The BirdNote community honors Bob Sundstrom, BirdNote's beloved lead writer, science advisor, and trip leader, with the following messages of love and support. Bob and his wife, Sally Alhadeff, made the difficult decision to forgo hospitalization and treatment for Bob following a recurrence of leukemia, and he is at home in hospice care. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this page. We are heartened by your stories and notes of deep gratitude.
MESSAGES TO BOB FROM THE BIRDNOTE COMMUNITY
I’m incredibly grateful for the fortune and connection shared with Bob over the past few years. Some of the earliest VENT tours I started with, and many additional tours over the recent years, were alongside Bob’s expertise. I’m grateful to be one of the many who have learned so much from Bob. His patience, friendship, zenfulness, and sheer bird identification skills were inviting to those around him. It’s hard to put it into words, but I can only begin to say I’m truly thankful for the many times we shared, and his influence on my life. Thank you, Bob, for enriching my life and making the world a better place for people and birds alike.
— Erik Bruhnke
Your wonderful Birding By Ear class was a life-changing experience for me. I benefit from it every day, twenty-five years later. I still remember a beautiful spring morning near Cle Elum as you patiently helped us sort out one bird song from another. I am so grateful I could take that class and other classes and field trips from you. With all my heart,
— Lynn Graves
I knew you from a couple of bird trips in years past, but I really saw your special talent when you taught my Master Birder class in 2019. I loved your birding by ear talk. And then we had a special field trip in your neck of the woods in south Puget Sound, capped by a visit to your amazing home. You have meant so much to so many of us.
— Rod Brown
A few years ago, you led my Seattle Audubon Master Birder class on a field trip to the "South Sound," ending with a visit to your home. We went on many field trips in my Master Birder class, and I've been on many since, but your field trip is among the most memorable. We walked around a prairie on a beautiful morning, and I'll always remember you standing with my class around a clearing looking over a pond and carefully listening for birdsong. I also remember sitting on your porch looking out into your beautiful yard at the scrub jays and finches. You showed me a new area to explore, and also a new way in which to explore. Thank you for that lovely memory. Peace and best wishes,
— Eric Crockett
I have learned so much about birds from you, from the hundreds of stories you've written for BirdNote, to the trips you've guided for BirdNote in Washington State, and the memorable trip to Big Bend National Park with VENT. You have a unique talent for introducing a bird with a story, a sound, while weaving in a fact or two. Then suddenly, we're hooked, wanting to know more! One of my favorite shows you've written is "The Haunting Voice of the Common Loon" from 2019. I've been drawn to the sounds of loons for years because they are so evocative, but I didn't know how to identify the types of calls until you wrote that story for BirdNote. It meant a lot to me to learn the difference between a yodel, a tremolo, and a wail, and to understand what the calls mean to the loons. Thank you, Bob, for being a talented storyteller, writer, teacher, leader, and a friend. Thank you for inspiring me and millions more BirdNote listeners to learn and be better stewards of the planet. I'm deeply grateful to you.
— Sallie Bodie
Bob is patient, calm and understated — and when he speaks, it is clear he has deep expertise in a number of subjects, not just birds. He lights up at the opportunity to show people birds — a privilege he takes very seriously. I have always been amazed at the lengths he'd go to to ensure that people on his trips would see birds, from taking meticulous notes on the locations of species of interest he'd randomly encounter in the field, to traveling great distances so he could scout locations just before upcoming field trips. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of these scouting trips – just Bob and me – one to Sunrise on Mt. Rainier at dusk in September to listen for Boreal Owls and another multi-day trip to Eastern Washington. I would pepper him with questions about his vast experience birding abroad, from the Arctic to Antarctica, Belize to Papua New Guinea. His knowledge and life experience is enviable. And he introduced to me the tradition of traveling with a fine whisky, a tradition I intend to carry on in his memory.
— Adam Sedgley
Bob was so instrumental in introducing me to birding . . . I took many classes at Seattle Audubon from him and some several times (like his Birding by Ear class every spring). You could never ask a stupid question; he was so knowledgeable as a teacher and field trip leader. I was also lucky enough to take many field trips with him through the Mercer Island Community Center, mostly to eastern WA where I learned so much about our wonderful state. The late 90s and early 2000s was the sweet spot for me. I was lucky enough to get into the Master Birder Class because of all of his classes and field trips. I was also on the Seattle Audubon Board when Chris Peterson started BirdNote.
— Mary Anne Thorbeck
We have so many wonderful memories of times shared with Bob. He was our patient teacher and our enthusiastic guide, who lightened every trip with his positive energy and wry sense of humor. We learned about bird identification, about habitat, about behavior, about plants. He didn’t mind when we took his Birding by Ear class for the second, or even, in Wendy’s case, for the third time, and kept asking the same questions over and over. We have fond memories of standing in the rain at Green Lake with Bob staring at a large group of gray and white birds, as he helped us figure out which gull was which. We enjoyed many treks throughout Washington, listening to Bob toot out his famous Pygmy Owl hoot to bring in indignant flocks of little birds, along with an indignant Pygmy Owl one time who was sure Bob was invading his territory. There’s a MacGillivray’s Warbler in a forest almost at the top of Snoqualmie Pass that Bob would often stop to look for on those lovely Mercer Island trips. Guess we’ll have to search on our own. There’s a special bridge in Eastern Washington where you can almost always find a Dipper. Thanks to Bob, we know where to look. There are so many places around the state that we associate with certain birds, and Bob. With Bob we learned how (and where) to look, how to listen, how to be quiet and how to notice and appreciate everything in nature, whether it was new or whether we had seen it many times. Thank you, Bob, for expanding our world and sharing with us your wisdom and your generous spirit.
