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Remembering Don White

July 6, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

It was with surprise and sadness that we learned of birder Don White’s death.

I’m not certain that he was ever a member of Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society. He came to many of our evening meetings, sat in the back where his stature wouldn’t block anyone’s view, made wry comments and cracked jokes, smiling all the while. I was always amazed that he rode his bicycle over from Culver City, a risky venture in Los Angeles, especially in the dark.

He first joined us on field trips about a decade ago – it was one of our long December drives to Carrizo Plain. He arrived early in the north San Fernando Valley for our 7:15am departure, an astonishing feat considering the 20-mile bicycle ride from Culver City over the Santa Monica Mtns. through the Sepulveda pass. There were people driving cars who couldn’t get there on time. He rode with us throughout the 12-hour drive & bird trip and was a pleasure to be with. His bird-locating and identifying skills were excellent. Back home, well after dark, off he went on his bike back to Culver City, 20 miles to the south.

He was a welcome rider with us on numerous other long SMBAS birding trips over the years.

I’d occasionally hear from him. In August 2015, replying to a “bird quiz” I wrote in which all the mystery photos were of Great-tailed Grackle, he commented:

Lovely and elegant creatures! No wonder we’re all so addicted to birding.

I’d say both are immature Great-tailed Grackles. 2 different birds. The upper may be an adult female though if not a juvenile. The lower looks more certainly to be a juvenile.

If I guess right, I bequeath all the fame and fortune to you.
Thanks, Don White

Don thanked me for a glancing blog-reference I made to a member of the ornithological staff at Miskatonic University of eastern Massachusetts, an institution to which I supposed he may have some attachment. “I knew there was some reason I liked you,” he wrote.

To help celebrate the annual Bird LA Day in April, Don led the birdwalk in Griffith Park’s Fern Dell over a period of years.

In February, 2020, sparked by my blog on the origin of the name “Osprey,” he added:

Thanks for the post.
To add to your Osprey lore – where I hail from in SE Mass/RI is near the shores of Buzzards Bay. Most people assume the name has something to do with vultures. There are both Black and Turkey Vultures there, though neither in great numbers. But actually it’s because the English settlers in colonial times referred to the Ospreys, which were very common along the bay shores in the good old days, as buzzards.
So there’s your 25-cents story.  
All the best, 
Don White

I’d been around Buzzards Bay many times and was happy to learn this.

Covid-19 hit. Field trips and evening meetings snapped shut. Things were just beginning to reopen when we read on LACoBirds, this June 27 posting by Alex Coffey:

It is with heavy but full hearts that we share with the birding community the shocking and unexpected passing of Los Angeles birder Don White. Don was a beacon of joy and levity in our small pocket of LA. Always first to the front of the boat on pelagics, and first to respond with a wry quip and an eternal grin, he was unmistakable in a crowd due to both his jokes and his height. Though most had to look up at Don, he never looked down on anyone. Unpretentious, kind and genuine, his well-meaning nature was compounded by his unflappable BS detector and ability to never take himself too seriously. Don was a regular on many local field trips with LA and Pasadena Audubon Societies in his local stomping grounds along Ballona Creek, Kenneth Hahn SRA and beyond. He was not shy. You probably met and knew him, and likely shared a laugh.

An expert hiker/backpacker, last weekend Don was the victim of a tragic, heat-related accident in record temperature highs at Anza Borrego, helping prepare for the annual bighorn sheep count. Ever a committed citizen scientist and nature lover, Don participated in countless hawkwatches, nature surveys at Tejon Ranch and Bear Divide, as well as years of regional Christmas Bird Count efforts, with notable, perennial contributions to a staggering number of count circles: Los Angeles, Palos Verdes, Lancaster, Malibu, Santa Clarita, Grass Mountain, Tejon Ranch, Tehachapi, Bear Valley Springs, San Jacinto and surely others.

Loving husband and father, Don was an avid cyclist, reliably seen wandering the Greater LA area with bike companion and lifelong friend Doug Chamorro. He was a ravenous reader who spontaneously spouted Emily Dickinson poems. He loved food, coffee, and about 50% of Trader Joe’s snack offerings. He could always tell you where to find the best Ecuadorian breakfast, or the only place to get Ethiopian coffee at 2am. The world is quite a bit dimmer this week with his light now gone. He was a gifted storyteller with many yarns spun and adventures endured. One regret we have is that we didn’t get to hear them all. Ann Brooks and Bhaskar Krishnamachari are planning an online tribute forum to which Don’s family and all of us would have access – an opportunity for birders and friends to collect memories of Don and share all the stories we missed. We will follow-up in the near future with those details.

Don was outlandishly good company, truly one of a kind. Never being one for ceremony or service himself, if you wish to make a contribution in honor of Don, here are some organizations he supported: Friends of California Condors, Tejon Ranch Conservancy, LA Audubon, Pasadena Audubon, Many birders loved him as a dear friend, present company included.

So long, Don (Ovibose), and thanks for all the birds.

All Your Friends

A memorial page created by Ann Brooks, Bhaskar Krishnamachari and Alex Coffey is now up and running at
Additional memories and photos are welcome.

Don White died on June 16, 2021, while caching water for the upcoming Bighorn Sheep count, in which he had taken part for many years. He and a companion had hiked several miles up a boulder-strewn route in Borrego Palm Canyon, located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The temperature was 116°.

The following is a partial, sequentially-dated list of articles and reports about Don and the circumstances surrounding his death. There are additional reports which either repeat word-for-word prior reports, or add no new information.

1 Hiker Dead, Another Critical from Heat on Palm Canyon Trail in Borrego Springs
Times of San Diego | 6/20/21

Donald White of Culver City ID’d As Man Overcome in Excessive Heat at Anza-Borrego Park
Times of San Diego | 6/24/21

Man who died counting bighorn sheep in Borrego heat ID’d
SD Union-Tribune | 6/24/21

Annual California Bighorn Sheep Count Canceled Canceled after Death
NBC-LA 7/4/21:

Volunteer, an experienced hiker, dies in heat at bighorn sheep count in Anza-Borrego
Los Angeles Times 7/4/21

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