CHANDLER ROBBINS: RIP
Sadly, the renowned ornithologist, author, educator, and public servant, Chandler S. Robbins, passed away on 20 March. Chan, as he was known to everyone, was 98 years old.
He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics and began teaching math and science in Vermont. Robbins joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1945 as a junior biologist at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland, where he engaged in early research on the effects of DDT and had his papers edited by his USFWS colleague, Rachel Carson. Also, Chan was the bander who first banded the Laysan Albatross named Wisdom in 1956. He re-banded her, the world's oldest known banded bird, in 2002. (See last month's E-bulletin for an update on Wisdom: http://tinyurl.com/E-bMar17 )
For many birders in the 1960s, their introduction to birding and to Robbins was through his role as lead author of A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America. (See Book Notes above.) In 1966, this book - simply called "the Golden Guide" by many - was a breakthrough field guide with profound features. It covered all of the continental U.S. and Canada; all illustrations were in color; birds were presented in a variety of postures and often in some habitat; text and images were on facing pages; continental range maps accompanied the text; measurements were of live birds, and those puzzling sonograms were first introduced to an eager popular audience.
In the same year that the Golden Guide appeared, Chan launched one of the most important citizen science tools that we have today, the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The creation of the BBS was not universally and instantly appreciated, however. He actually received a disciplinary letter in his work file for its premature launch!
In 1981, he co-authored the memorable paper familiar to an entire generation of ecologists: "Effects of forest fragmentation on avifauna of the eastern deciduous forest." This article led to a national effort to identify and prioritize large, still-unbroken tracts of forest while there was still time. In 2012, Chan declared that this was the work of which he was most proud.
After his 60 years of full-time work as an avian biologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (he didn't retire until 2005), Chan became "Scientist Emeritus" at Patuxent where he actually continued to work. One could often find him at his office at the far end of the library, at the Gabrielson building, working on the next paper, the next study, always keeping connected, and always making a difference. Chan Robbins was at the same time a giant in the field of bird study and also a gracious, quietly creative, and unassuming colleague. The world has lost another of The Great Ones.