— Wendy and Alan Roedell
“That shorebird has mud on its bill!?” I exclaimed, as Bob and I perched on the windswept tundra of Northeast Point on Saint Paul Island at Tsamanna Pond. And it was a really big lump. Thoughts of the amazing Spoon-billed Sandpiper popped in our heads. And as we quickly set up the scope, it flew . . . and thankfully, landed on the other side of the small pond. There we watched it preen itself with this amazing spatulate bill on bright white breast — it was definitely not mud. What a totally unexpected and amazing looking bird. And so I spent four glorious days with Bob in August of 1989, seeing 22 species of shorebirds (half of which were on those Asian pages you only dream about), hundreds of auklets and puffins of every species and Northern Fulmars at eye level. And the ironic part of the adventure? It took us four days to find just one Least Auklet, the very bird Bob had been studying all summer! Bob is a wonderful person to spend time with and I will miss his dry wit. My time on Saint Paul was and still remains one of the most magical adventures to Alaska ever because of him.
— Marcus Roening
Bob is an amazing naturalist, scientist, teacher, birder, and writer. His stories about the birds shared through BirdNote are a unique legacy that will continue to be enjoyed for many years to come. Thank you, Bob!
— Heather Ballash
Bob is an absolute legend! We co-lead trips together in Russia and Alaska with another great trip in Hawaii. What fun we had and what great birds and wildlife we encountered. Big hugs from Down Under, Bob!
— Dion Hobcroft
I have so many wonderful memories of birding with Bob, from WA to TX to BC. He is so generous with his knowledge and patience. One of my best birding experiences was in TX, where he identified the call of a skulking Kentucky Warbler and spotted it moments later — a lifer for me. Bob is a fine human being who has made the world a better place, and he will always have a special spot in my heart. Godspeed, Bob, and thank you.
— Paula Crockett
As a Thurston County resident, I have known and respected Bob as an outstanding birder, teacher, birding advocate, outstanding VENT leader, commentator . . . there are so many endless ways he has contributed to the birding world. Our thoughts go out to Bob and his family for all he has done for all the other birders who have met him and birded with him.
— Bob and Christina Morse
I always thought that Bob could identify any bird. When I was on a winter trip to Florida. I emailed Bob some photos of shore birds on Treasure Island. I could not identify some of them. Bob came through for me and named them all by return email. Thanks, Bob.
— Bob Kirchhoff
It didn’t take much intuition to figure out one key element of each trip Bob led. There was always a bakery stop, which may or may not include other conveniences. As a new birder back in 2006, I didn’t miss much of what Bob had to say. In fact, he didn’t talk a lot, but when he did I listened carefully. Over the years, I visited the same locations numerous times and always there was something new and unexpected about the experience. I enjoyed the 12 hour excursions and always felt Bob had done his research and could masterfully conjure up birds almost out of thin air. A year ago on a trip to Fir Island in December we stopped at the Dutch Bakery in Marysville, and to my surprise — Bob picked up the tab. But I think my most memorable trips were the overnight ones. These outings were well planned including a picnic lunch with fresh vegetables from Bob and Sally’s garden as well as canned or pickled vegetables that he had made. I will always remember the trip to Sunrise in search of a Boreal Owl. While only Bob heard the owl, the rest of us thought it was a great adventure worth doing again. It was on a trip with Bob that I saw these life birds: Northern Goshawk, Wild Turkeys, American Golden Plover, Band-tailed Pigeons , . . the list could take pages. Thanks to Bob I’m a better birder, a better listener, and a more involved person in conservation efforts to protect and preserve wildlife habitats. Thank you, Sally, for welcoming birders like me to your home when Bob’s trips were in the Tenino area. What a lovely sanctuary the two of you created. With gratitude
— Etta Cosey
I remember . . . That Bob taught a great Seattle Audubon Master Birder class. That he corresponded occasionally with me concerning some of my sightings at our home in Roy. That Jack Jeffrey on the Big Island wanted me to say ‘Hi’ to Bob for him when we crossed paths. That I really missed going to the BirdNote soirée at Tenino, but that Bob sent me his regards, via my friend Tom Luhman. That he had a great note to Tweeters concerning the etymology of “gyr” in “Gyrfalcon.” That I wish I knew him better. All my best, and may all your birds be identified.
— Denis DeSilvis
In 2004 while solo birding in Texas I happened upon a VENT group being led by Bob. Having met Bob only a few times before I wasn't sure he would recognize me. But to my surprise he greeted me and asked how the birding was going for me. I told Bob it was my first time birding in Texas and that many of the birds were new to me. So, for the next several minutes, Bob helped me find and identify birds. It was an act of kindness and graciousness that I will always remember, and one that, for me, epitomizes Bob Sundstrom.
