Susan Patla

I was eager to meet Bert Raynes when I first moved to Alta, WY in May 1987.  My husband Don and I were in a mid-life transition, giving up what appeared to be an ideal lifestyle in the wine country of California.  My main goal was to develop a new career in wildlife after 15 years of seawater and wine chemistry work. Birds had become a passion.

I met Bert soon afterwards by signing up for his day-long Teton Science School field course in Grand Teton National Park.   Bert barely fit into the small van, filled with long-term residents and visitors, many obviously keen fans of Bert.  On our walk at Taggart Lake, Bert proved to be a fountain of bird knowledge and stories—a natural teacher.  Near the end of the hike, I suddenly heard a loud, unfamiliar song.  When I called out, Bert immediately focused on the source and exclaimed with a huge grin: Chestnut-sided Warbler.  It was a first in the valley for him, and a life-bird for me.  We were forever bonded.

I remained in contact with Bert through attending Jackson Bird Club meetings but worked mainly in eastern Idaho over the next decade, fortunately on bird projects and later a master’s study on Northern Goshawk. I was honored to receive an invitation to Bert and Meg’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1994 at the Crane Creek Ranch.  Little did I know then that a bird-filled conversation at this party with Bob Oakleaf, then Nongame Biologist for Wyoming Game and Fish Department, would be a gateway to a job in December 1998 in Jackson.

Bert’s knowledge of local natural history, his wide array of contacts, his concerns over environmental issues, and his drive to awaken the public to the value and beauty of birds and all wildlife, brought us into constant contact over the next 20+ years.  It was a rare week that I did not receive more than a few phone calls or emails from Bert with a question, request to save an injured bird, or entertaining story.   His passion for the value of Citizen Science was as great as his love of birds.  He was a constant reminder that the state wildlife department needed to be responsive to all citizens and wildlife species in Wyoming.

Bert was the center of an ecosystem: people and ideas flowed in and out of his house.  He tied together Jackson’s recent past with its burgeoning new future.  A conversation with him was always a delight dotted with unexpected gems.  After work, I would stop when I could for a gin and tonic to discuss birds, current issues, or at times, just vent.  He had a special relationship to everyone he knew that was private and dear; one always walked away with new insights.

It was with joy that I saw his vision for a local Nature Mapping program blossom into reality as well as his development of the Raynes Wildlife Fund which has funded many projects on under-studied species.   His legacy lives on even though his loss has left a huge hole in Jackson and in my heart.  Let us work in his memory to preserve and cherish the wild wonders of this special place.

– Susan Patla, April 2021

Photo credits: Susan Patla