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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Arcadia man killed by canyon fall was respected bird expert

Arcadia man killed by canyon fall was respected bird expert 

By Jessica Donnelly, Pasadena Starr News Staff Writer 
Posted: 07/15/2010 05:04:01 PM PDT 

Members of the birding community were shocked Thursday after getting news that renowned bird expert Michael San Miguel fell down an embankment and died while counting owls overnight in the Angeles National Forest. San Miguel, 70, of Arcadia died late Wednesday after he fell down a steep ravine in in the forest near Angeles Crest Highway and Mt. Wilson Red Box Road, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Robert Diaz said.

San Miguel, a well-known bird expert, was conducting an environmental study on the impact of running Southern California Edison power lines in the area. "The very early call this morning... should have been about a really good bird, but instead it brought devastating news," wrote Kimball L. Garrett, Ornithologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, in a letter to San Miguel's friends and family. "And somehow it isn't any comfort to know that Mike died working hard doing one of the things he loved most - birding with a purpose," he continued. San Miguel was a conservationist and the president of the Western Field Ornithologist (WFO). He enjoyed traveling all over California chasing rare birds, and he led field trips for interested birders on behalf of the Pasadena Audubon Society. San Miguel served many years on the California Bird Records Committee, and he had an important role in the production of the California Bird Records Committee book "Rare Birds of California" and published several papers in WFO's journal Western Birds. San Miguel is survived by his wife Gayle, son Michael, and daughter Lisa. "Birding was only his second passion," Garrett wrote. "Many birders don't realize that Mike virtually stopped birding for many years to be the best possible father to his growing children, and even after he resumed birding with more zeal and passion than ever he was always talking about his children and, eventually, grandchildren."

A rescue team found the biologist dead after finally reaching him 300 feet down a ravine north of Altadena, an official from the county coroner's office said. San Miguel was with colleague and friend Jon Feenstra when he fell, said friend and Los Angeles-area birder Todd McGrath. They were hiking down to a spotted owl's nest around 8 p.m. when Feenstra realized San Miguel was not behind him, said McGrath, who had talked to Feenstra Thursday. Feenstra found San Miguel injured and hiked out of the ravine to their vehicle to call for help with a satellite phone, McGrath said. San Miguel's condition worsened and he died before rescue teams reached him four hours later, McGrath said. Due to overhead power lines, sheriff's and fire officials were unable to hoist San Miguel out of the forest by helicopter, Diaz said. The Montrose Search and Rescue team retrieved San Miguel's body and brought it up the ravine, where Homicide Bureau officials and the county coroner were waiting to begin an investigation, officials said. "The team did not return till 5:30 a.m. on Thursday," said Sgt. Debra Herman with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's station.

Detectives are continuing their investigation to determine San Miguel's injuries and cause of death, county they said. San Miguel did environmental surveying for the Pasadena-based company Bon Terra for Edison's Renewable Transmission Project, Edison spokesperson Vanessa McGrady said. "His loss to California birding will be immense," said Ron Cyger of the Pasadena Audubon Society. "He was a teacher and an active supporter of natural life."
626-962-8811, ext. 2104