— Steve Dang
Bob Sundstrom led the VENT High Island tour that my husband, Mike, and I took in April 2013. The birding, of course, was a revelation. So many colorful warblers that at times I didn’t know where to aim my binoculars, and the trees looked like they were decorated for Christmas. There was another Bob on our trip, so we dubbed our trip leader “Boss Bob.” In addition to the wonders of birding, Boss Bob also introduced us to the importance of scouting for adequate food in a town where high cuisine was cheese enchiladas consumed at an outdoor picnic table, quaffed with beverages procured at a drive-through liquor barn. Imagine our surprise when five years later, we were on Kauai at the same time as a Boss Bob-led trip. We didn’t cross paths, but we always hope he wondered how a bottle of Maker’s Mark came to be waiting for him the afternoon he checked into the Courtyard by Marriott Kauai at Coconut Beach.
— Caroline and Mike Ullmann, Seattle
We had the privilege to be invited on a private trip to Alaska in 1987 that Bob had organized. Bob is an incredible bird guide as well as an amazing teacher. His sharing of his knowledge of bird song and bird behavior is exceptional; he is also a super nice person. We are grateful that Bob introduced us to nature travel and have enjoyed his BirdNote contributions.
— Pam Pritzl & John Edison
I do not have a favorite "bird note" as all are great. Bob's topics are so varied and full of knowledge. He is able to present all this information in an interesting and concise way on BirdNote, in the classroom and in the field. I also enjoyed all the classes and trips I was able to go on with Bob as our leader. I recommended his classes and trips to many acquaintances. And last but not least, he knew where all the bakeries were as well as restaurants on overnighters.
— Roberta Roberts
Bob’s incredible depth of knowledge and his ability to communicate the riveting information about birds in the environment in a compelling way for the general public in under two minutes per program for BirdNote — an incredible accomplishment. I’ll always savor the pre-Covid gift of a day birding and learning about his and Sally's home wildlife haven.
— Kit Ellis
As a Tour Operations Manager for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, I can tell you that Bob is joy to work with who cares deeply about providing the best possible experiences for our customers. As a leader, Bob’s attention to detail is unsurpassed and reflected in the consistently rave reviews received from his tour participants. During VENT’s 1999 Reunion Celebration in Washington, Bob proudly and thoroughly shared what is essentially his backyard with all attendees. During a group field trip in the Olympic National Forest, Bob stepped away during a picnic lunch only to emerge from small stream having flushed out an American Dipper for all participants to see. A memorable moment indeed!
— Erik Lindqvist
As a colleague of yours with VENT, I’ve learned over the years what a dedicated person you are in preserving our environment, and your unsurpassed reputation in the birding world. I have seen from responses from your tour participants the dedication and enthusiasm you share while on tour, and the encouragement you provide to make sure everyone has a wonderful and enlightening experience. Our camaraderie over the past 30 plus years has been one I will never forget.
— Greg Lopez
I just wanted to let you know how much I have appreciated all that I learned from you over the years. Also the fun field trips starting from Mercer Island were always an adventure. It was so nice to go birding and not have to do the driving! Thinking about you and wishing you comfort and peace.
— Carolyn Eagan
I was lucky enough to take a class with Bob and then go on two field trips. Part of one field trip was going to his house and seeing all the birds in his front yard. He is such a kind man and never made new birders feel inferior. I love his stories on BirdNote. After the class I always looked to see who wrote them. I will always think of him with thanks for what he taught me. Blessings to Bob and his wife.
— Linda Summers
I have taken many trips with Bob through Mercer Island Parks and Recreation and have learned an immense amount about birds from him. Bob is a wonderful, kind, patient, thoughtful person who was always gracious when someone on a birding trip said, "Oh what is that?" and it turns out to be a robin. Bob is never condescending. I am heartbroken to hear the news about Bob's illness.
— Deborah Turnbull
I've known Bob for decades, and enjoyed his company in the field, although nowhere nearly often enough, particularly in recent years. His approach to birding was a quiet, studious, appreciation; soaking everything in. He could get excited about something unusual, spectacular or just unexpected, but he didn't need any of those to enjoy a day in the field. He is a born teacher, patient and gaining joy out of sharing experiences and knowledge. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that he would become an integral part of BirdNote and a tour leader. He was also an early member of the Washington Bird Records Committee, instrumental in building a solid foundation for this body that continues to this day. I like to think that I played a small part in helping Bob's career get off the ground. In the early 1980s, I got a phone call about my availability to be a tour guide on the Pribolof Islands, the fabled Bering Sea islands that are home to an abundance of seabirds and an interesting sprinkling of Asian birds that lose their way during migration and end up finding refuge on these islands. Reluctantly, I told them I was unavailable, but that I knew of a really good birder who might be available. And, indeed, Bob was available and that was part of his start as a teacher, guide and interpreter in the bird world. My wife and I also know Bob's wife Sally through musical connections, and have appreciated their partnership through the years. Bob has touched a lot of people in a very positive way, and I feel fortunate to be one of them.
— Bill Tweit
You have been a gracious and generous birding mentor for so much of the Northwest birding community. Bob, thanks for your friendship over the years.
