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Alan Baldridge 1933 – 2014

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Published in The Monterey Herald from May 31 to June 2, 2014
The birds and mammals of the Monterey Bay lost a loyal friend and protector with the passing of Alan Baldridge, 80, who died May 28, with his soulmate Sheila at his side.  After moving to the Monterey Peninsula in 1966, Alan became an expert on the identification, ecology, biology and conservation of local marine mammals, seabirds, and land birds. His passion for, and careful observation of these animals was shared in writing, teaching, and organizing efforts on their behalf. He co-authored in 1980, The Bird Year about the seasonal habitats and ecology of Monterey's birdlife, and then Gray Whales in 1991, a classic, for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 
During nearly 30 years as librarian at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, Alan was a tireless and life-long educator who was generally considered the "go-to" naturalist when government officials or news reporters wanted to know something about things that fly over, swim in or wash up on the shores of Monterey Bay. He inspired countless marine biologists, ornithologists and field birders with his passion for the ecology and conservation of the diversity of wildlife, which also took him on numerous travels throughout the world. His narrations on Monterey Bay pelagic trips were detailed accounts of the lives of both seabirds and mammals. At a physical therapy session the day before his death, Alan was joyfully educating the therapist about the pelicans she watches soaring over the ocean.
Alan's efforts in protecting wildlife included helping to establish the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society. He was a major driver in establishing the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. Alan served on the boards of the Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society, Friends of the Sea Otter, Friends of Hopkins Marine Station and was a trustee for Myers Oceanographic and Marine Biology Trust.
A native of Darlington, England, Alan lived through World War II bombings, and graduated with a master's degree in library science. He courted a Scottish lass named Sheila Gibson by taking her for motorcycle rides to sewage ponds to watch birds. In spite of this they married in 1960, moved to the United States in 1962 and settled in Pacific Grove in 1966. Alan took the library position at Hopkins, while Sheila worked in a similar position at Moss Landing Marine Labs. From 1974-1978, Alan was librarian at the University of Miami Rosensteil School of Marine Science, before returning to Hopkins.
Along with his wife Sheila, Alan is survived by his brother, Ken and wife, Kath, and family of Darlington, and cousins, Joan and Frederick Frater and family of Rickmansworth, England.The family would like to especially thank caregiver Doug Cupp for all his help and kindness to Alan during the last two years.
Contributions  in the memory of Alan Baldridge can be made to: The Earl and Ethel Myers Oceanographic & Marine Biology Trust, P.O. Box 3221, Monterey, CA 93942; Point Blue Conservation Science (PRBO fund), 3820 Cypress Drive #11, Petaluma, CA 94954; Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society student research grants, P.O. Box HE, Pacific Grove, CA 93950.

Published in The Sanderling May/June 2010 Vol.68 No. 1 Monterey Audubon Society


Twists of fate have a way of making already compelling human stories all the more remarkable.
In Churchill 's wartime England a boy of 10 and his broth er were rush ed along by their mother to catch a train bound for Darlington in northern England. They were late. The train had left the station and began to steam away while the stricken mother with luggage and sons in tow sprinted ahead, waiving her arms and calling out in desperation. They managed to catch the conductor 's eye who graciously stopped the train in time for them to catch up. The next train, the one on which they would certainly have ridden were it not for the energy and resolve of that mother and the graciousness of the conductor, was destroyed by the bombs of Hitler's Luftwaffe, killing most in the passenger cars. Thanks to a few quick steps nearly 70 years ago and a kind conductor from Northern England, many on the Monterey Peninsula have gratefully enjoyed the company and guidance of Alan Baldridge. 

It was the hedgerows of Northern England that first showed Alan Baldridge the wonder and beauty of wild birds. It began with migrant Redstarts in the old meadows and farm fields of home, and lead to more spirited adventures in Scotland's craggy highlands and the glories of the French Camargue, teeming with Flamingos and Afrotropical migrants. By the time he married his wife of some 50 years, Sheila, birds were firmly ensconced as a great joy of his life. As a young man Alan was certified as a master librarian and quickly became curator and steward of a prestigious Liverpool library's rare book collection. Part of his responsibilities were to care for the most important American first editions. John Audubon's elephant folio and Lewis and Clark's accounts captured Alan's imagination. Soon thereafter, Alan and Sheila arranged to become librarians and the Multnomah Library in Portland, Oregon. They only intended to stay in the States for a 3-year stint, enough to soak up a change of scenery and satisfy Alan's American curiosity. But the grandeur of the American West 's wild lands was a siren song too sweet to flee Oregon's rugged coast, the great expanses of wetland wilderness at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the booming sage-grouse in the desert flats made the Baldridge's decision to stay an easy one.

In the middle sixties there was an opening at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station and the Baldridges jumped at the chance of moving to the Monterey Peninsula. Situated on a promontory overlooking Otter Point and Monterey Bay, it's where Alan would spend most of the next four decades teaching courses on ornithology and caring for the Station's Marine Biology Collection, aside from a sojourn of several years in Florida where Alan was charged with the biological collection of a Miami University. In the late seventies while at Hopkins Alan wrote "The Bird Year" now a famed, classic reference and celebration of the birds and coast of Central California with John Davis. During the Pacific Grove years Alan and Sheila's avian and nature travel blossomed, and their travels took them across much of the globe from Hemmingway' s East Africa to Soviet frontiers on the Bering Sea in search for Arctic seabirds. As President of Monterey Audubon and a well -connected citizen, Alan was instrumental in the push to create the Monterey Park District and a number of other regional conservation initiatives. Perhaps because of these experiences Alan is hopeful for the future of the Monterey Peninsula andcoastline 's ecosystems. He is however, decidedly less sanguine about the future of the Planet's wildlife and biological diversity, writ large.

Sitting with Alan in his home atop Forest Hill in Pacific Grove I'm struck with how consummate a naturalist and bird man, forged in the classic model, he truly is. Distinguished in appearance, worldly beyond measure, with deep reservoirs of knowledge that range from the subtleties of the Provencal mode of bullfighting to the quantum of bi-valves consumed by Black Oystercatchers during their life cycle, he is very much an Englishman and the truest of renaissance men. But there is also something decidedly American about Alan, too. He has an openness, a casual gregariousness, and quickness to laugh that belongs to his adopted country. As l finish my tea, I can't help but marvel at the fortunate kindness of an English train conductor 70 years prior.