[Tweeters] Terry Wahl 1930-2022

Hal Opperman hal at catharus.net
Sun Feb 20 21:05:01 PST 2022

Like many other Washington birders, I came to know Terry first through his and Dennis Paulson's birdfinding guide. After a long dormancy, my interest in birding reawakened in the mid-1980s, and a revised edition of this already classic book was one of my first acquisitions (along with Gene Hunn’s then recently published Birding in Seattle and King County, itself destined to be a classic).

One thing led to another. The Washington Ornithological Society was founded in 1988; at their second annual conference in Ocean Shores in September 1990 one of the field trips was a pelagic organized by Terry, with two boatloads of enthusiastic birders heading out of Westport early one stormy day. This was my first pelagic trip, and as such stands out vividly in my memory among many later ones. We were treated to a good array of the expected species, plus Manx Shearwater (first state record) and a Pterodroma petrel observed in flight that many of the experienced hands on board — Terry among them — identified as a probable Juan Fernandez Petrel. A good share of the participants saw the bird well enough to describe it, but most had limited experience of similar species and photography was impossible due strong wind, rough seas, and spray. The WBRC reviewed the reports twice, and ultimately voted No — the proper decision, surely, but if general enthusiasm alone could have carried the day, this species would now be on the state list. Terry was a true believer and as enthusiastic that day as anyone, but in the end, reason prevailed. That was Terry.

At another annual WOS conference in Mount Vernon, held in February 1998, Bill Tweit and Dennis presented the second Zella M. Schultz Lifetime Achievement Award to Terry, to sustained applause from the banquet audience. Terry followed with an impressive address on trends in the status of seabird species based on the scrupulously compiled data from 200-plus trips going back to the beginnings of Westport Seabirds in 1971. This talk left a lasting impression on those present, and raised concerns that caught and continue to engage the attention of the conservation community. Here again, vintage Terry.

Terry was a bedrock member of our birding community in the last third of the 20th century and on into the 21st. He was also a genuine leader, in the fullest (and rarest) sense of the word. He quietly shaped, and his legacy still informs in so many good ways, Washington birding as we conceive of it and practice it today.

Hal Opperman

> On Feb 19, 2022, at 6:55 PM, Bill Tweit <bill.tweit at gmail.com> wrote:


> I am so sorry to be the bearer of the news that Terry Wahl passed away on Feb 17, peacefully, at home, surrounded by family. For many of us, Terry was the father of birding as we know it in Washington. He and Dennis Paulson produced one of the first birdfinding guides in the nation, he started Westport Seabirds, he urged the creation of a Bird Records Committee, he birded the entire state when few others were, as well as many other contributions. To me, he was a mentor, colleague and friend, and I miss him greatly. Like many other west coast birders, I learned so much from him about field ornithology and birding, thanks to him Westport Seabirds has a amassed a half century database of seabird abundance and distribution off Washington. There is nowhere else in the world that can make this claim.


> Following is the obituary his family has prepared. At this time, I do not think there are any plans for a memorial service. His family suggests donations in his name to the Whatcom Land Trust. I also suggest that contributions to the Western Field Ornithologists scholarship or research grants program, or contributions to the Pacific Seabird Group funds supporting student research or conservation projects, would be fitting memorials.

> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

> Terence R. Wahl, 91, ornithologist, environmentalist, and patriarch to many, died at home on Thursday, February 17th, 2022.


> Born in Bellingham on March 18, 1930 to Ralph Wahl and Jean Kennedy Wahl, Terry graduated from the University of Washington, earning a degree in business, and attended New York University in Manhattan. In 1951 he married Robin Geske, and entered the long-lived family business, Wahl’s department store in Bellingham.


> In 1972 he changed occupations and became a full-time field ornithologist. For over thirty years following his departure from retail, he worked at what he called “the equivalent of three part-time jobs for half pay,” writing environmental impact statements concerning breeding bird habitats, for both state and federal governments. He was a pioneer in bird census on the west coast, and started one of the earliest ecotourism businesses in the state – leading ocean-going tours out of Gray’s Harbor, educating his clients in the identification and ways of pelagic birds. He taught ornithology classes and conducted local birding trips for many years. In the mid 1970s he was a bird observer on a NOAA ship sailing to Peru and west to find the origin of La Nina, and on other trips across the North Pacific and Bering Sea, several aboard Japanese research vessels. His connections in the birding world brought many people to the Washington coast and to Bellingham, and he started many long friendships through this work.


> He published “Guide to Bird Finding in Washington” in 1977, then “Birds of Whatcom County,” last edition in 1995, and “Birds of Washington: Status and Distribution,” published by Oregon State University Press in 2005, compiled and edited with two fellow ornithologists.


> Terry imbued in his children a great love of the natural world, through camping trips in all kinds of weather, days spent in the woods and salt-marshes, memorable road trips throughout the west, in seeking and finding bird species. He taught them basic carpentry, beekeeping, how to shoot a basketball, how to make a pun that would leave others groaning in despair. His innermost concerns were to take care of the environment. He was one of the stewards of the world who didn’t mind being called a curmudgeon.


> He will be missed.


> In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Whatcom Land Trust.


> Bill Tweit

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