— Liz Cormier
My first exposure to Bob was several years ago on a birding workshop he led. That was the first of many field trips I took with him. He was the consummate teacher. He was kind, patient and so incredibly knowledgeable about birds, their behavior, their songs and calls. He was so in tune with nature that in mid sentence he would point out a bird flying by or the call of one far away then was back to the conversation. Lunch in his back yard ended too soon to photograph all of the birds and various other critters. Thank you to his gracious wife for allowing us to enjoy their home. I promise that I will perfect the call of the Northern Pygmy-Owl and not cheat by using my iPhone. Thank you, Bob. I will never forget those field trips and the wonderful man who inspired me to appreciate nature, study the habits of birds and ultimately, to become a better birder.
— Sharon Heath
Like so many birders in the Seattle area, I took Bob’s birding-by-ear classes. The best part, and enjoyed on many field trips over the years, was being in the field with Bob. His quiet observations — about things like the behavior of a certain species or tips for distinguishing similar calls — always stuck with me. Unfortunately I’ll never have his expert ear-birding skills, but he added a lot to my understanding and appreciation of birds. And his observations and tips still come back to me as I puzzle out bird sounds. I’m grateful. I’ll keep using that knowledge, and remember Bob in his beautiful bird-filled garden.
— Teri Martine
I took many of Bob’s Audubon classes, particularly birding by ear (several times). My wife Jean and I joined Bob on years of memorable Mercer Island Parks birding trips, some overnighters to places like the Okanogan and Trout Lake. The day trips covered the state: Whidbey Island, Hood Canal, Kittitas County, Icicle Creek, Mima Mounds, the Skagit, Samish Island, Birch Bay, Blewett Pass, even his back yard at home. If there was a warbler nearby, Bob heard it and called it in — with his signature Northern Pygmy-Owl call. He was the only birder I ever met who could do that call, and it worked like a charm — forget the pishing, please. Bob was a master chaser, too. He led us to a Vancouver B.C. backyard to see a brambling, to the Aneas Valley for a Great Grey Owl family, and to Custer for a hulking Northern Hawk Owl. I never joined a VENT tour but I got close. We were filing into the back room at the Portal Store for dinner one spring years ago when we found we had company: there was Bob with his VENT group.
— Roger M. Leed
I have enjoyed BirdNote from the beginning, but I won’t be able to call out a particular episode. I know Bob from birding. I learned a tremendous about birding by ear from Bob. He is thorough and patient. Bob is a peaceful birder. He taught me to wait and listen and watch, and to give birds a chance to get used to our human presence. To watch a tree that has birds in it and wait for other birds to perch there. Birds will replace one another on a good perch and they will often take turns showing up for birders. Bob is kind to new birders, and I try to emulate him when I am leading a field trip. Thank you, Bob for teaching me the art of birding, and for being there when I had questions, and encouraging me when I make mistakes. With respect and fondness and appreciation for your contribution to the birding community in Washington.
— Andy McCormick
Bob joined Victor Emanuel Nature Tours in 1989 as a full time leader. He soon became one of our most popular and highly esteemed leaders. He led tours to many areas including Hawaii, Japan, Washington State and the Upper Texas coast. His spring tour to the Upper Texas coast became one of his favorite tours. I had the great pleasure of co-leading tours with him in Hawaii, Washington State and the Upper Texas coast. I was impressed by his regard for every participant, his deep knowledge and his delight in all aspects of nature. We shared an interest in the classics and poetry, especially Homer and Merwin. Whenever a tour departed that Bob was leading I knew it would be a great success. I am deeply grateful for all he did for VENT and for his friendship. We will all remember and will miss him greatly.
— Victor Emanuel
I have known Bob Sundstrom for twenty-five years. As a bird tour leader, he is the consummate professional. Early in my career, I was immature and undisciplined. Working with Bob taught me the meaning of professionalism, and to conduct oneself with class and grace. Regardless of how long I work, Bob will always be a role model to me. To those who traveled with him, Bob is both educator and wise man. Passionate in his love of birds, students and tour participants alike benefitted greatly from his knowledge of bird identification, behavior and life cycles. Sophisticated in is his tastes for science, politics, history, literature, and Scotch, Bob is a well-rounded soul. In sum, a true gentleman.
— Barry Lyon
You are an amazing person, taught me so much, and have touched my life in so many ways. My heart goes out to you and Sally. Love to you both.
— Sharon Aagaard
I first met Bob in the early 90s when I went on field trips with him here in the Puget Sound. He quickly introduced me to many great birding spots and his expertise was immediately obvious. Many birders have expertise, but not many have the ability to transfer that knowledge and care the way that Bob does. He regularly, in a courteous and caring way, included all. His classes for Seattle Audubon were always full and enthusiastic. I missed seeing him more frequently when he and Sally moved to Scatter Creek, but it was always rewarding to see him.
— Brian H. Bell
Many blessings on this journey we all are walking toward. I, like you, have long loved birds and the many landscapes they inhabit. And I have you to thank at the beginning of my journey when I wanted to deepen this relationship via getting to know their many voices, as well as to learn about and see many more new species. Thank you for this gift that keeps on giving.
— Joanne Cormier of the three sisters
Years ago my husband and I went on several of Bob’s trips for Audubon and Mercer Island Community Center. We always enjoyed learning from Bob and seeing great birds together. Bob is a wonderful leader and teacher. Thanks Bob, for sharing your knowledge with us.
— Diane Doles and Jon Cooper
Sending my best wishes, and hope that the transition for you and your family is as peaceful as possible. Thank you for all you have created using the BirdNote community as a platform. You mastered the ability to educate by delighting me and my family daily with stories that has brought the outdoor world into our daily lives. Sadly for me we have never met in person, but through your stories and the voices that have brought those stories to life for me via radio and podcast, generally on my way to and from work, you have made my daily commute a much happier part of my day. Thank you!!
