The passing of J. R. "Bill" Pemberton at a Tijunga, California, rest home on 1 July 1968 after a long, lingering illness, brought to a close one of the most colorful careers in the annals of western natural science. Born in Los Angeles, California, 22 September 1884, ...
His early boyhood years were spent in Los Angeles. The family home was situated at the corner of of Pico Boulevard and Berendo Street and he attended the nearby public elementary school. He and his father were close companions and from his father he learned the importance of close and careful field observations while participating in frequent natural history explorations in a once forested region that later became Westlake Park but today is known as MacArthur Park. In 1895, at the age of eleven, Bill took up the study of ornithology in all seriousness and from then on until the time he suffered a serious paralytic stroke in 1960 he collected bird skins, nests and eggs wherever he traveled.
Beginning in 1929, Bill used his yacht, the 'Petrel', and later the 'kinkajou', to conduct periodic explorations of the fauna of the islands off the eastern Pacific Coast from Point Conception, California south to latitude 18 degrees off the west coasat of Mexico, and also in the Gulf of California. On these expeditions he was accompanied by recognized scientists from a number of scientific institutions, including Alfred M. Bailey, William H. Burt, Stephen A. Glassell, Ed N. Harrison, H.N Lowe, George H. Lowery, Robert J. Niedrach, William J. Sheffler, Kenneth E. Stager, Adriaan J. van Rossem, George Willett, and others. Most of these men publishedd on their discoveries made on these cruises in a series of technical papers too numerous to enumerate here. Alfred M. Bailey's popular account of the Pemberton expedition of Spring 1941,titled "Cruise of the Kinkajou," appeared in the National Geographic magazine for September 1941.
For several consecutive years, particularly in the 1930s, he specialized in studying the California Condor, living with the great vultures in their native habitat, day and night on end. He squatted or half-sat for seemingly endless hours in foxholes, pits, and shallow trenches that he and his associates, Ed Harrison and Sidney B. Peyton, dug and covered over with canvass, brush, leaves, and dirt, with small apertures just above ground level in order to make motion pictures of the condors while they fed, drank, bathed courted their mates, and performed other behavioral antics. The pictures he prodcued were of such superior quality that in due time Bill became nationally recognized as an authority on the habits and behavior of these survivors of the Pleistocene Epoch.
Would any birder of today, in 2005, have recognized the grea explorations that occurred to the California Channel Islands.
It is fitting that Ed Harrison and Jack von Bloeker wrote about John Roy Pemberton as he has now since passed away, and so yet another great naturalist, vertebrate zoologist, and scientist has passed away. All the classical naturalists are dying off. Who will do natural history and descriptive ecology in the future?