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In Memoriam: Bob Sundstrom (1951–2021)

It is with heavy hearts that we share news of the passing of longtime VENT tour leader Bob Sundstrom. Bob departed on May 16, 2021, at his home outside Tenino, Washington, following a multi-year battle with leukemia.

For more than thirty years, Bob enjoyed a successful career as a professional tour leader for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. His tour leading took him to diverse destinations throughout North America, the American Tropics, Antarctica, and other destinations in Europe and Asia. For decades he anchored important tours in important areas—such as Hawaii, the Upper Texas Coast, the Pacific Northwest, and Trinidad and Tobago—and did so with unyielding professionalism.

As Bob explained, one of his great joys of tour leading was getting to know so many tour participants, and sharing their pleasure in seeing new birds and wild places. Additionally, working with foreign co-leaders was an especially satisfying part of his job, some of whom he had the good fortune to spend time with on tour year after year. The opportunity to learn about their lives and their interests in nature meant a lot to him.

Robert “Bob” Sundstrom grew up in Maryland and Florida intrigued by all of nature: fishing, collecting fossils, keeping snakes, and learning about birds. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1970s and completed a doctorate in cultural anthropology in the mid-1980s. During his work on Alaska’s remote Pribilof Islands in the late 1980s, he connected with VENT tour leader Kevin Zimmer, which led to his joining VENT.

Bob met his future wife Sally Alhadeff on a birding outing in Seattle. In 2001 they left the big city and moved to rural Scatter Creek Valley, south of Olympia, Washington, where they spent much time creating acres of wildlife habitat and stewarding scores of bird nest boxes.

In addition to his tour leading, Bob taught a wide variety of birding workshops in Seattle for more than three decades. And while he covered a number of subjects, his favorite subject to teach was birding by ear. Bob also served on the boards of several nature and conservation organizations and was, for more than twenty years, a member of the Washington State Bird Records Committee. He co-authored The National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest. Bob’s professional involvement with birds extended to media, where he was a central part (lead writer and science advisor) of the creative team for the radio program BirdNote, Over the fifteen plus years of the show’s run, he wrote nearly 900 stories—a prodigious number—for the show that now reaches more than two million listeners. Bob’s work and the full archive will be preserved in the Library of Congress.

It would be a mistake to think of Bob “only” as a birder. A man of high intellect with a passion for learning and knowledge, Bob was a dedicated reader and writer, and possessed a diversity of interests in topics ranging from literature to music, from cooking to anthropology, and in fine coffee, tea, wine, and Scotch.

As Bob made clear, the real driving force in his life was his wife Sally, who, in his words, had the grace and patience to put up with his many weeks each year away from home on tour. They were together for twenty-eight years.

Bob’s passing is a tremendous loss. A consummate professional in all aspects of his job, he embodied the critical qualities that made him a first-rate tour leader. To his colleagues in the office and in the field, Bob will be remembered as well-organized and reliable, a person of high integrity who unquestionably made VENT a better organization. To those who traveled with him, he will be remembered as an intelligent, easygoing man of quick wit, a generous soul always willing to share his knowledge of birds and the natural world. In sum, Bob was a gentleman and a true ambassador for VENT, for birds, and for birding. We will miss him greatly. 

Please read an obituary of Bob here. Please visit the BirdNote website ( to read a remembrance of his work for that fine organization.

Prior to his passing, Bob let us know that if anyone would like to leave a remembrance in his name, that he or she please consider a donation to BirdNote.