— Jon Barwick
In 1998, My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Dick was a master birder and field trip leader for Seattle Audubon. He wanted to do something special to celebrate so he suggested that we make a birding trip to Alaska. He was aware that Bob had extensive experience there, so he decided to ask Bob if he could arrange and lead a trip for us and 10 friends. Bob agreed and what followed was one of the best birding experiences ever. We went to Seward for a pelagic, to Nome to explore all the roads, to St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs for 3 days of amazing birding, eating and photography with him and our friends. I still wallow in those memories. Dick died 3 months short of our 50th anniversary but we often talked about that trip. Thank you, Bob and Sally.
— Donna Koerker
I could’t possibly pick out a favorite BirdNote story written by Bob, as so many of them are fine, but I’ve known him for many years, even before he took the Master Birders class from me in 1988. We were on the Washington Bird Records Committee together for years, worked in BirdNote together until I retired from it, and taught weekend birding classes together in eastern Washington. I have had plenty of time to learn to like and respect and admire Bob, and I know I’m one of a large number of people who can say the same! I wish him and Sally the best of luck.
— Dennis Paulson
I didn’t know Bob personally but I’ll never forget the Seattle Audubon Birding by Ear class I took from him several years ago. He took us on 2 day-long field trips and on one of them we ate lunch in the garden of his lovely home surrounded by many bird feeders. I still remember Bob standing on the road at the edge of the forest and identifying multiple birds singing at the same time. I can identify most of our local birds’ songs thanks to him. I also went on one of his Mercer Island field trips, this one a hike to Table Mt. at Mt. Baker to see ptarmigan. Despite his best efforts, we never did see ptarmigan that day but it was a memorable day nonetheless. On the way home we were stopped on I-5 because of a manhunt! As we nervously watched state troopers with their rifles, Bob took it all in stride, got us off the freeway and found a backroads way through Everett to get us home. I’m glad to hear he’s at home where hopefully he can look out his window to see the birds at his feeders. What a loss to our community.
— Bev Wessel
Bob, I smile thinking about your quiet competence and manner as you bumped the Mercer Island P & R owned van up the dirt rutted road above the Yakima River to get looks of blue birds. You smiled and said, "If they only knew where their van goes." Yep. I am ever grateful to you for both your quiet competence and your joyful reach to go wherever needed to find the birds. Thank you for all you have taught me.
— Sue Yates
We had many bird adventures on Bob’s Mercer Island Community Center excursions to Eastern Washington, always unusual places with unique birds and great fun learning, from an expert in sights and sounds.
— Dennis and Susan Christie
I became acquainted with Bob through Seattle Audubon in the 1990s. I took his Birding by Ear class and went on field trips with him as guide. One of the highlights of my travel life is a trip that Bob organized and led to Alaska. Bob was one of the most thoughtful bird guides that I experienced. He provided us with really good food and frequent access to bathrooms. Of course, he also found us the very best birds.
— Joani Harr
I am saddened to learn of Bob's illness. I took several classes from him and was privileged to join his amazing trip to Alaska (St. Paul, Pribilofs, Anchorage, Nome and Kenai Peninsula) during the summer of 1992. I still relive wonderful memories of that trip. Thank you Bob for sharing your many gifts with us.
— Pat Hitchens
Rare among the people I know you bring together your love, your search for knowledge and your skill in writing. I learned so much from editing your BirdNote stories. In them you combine precise descriptions of plumage, calls and songs with the numinous essence of their lives. Thank you for the gifts you’ve given me.
— Todd Peterson
I knew Bob Sundstrom long before I met him. One of the reasons I so looked forward to my first Victor Emanuel Nature Tours leaders' meeting four years ago was that I had heard Bob would be there. His legendary reputation as a birder and leader preceded him, of course; but more than that, those lapidary stories he'd been writing for BirdNote had already fixed an image of him in my mind, an image of modesty and expertise, quiet accomplishment and deep thoughtfulness. My first encounter with Bob-in-the-Flesh more than confirmed those impressions. At our meeting in Austin, everybody wanted to talk to Bob, and I cherished the time he and I had to chat over meals and during breaks in the business part of the day. As a birder, as a leader, and then as a writer for BirdNote, he taught me, and so many others, more than he will ever know.
— Rick Wright
I’ve loved birds since third grade, even in Dayton, Ohio — especially our visit to the property of Edith Blincoe, the newspaper’s bird writer. I’ve enjoyed learning more from BirdNote and Bob Sundstrom. Your bird stories give me hope in these times, Bob. Thank you.
— Carolyn Keck
My late wife Beth was not a birder but had an inquisitive mind. She met Bob on one of the birding trips he sponsored for Mercer Island Parks and Recreation, a thirty year tradition and gift to all those fortunate to benefit from his knowledge. She suggested a topic he eventually developed: “Where Birds Go to Die.” At a later time Bob was a source of comfort and inspiration in her battle with cancer.
