Remembering James Davis

by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

In December the Bird Alliance of Oregon community lost a beloved member of the flock. James Davis, an amazing naturalist and educator, served as Bird Alliance of Oregon’s first director of education in the 1980s back at a time when the organization was just transitioning from all volunteer to paid staff. His vision and expertise laid the foundation for much of the programming that continues to this day. Our heart goes out to his wife, Sally Loomis, also a former longterm Bird Alliance of Oregon staffer, as well as his friends, family, and colleagues.

James Davis doing keynote address at UERC Luncheon in 2007
James Davis doing keynote address at UERC Luncheon in 2007. Photo by Mike Houck.

We gathered these memories from those who knew him and worked with him at Bird Alliance of Oregon, his later career at Metro, and in friendship in the years since, to try to capture even a fraction of a man who was larger than life. Online you’ll find a longer version of this article, with more detailed remembrances, to honor James. He will be dearly missed.

“Being Executive Director of Bird Alliance of Oregon was not easy, but the people I worked with made my job enjoyable. James Davis was one of those people. James was Education Director—and really a one-person “department”— during my tenure as ED from 1985 to 1989. His knowledge about natural history was truly inspiring, and he coordinated and taught many classes and field excursions for our organization. His appreciation of the natural world was deep and he made learning fun! What I most vividly remember about James was his sense of humor and ability to keep staff and volunteers holding their sides with laughter. I also recall his amazing repertoire of songs, some of which he sang late into the night and early morning hours at several staff/board retreats.” – Claire Puchy, former Bird Alliance of Oregon Executive Director


“James was essential to Bird Alliance of Oregon’s growth and professionalism and stature within the conservation community. He was hilariously funny; a great story teller; a talented musician who founded his own band, the Surf Weasels; and he was a successful author, including The Northwest Nature Guide: Where to Go and What to See Month by Month in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. He was also one of the region’s most knowledgeable naturalists who knew his way around amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds and was no slouch at Northwest botany. He pioneered Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Elderhostel programs and assembled a talented staff of naturalist educators.”
– Mike Houck, former Urban Naturalist


Mike Houck, James Davis, and Ethan Seltzer

“James was fun to work with and was always so exuberant as he led kids (or adults) outdoors. He had a gift for sharing scientific information with a bit of humor. He was a big hit with kids and adults as he used hands-on activities to teach identification of birds, mammals and their habitats. He kept the kids focused, often by coming up with colorful nicknames for critters, their body parts, and behaviors—always making sure they also knew the proper terminology.” – Kathy Shinn, former Bird Alliance of Oregon board member

“When I first met James in the early ‘80s, I was amazed by his enthusiasm and energy. Once when we were driving together up to Bird Alliance of Oregon we were on Cornell Road, about a minute from the parking lot, when he stomped on the brake and hollered “Mountain Beaver!” after which he leaped from the car (it wasn’t still moving, was it?) and scooped a small furry ball from the roadside. It was a Mountain Beaver (Aplodontia rufa) that had failed to make the crossing, the first and last one—living or dead—I had ever seen. But it was no surprise that James’s quick eyes had caught it and ID’d in an instant.

As I came to know him better (the Mountain Beaver incident should have given me a clue), I became more and more impressed by his deep knowledge of natural history. He seemed to have a special affinity for reptiles and amphibians, but birds and mammals weren’t neglected. We made a special connection around bird song, when James developed and produced Bird Alliance of Oregon’s first audio field guide: Familiar Bird Songs of the Northwest, a companion to the late Harry Nehls’ Familiar Birds of the Northwest.” Bob Wilson, former Nature Store Manager

James Davis on a rafting trip for an Education program.

“James was a larger-than-life influence on me and my career as a birder, teacher, and trip leader. I thank him for sharing his knowledge, whether in person or through his writing. I still have my Familiar Bird Songs of the Northwest cassette, which gave me a great start in birding by ear.

This story is more James adjacent” but is one I often think of. Once, he asked me to help out with a Mt Talbert bird walk by tail-ending a large group. He was way up at the head of the line, expounding on the Pileated Woodpecker and how 90% of their diet was carpenter ants. His voice could certainly carry, but not well enough this time, because a woman with me at the back of the line looked horrified and said, “What? 90% of them die of heart attacks?”

I’m glad to have known James, and I know I’m not the only one to feel that way.” – Laura Whittemore, educator and Warbler copyeditor