hours in
early June scouring the skies above his house every year looking for
Black Swifts, or Purple Martins. Memories of awaking to him hunched over
the table on the back patio measuring and banding birds are a treasured
remembrance. I recall years where he banded hundreds of Lazuli Buntings,
Purple Finches, and Wilson's Warblers in the backyard. Recent memories
of birding trips to SE Arizona, the Salton Sea, Death Valley, Galileo,
the LA River, and the Big Days shared with Jon Feenstra, Todd McGrath,
and Kimball Garrett are some of the fondest with my father.
As I grew older and began the process of raising a family, my hours in
the field have dropped significantly. Basically birding for me has been
narrowed to local patches near my home in La Verne. I was always in
constant contact with my father, who was updating me on what rarities
were around or just to tell me about his frustration with the Dodgers. I
was able to spend some time on the phone with him the day of his death.
The conversation was the same as it always was, "What time is Jake's
game on Saturday, how is Alex, are you guys coming over for dinner on
Sunday, did you get the E-Bird list I shared with you from 1993?". I
hung up the phone and that was it.................
Birdwatching and conservation aside, I could not have asked for a better
father. He was my best friend, an astonishing Grandfather, and an
amazing husband to my mother. The loss of my father is inexpressible.
However, I have a lifetime of memories to cherish, and the lessons in
life he taught me will not go to waste on my two children.
Rest well mi amigo!!!
Michael J. San Miguel, Jr.
La Verne, CA
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