— Marc Cordova
When I joined the BirdNote Board, I became acquainted with the group of science advisors who were responsible for the creation of the “stories.” I knew two from being associated with the Zoology Department at the University of Washington (UW): Gordon Orians and Dennis Paulson. The head of the group was Bob Sundstrom and I was particularly interested in Bob’s birding walks. Most of the UW ornithology time was spent with the White-crowned Sparrow, and before that, the European Starling. I wanted/needed to broaden my birding horizons and I signed up for, over 2-3 years, several of his walks. Bob was the most thoughtful, fact-filled guide I had ever been with. Of course, he first identified the bird, but the magic was to follow. He shared interesting basic facts about each species but also spoke of the relationship of the bird with the environment we were standing in. It filled out the complete story of the species and made the walk a real thorough learning experience. I still recall many of these descriptions when I again spot the same species. Listening to BirdNote stories hence forth, I often could tell where Bob had contributed to the fullness of the story. His depth and breadth of ornithology has been a gift to our listeners whether they realize it or not. With a special regard,
— Tom Darden
I didn't know you well. But when I took on the role of managing the new Threatened podcast, you were first in line to help me with story ideas and contacts. You kindly downloaded all the information you felt would be helpful into my brain, and offered to be of ongoing assistance should I need it. I so appreciated that warm welcome of yours, Bob. Thank you.
— Ari Daniel
Terri & I are very sad to hear of the illness of Bob Sundstrom. Big Bend wouldn’t have been the same without him. The memories linger and he will not be forgotten.
— Donna Poole
I know Bob and Sally from church and senior fitness class and was once a guest in their home. They have cats as family pets just as I have a cat at home. But their cats have a custom built cage next to the house. The cats are able to access the outside cage through their own door of entrance and exit to the house. In this manner, the birds in the garden are protected, in no way threatened, and are free to be present in the same environment. I appreciate the stories of Birdnote. It has helped me to be so much more aware of the world of birds and what they contribute to our well being. Thank you.
— Barbara Young
One of the things I love most about Bob's writing is the way he can hook even the most casual appreciators of birds, and in under 2 minutes give them a nugget of insight that deepens into appreciation. The cumulative effect of this over so many years and shows is immeasurable. This show, "Do Crows Sing?," does that artfully. It takes a common and recognizable bird, answers a question about it you wouldn't even know to ask, and leaves you with a sense of wonder at the unseen (or unheard) world around you. Bob has done so much to define the style and tone of BirdNote. I'm profoundly saddened that I won't get the chance to know you better, Bob, but also incredibly proud that I'll be able to play a role in continuing your legacy. Thank you doesn't quite cut it, but I'll say it anyway. Thank you for all you've done for BirdNote and our listeners.
— Allison Wilson
You have given us BirdNote fans so many great stories, and I would like to comment on one in particular that jumps out at me. Your story about "Precision Flight in Flocks" gives an eloquent explanation of how shorebird flocks operate. This has fascinated me since I shot the video “Dance of the Dunlin” and started wondering how individual birds fly together as if a single organism. There is so much wonder in birds and their behavior. Thanks for making us aware and explaining so much of what we can find in nature.
— Ray Hamlyn
My wife and I always enjoyed Bob’s writings. We are sorry we never got to meet him. As life dictates, we are all getting older.
— Will Markey
My fave show written by Bob Sundstrom is “Screech-Owls Go Fishing.” I want to thank him for all the good shows he has written and pray he is surrounded by friends and family during this difficult time. I hope he knows how many people around the world love listening to his work. Thank you, Bob. Stay Strong.
— Melissa Hafting
I have a pond in my back yard that my husband built five years ago to attract birds. There is nothing I like better than to sit outside and watch the myriad of birds flock to the water’s edge or take a bath in the fountain. Robins are frequent visitors so I was thrilled when I heard the program “Why is My Robin Half White?” I had seen a robin recently who I thought was perhaps a fledgling, or worse, sick. The program explained what I had seen — a robin with a rare condition that was just fine. Bob Sundstrom is an amazing scientific storyteller and the information he imparts through BirdNote programming is a wonderful treasure. Thank you, Bob, for your care and gift.
— Kim Wells
While I didn’t recognize it at the time, Bob Sundstrom changed my life twenty-five years ago. At the time I was active in the Mountaineers Sea Kayaking program. We paddled year-round and I began noticing the beautiful seabirds that wintered on Puget Sound waters. Wanting to know more about them, I called Seattle Audubon Society to find a knowledgeable speaker to give a presentation about them to the Mountaineers. Seattle Audubon suggested I contact Bob Sundstrom. Fortunately, he was available and agreed to come came. He gave a marvelous talk with beautiful slides. His talk sparked an interest in birds and birding that grew and grew in me, eventually became a wonderfully rewarding passion.
In the years that followed, I took a variety of classes from Bob; his birding-by-ear classes were justifiably famous. I signed up with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours for my first out-of-state birding trip to High Island in Texas, led by Bob – a fabulous adventure. In later years I was fortunate to go on a number of field trips he led all over WA through Mercer Island Parks and Recreation, sometimes including stops at the beautiful, bird-friendly home he and Sally have created in the Scatter Creek area.
Whatever the venue, Bob was always welcoming, generous with his time, witty, and happy to share his vast knowledge about birds, teaching us how to look and listen for them, and sharing his keen appreciation for nature and wildlife.
