Re: Tribute to Karen

Dave Compton

Joan, this is a great tribute to someone who played such a central role in the Santa Barbara County birding community for so many years. I know Karen would be moved if she could read this. 

For me, Karen's importance in my early years as a birder can't be overstated. I later got to see some of the things she did more behind the scenes, such as the sizable contribution she made every year to the Santa Barbara CBC. She also became a mentor and friend, for which I'm forever grateful. But her work on the local RBA was critical for me. When I started birding in the early 1990s, the only way for a new birder to get information on what was being seen locally was to call the Santa Barbara Audubon Society rare bird alert. I can almost think of the number, now. And I can clearly hear her voice. It led me to countless birds in those days, and I am far from the only one who can say that. Many birders I met then I met because we were chasing the same rarity from Karen's weekly update (they were more frequent when the birding was good). She was completely committed in her service to the local birding community and was a continual presence in my early birding life. I can't imagine those days without her. 

Dave Compton
Santa Barbara

On Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 12:34 PM, Joan Lentz joanlentz@... [sbcobirding] <sbcobirding-noreply@...> wrote:

Hi All:  With Jamie’s permission, I’ve copied this here… 


                    TRIBUTE TO KAREN BRIDGERS – April 17, 2017

                         By Joan Easton Lentz


     Early on a fall morning in 1980 I found myself wandering around the empty Elks Club parking lot off Kellogg Avenue in Goleta. A Summer Tanager had been reported there, and I’d never seen one before.

     Over in the corner by the big hedge, I saw another female birder with binoculars who looked about my age.  We introduced ourselves, then spotted the Summer Tanager perched on a wire overhead catching bees.  The birder I met was Karen Bridgers, and our walk around the Elks Club parking lot started a friendship that was to last all our lives.

     Before Karen Bridgers relocated to Utah, she left behind over 25 years of commitment to the birding community and to Santa Barbara Audubon Society.

     Karen was, quite literally, the “voice of Santa Barbara Audubon”:  she recorded the weekly Rare Bird Alert on the local hotline faithfully for many years.  Recall that, before the internet and cell phones, one of the only ways to learn about rare bird sightings in the area was to phone the Audubon-sponsored Rare Bird Alert.  Karen’s voice would accurately and patiently tell us where to find the latest birding discovery.  Or, if a local or out-of-town birder had seen an unusual bird, they could call Karen and she would immediately report the sighting on the hotline.  What an amazing job she did, purely for the fun of spreading the bird news to all of us.    

     Karen Bridgers was not only the voice of Santa Barbara Audubon, she helped out in countless other ways.  During the days before the annual Christmas Bird Count, Karen would publicize the fact that we were looking for rare birds by writing about them in her newspaper column.  In this way, even total strangers to the birding community would call Karen, and we were able to locate the birds for the Christmas Count.

     Karen Bridgers’ column about birds in the Santa Barbara News-Press was an invaluable contribution to the birding cause.  Her timely remarks on seasonal bird species, many of which could be seen in our backyards, were spot on, and her readership was vast. 

     Not only did Karen know her birds, she was an excellent writer and editor. What’s more, her writing was sparked by a marvelous sense of humor.  She wrote many articles for various publications, both online and in print, and when they were about birds and birding, they could be very funny. 

     Karen once told me that the first bird she ever noticed was a European Starling, about which she called the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to get an identification.  Since then, Karen would go on to find and identify numerous species – many of them much sought-after rarities that excite birders.  She also had wonderful birds at her backyard feeder in Goleta:  Ruddy Ground-Dove, Brown Thrasher, and Harris’s Sparrow, to name a few.  At the same time, she raised two daughters, and was lucky enough to have a patient and “tolerant of birding” husband, Bud Bridgers. 

     On a personal note, I will miss Karen Bridgers dreadfully. She was my first real birding companion.  We were “suburban housewives” together, raising kids and staying home while our husbands went to work.  Back in those days, the top birders in Santa Barbara didn’t include many middle-aged women. 

     But we never let that stop us!  Every fall, year after year, would find Karen and me at Carpinteria Creek or Refugio State Beach looking for Eastern warblers that might have gone astray.  Karen –with her incredible eyes –would always get her binoculars on the bird first.  Then, we’d figure out together what we were seeing.

     Sometimes, we’d call each other several times a day to commiserate about mistaking a bird identification or to compare notes about family life. 

     We were both writers, but Karen was a professional journalist.  I always told her she could “write her way out of a paper bag.”  And she was that good that she could, and did, write about whatever project she was working on. Whether or not the subject was birds, she could edit a manuscript to make it sound perfect.

     Good-bye, Karen. I was so lucky to have had all the great birding adventures with you – whether it was Texas or Arizona, or just a park around the corner from your house – you were a fabulous birder and an even better friend.



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