When BirdNote began, I came to appreciate Bob’s wonderful ability, in just a few paragraphs, to create for the reader/listener a specific time and place and to tell us something unique, surprising and special about a bird to be found there and its behavior. Each piece is a little masterpiece. BirdNote allowed Bob to share his knowledge and appreciation with a much wider audience, enriching immeasurably the community of those who love birds and wildlife. His is a legacy to be proud of.
— Vicki King
We have so many great memories of Bob that it’s a challenge to know where to begin. Bob was one of our earliest and greatest influences in our first years as birders back in the 1990s. From us watching with awe during field trips with him as he would rapidly call out a dozen bird sounds just as he was barely getting out of his vehicle to the unforgettably helpful tips for identifying birds by sight and sound, we couldn’t help but feel great inspiration from him.
One great memory is when we met up with him during one of his VENT Oaxaca trips, where he invited us into his tour for one day, even though we weren’t officially signed up. That was such a generous gesture on his part. He was also our guide during a VENT trip to Trinidad and Tobago. After a rough start to that trip due to flight and other issues, he went out of his way to make us feel safe and relaxed immediately upon our arrival there.
He is also a friend. We remember the fun at his and Sally’s wedding reception at their home in Tenino. And we loved the Mexican-style holiday dinners at their house for those of us who had birded in Oaxaca.
We always admire Bob for his amazing encyclopedia of knowledge of birds, habitat and the natural world while holding to his true nature as a very gentle, soft-spoken, unassuming man. We are very grateful for his kindness, expertise and friendship.
— Isadora and Kendrick Wong
From the mundane to the sublime . . . Bob has shared the full range with us on BirdNote. From Daffy Duck and Big Bird to The Swans of Tuonela (If that story doesn’t make your hair stand on end, you’re just not paying attention.) Bob's work is a huge reason that we are quick to say, "There’s a BirdNote for that!” So many stories about so many topics and so many birds.
Something that happened on a field trip still makes me smile. Bob waited outside the little shop that had allowed us restroom privileges. He was answering questions and just chatting. I came out with a few squares of toilet paper dragging from my shoe (chagrin). He was quick to let me know, but so kind and so subtle and so tactful. And I was so grateful. Someone else scurried out of the shop, asking to get on the bus and get her backpack so she could buy something. Bob coolly reached into his pocket and pulled out a $10 bill and handed it over. “You can pay me back later.” You could tell he’d done it many times. He saved the van driver some trouble, too. He was prepared for everything, a masterful field trip leader. And the best Northern Pygmy-Owl caller ever!
— Ellen Blackstone
It would be hard to describe how much you have affected my life. Helping introduce someone to the beauty and drama and peace of birds is a pretty big thing, in my book. I’ll never be a crack lister, but learning about birds has brought amazing joy to my life.
Through Deborah Turnbull, I went on my first trip with you from Mercer Island around 2008. What bliss! A pleasant good morning in the parking lot and we would be off! You would drive swiftly and professionally, still managing to spot birds even on the highway as we whizzed by. Birds. Pastry stop. More birds, all day, 12 hours of bliss. I enjoyed those trips so much, and learned so much. Different friends have joined me, and they have brought others- and I know we were all on the phone and on the web when those trips were announced, eager to grab a spot and another opportunity to be sitting in that van with you at 6:30 am.
Because you were a guide, I decided to go with VENT to the Galapagos in 2011. Another life-transforming event! Non-birder Alan Aderem came with me, and became another convert. Your quiet demeanor, yours and Sally’s calmness and gentleness, just fit in with the birds, the ocean, the privilege of seeing that amazing place. I am still overwhelmed when I think of that trip.
I feel very lucky to ever have known you.
When I took care of a hurt baby crow a few years ago, I named him Bob, after you.
I think of you whenever I see or hear a Varied Thrush and always will.
— Kathy Barker
Bob taught me the art of birding by ear. I've taken his class multiple times through Seattle Audubon, each time gaining more tips and adding finesse to my bird-listening skills. I will forever be grateful to Bob for his patience and support as I fumbled along learning the different spring warblers. I remember the time and location when I finally heard the difference between Black-headed Grosbeaks, American Robins, and Western Tanagers; and when I successfully noted a Townsend's Warbler from the din of spring warblers. During field trips in the south Sound area, Bob brought groups back to his garden for a lunch break — his yard is a birder's paradise. While we munched on sandwiches on his porch we'd watch dozens of birds enjoying the feeders and watering stations among the native plants.
One of Bob's special tricks was to imitate a pygmy owl call — he could get a forest of small birds riled up by mimicking a pygmy owl, giving his students the opportunity to both see and hear the calls of many birds.
Bob's teaching and guidance has forever changed the way I experience birds, giving me the opportunity to hear (and name) what I cannot see. I will always remember these gifts and will strive to pass them on to others.
— Cinny Burrell
I've been going on trips with Bob for several years. He was my first birding teacher — a two-night Birding by Ear class that included a field trip, and which got me hooked. I couldn't believe he could stand in a field and point in any direction and call off the birds to whom the songs belonged. I so wanted to do that, and with his guidance, I have been somewhat getting there.
It is an odd synchronicity that I got this news today. I was just texting with my nieces about Bob, because my niece Taylor suggested that we subscribe to the podcast BirdNote. I bragged that I knew Bob, who wrote most of the podcasts, and that I'd even been to his house. I also bragged that I would occasionally email him with a photo I'd taken of a bird I was having trouble ID-ing. He always responded, and of course, always with the correct ID!
I thank you, Bob, for being the initial inspiration for my love of birds, and for so much that I've learned from you. I think so fondly of some of your words to me, answering every ignorant question with complete respect and patience. You even had kind words for why people in rural areas would be supporting a candidate that we found so repugnant. Your non-judgement of everyone and your calm way of delivering loads of information will always be remembered with gratitude, and let me say it — with love. I am so sad to lose you. It feels like my very own personal loss.
Sally, much love to you. We all hoped that the year of treatments would keep him with us for a much longer time. But I am so very grateful that I was one of the privileged few to have known Bob Sundstrom. I consider him a great man, and you a lucky woman.
— Nancy Schutt
One day in 2016, Bob did me the favour of driving with me to the Skagit Valley. I was relatively new in my role as Director of Programs for BirdNote, and even more of a newbie when it came to looking at, thinking about and listening to birds. Bob was the perfect man to unlock the mysteries of what we were seeing in the winter Skagit landscape, and what a treat. Geese en route from Wrangel Island taking off in the thousands at the hint of an eagle in the air; Dunlin folding and rippling over the coastal sands; a Peregrine Falcon on a distant tree scanning the terrain for prey. A Red-tailed Hawk on a telegraph pole as we drove home down I-5. And myriad starlings and other 'commonplace' birds seemingly everywhere I looked. Once Bob had pointed them out to me, that is.
As anybody who's traveled with him probably knows better than me, Bob has an amazing gift for revealing a landscape. Of mapping the sounds, encouraging you to listen, showing you how to listen, and how to be ready to receive whatever message the world of nature is trying to send you.
As one of my favorite BirdNote scripts says (and I'm paraphrasing here) when it comes to birds, sometimes the most important thing you can do — the most valuable thing you can have — isn't a piece of equipment or a field guide: it's a willingness to stay still, be quiet, and listen.
I think about the day often, and the Peregrine Falcon in particular. How did he even see that thing? I mean, the trees were very far away.
Regularly working on BirdNote scripts with Bob was a delight. He's such a thoughtful writer and a willing and easy partner. And I know now, though I maybe didn't know it then, that through his example he taught me how to be in the service of the thing to be elevated: the mysteries and wonder of nature and birds, rather than in my own idea of how it should be done. That sounds like a very subtle distinction, and I suppose it is.
The kind of subtlety that can only come from somebody who's able to stand still, be quiet, and then point out a Peregrine Falcon perched on a branch of a tree in winter, a mile distant from where you're standing. I'm forever grateful. Thanks, Bob.
— Dominic Black
Ron and I are thinking of you and sending you much love and comfort at this time.
Although you have written an amazing number of wonderful BirdNote stories, I like to think of you in person. I was always so grateful when you were going to be leading trips or participating in meetings about BirdNote. Guides like you are a special gift to the present and future because you have that strong primal link to the past of knowing what is living around us and how to experience and share its wonder. You are a wonderful teacher.
We will never forget the Pelagic birding trip that we took with you! It was a thrill of a lifetime. You had one of your good friends who I think worked for Fish & Wildlife along as well and you were both pointing out all kinds of amazing things to see – birds, fish, whales, sea lions. We finally made it to the destination and were honored to see both a Laysan’s and a Black-footed Albatross! What a joy!
I also remember a beautiful trip that you led for BirdNote friends up to the Camas Meadow area and the road which extends beyond heading east. This is one of my very favorite spots now and I’m sure it is because of the many birds you shared and pointed out.
Your tracking and birding skills, patience, keen eye and expertise at telling wonderful and informative stories about birds has opened a sense of awe and wonder about the natural world to thousands and thousands of people!!! What a gift, service and blessing!
I send you much love and gratefulness for having been able to spend time with you. I am a better person and birder for having done so.
I’m quite certain that the Angels of Nature are always surrounding You!
— Nancy Rumbel
Humble, kind, gifted and careful. These words describe Bob, almost. Then there’s his nearly singular ability to be the voice of birds, to be a bridge between them and us, making their intriguing ways come alive for millions of listeners.
As the founder of BirdNote, I had a dream, but until you assemble the people to make it happen, it’s just a dream. Bob said “Yes” to becoming the lead writer, to assuming this essential role. For me, his friendship has been life changing.
Bob’s stories exemplify BirdNote’s core values:
- They connect listeners to the natural world through sounds and storytelling,
- They bring messages of hope and inspiration, and show the way to a respectful relationship with birds and other wildlife,
- They encourage people to be curious,
- And most important, by providing a reason to conserve the resources we share with birds, they give birds a fighting chance.
Bob and his wife Sally Alhadeff have shown us all a way to live – to find a deep satisfaction in the enjoyment and protection of birds and nature.
With admiration forever,
— Chris Peterson, BirdNote founder and Executive Producer, ex-officio
Members of BirdNote’s creative team, October 8, 2008 – Crockett Lake, Whidbey Island, WA. Left to right: Adam Sedgley, John Kessler, Ellen Blackstone, Todd Peterson, Bob Sundstrom, Dennis Paulson, Chris Peterson.
Photo of Bob in the snow courtesy of Bob Sundstrom
Photo of members of the BirdNote Team (2008) courtesy of Chris Peterson