Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America

In Memory of Ray Bentley and David Pitkin

Memorials Planned for Ray Bentley and Dave Pitkin

After consultation with their families and friends, Region One has arranged for memorial tributes to FWS pilot-biologist Ray Bentley, 52, and former FWS biologist Dave Pitkin, 49, who were killed January 17, 2010 when their plane crashed near Corvallis, Oregon. Ray and Dave were participating in the mid-winter inventory of waterfowl along the Washington and Oregon coast and were returning to Corvallis when the crash occurred. The tributes will honor their lives, careers and their dedication to wildlife conservation.

Saturday, March 6, at 1 p.m., Dave Pitkin's life and dedication to wildlife conservation will be celebrated with a plaque dedication at the Coquille Point Unit of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Bandon, Oregon. To reach the event location from U.S. Highway 101 in downtown Bandon go west on 11th Street SW until the street terminates in the parking lot of the Coquille Point Unit of Oregon Islands NWR. This event will be followed with a reception for family, friends and colleagues at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Sunday, March 7th, we will celebrate Ray Bentley's life and career with a plaque dedication at an overlook on W.L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis, Oregon. To reach the event location, turn from HWY 99 approx 8 miles south of Corvallis onto Finley Refuge Road, then follow the signs into the refuge for approximately 3 miles where parking will be designated. The event will be at 1 pm and will be followed by a reception for family, friends and colleagues at Murphy's Restaurant in Corvallis, Oregon

Employees or partners who are interesting in participating in either or both of these memorial events are warmly invited to attend. For more information about the March 6 memorial Dave Pitkin, please contact Roy Lowe at 541-867-4550. For more information about the March 7 memorial for Ray Bentley, please contact Jock Beall at 541-757-7236.

Memorial for Ray Bentley and Dave Pitkin

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot-biologist Vernon Ray (Ray) Bentley, 52, and David Sherwood (Dave) Pitkin, 49, were killed when their plane crashed January 17th near Corvallis, Oregon. The two pilots were participating in the Mid-winter Inventory of waterfowl along the Oregon coast and were returning to Corvallis when the crash occurred. Every winter, select teams of Service pilot-biologists and observers take to the skies to survey North America’s waterfowl during January in one of the oldest wildlife surveys, dating back to the 1930s.

Tribute to Ray Bentley:

Ray Bentley

About Ray:
Ray Bentley, one of the pilot/biologists working within Region 9’s Branch of Migratory Bird Surveys was stationed in Corvallis, Oregon during his entire 11-year career with the Service.  He was an incredibly skilled aviator, and a passionate biologist.  He was an adventurer that regularly embraced skydiving, cycling, and scuba diving.  He was also an avid hunter and fisherman, and all of these skills led him to a career where he was able to combine these loves into one job.  In recent years Ray had served as the Biological Expert for the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, and he had also been training to fly the new “Kodiak” survey aircraft being developed by the Service.

Memorial Contributions:Ray Bentley

The Nature Conservancy
821 S.E. 14th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97214
Phone: (503) 802-8100
Fax: (503) 802-8199
E-mail: oregon@tnc.org
Identify on check/contribution: Contribution in Memory of Ray Bentley



Memories of Ray:

"Here are a few Ray photos from the home collection including three seasons of Banding in Brooks, and some play time on the river and a couple from two of our Alaska trips for anyone interested. Ray would have approved of all the shots I am sending being shared.

Life with Ray was always an adventure............... and I was damn lucky to have shared seven years of it with him. Not near enough time. Marci"

Banding Banding Crew
On the river with Pook Waiting for the tide in paradise

U.S. EPA’s Western Ecology Division's Tribute to Ray Bentley

“…Ray’s enthusiasm, self confidence, experience, and willingness to jump through the rigorous training hoops necessary to become a DMBM Pilot-Biologist led to his being hired.

….Ray and I flew many missions together, most during the May and July Waterfowl Breeding Ground Surveys in Montana and the western Dakotas.  Spending 5 hours a day together in a plane and traveling together for weeks on end can be trying at times, but with Ray it was never dull and anything but trying.  He had such a wealth of experience in so many arenas that just mentioning something could lead to hours of interesting and learned discussions.  His interests were diverse; hunting in New Zealand, fishing in Alaska, sky diving, fisheries management, stories about his travels and adventures with his personal plane.  Even following his adventures in locating that special piece of property near, “but not too close to Corvallis”, that he wanted to share with his significant other Marcy was an adventure worthy of a novel.  He was a joy to travel and share a plane with.

Professionally, Ray was a self starter….  He sought out work for other agencies during lull times in the Migratory Bird Program and always seemed to be busy.  He rose from a “Trainee” to the full performance level of his position in the minimum amount of time and was highly respected by his peers.  His work ethic reminded me of that old adage, “there he goes, I must hasten after him for I am his leader.”  His quiet confidence and cheerful demeanor was infectious.  We are so much the better for having known him and the Service and natural resources he loved so much are richer because of him.  He was my friend and I will miss him.”  Jim Voelzer, Retired Pilot-Biologist

“Ray Bentley was a man truly dedicated to the conservation of wild things and wild places.  His love of nature was evident in all his conversations.  Communication on anything from surveys to schedules to computer problems would include some comment on the color of the leaves, how many flying squirrels were using the screech owl boxes he had built, or whether there was enough food for the band-tailed pigeons this year.

Ray’s skill at waterfowl identification was exceptional – both in-hand and from the air, and waterfowl surveys consumed large amounts of his time.  Many duck banding crew members benefitted from his patient guidance on discerning subtle differences that would help identify ducks in hand.  He was equally interested and very skilled at landbird identification and was known to spend hours craning his neck at an unknown song high in the treetops.  Downtime on waterfowl surveys was often spent quietly walking through woods or along shorelines with binoculars in hand and a bird book in his pack.

Ray spent 10 years leading summer banding crews in the Canadian prairies.  He was a great crew leader – a good teacher, establishing rapport with local contacts, always observant of crew members’ strengths and considerate of their needs.  He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved telling jokes and stories.  Ray’s recounts of past surveys and various adventures could keep a crew laughing through the deepest mud, coldest rain and longest banding days encountered.  Above all else, every action on a survey was dictated by the welfare of the wildlife being handled.  He felt personal pain at the loss of any duck to predation or weather, and thought nothing of making personal sacrifice to secure the well-being of the resources he felt had been placed in his care.   

I did not know Ray outside of work, but always heard such peace and pleasure in his descriptions of following bear tracks along the river, watching deer browse in his apple orchard, or tracking grouse through a meadow.  Birding was a favorite pastime, along with fishing, waterfowl hunting, upland game bird hunting, bow hunting deer, tending his apple orchard, monitoring his trail camera and playing with his dog.  He knew how many hummingbirds returned each spring and where their nests were.  He loved taking photographs of scenery from his plane and loved sharing what he saw and what he knew, especially if he felt it would aid conservation in any way.

To listen to Ray talk about his schedule was staggering.  As a Region 1 pilot biologist for many years, Ray used his planes to survey waterfowl, shorebirds, grouse, eagles, Sandhill Cranes, Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets, as well as looking for non-avian wildlife such as suckers, doing mapping surveys and whatever other special requests he could accommodate.  Whatever the request was, Ray would make every effort to assist in any way he could.  Between flying surveys, flying his personal plane, doing airplane maintenance, and all the pastimes he enjoyed, I don’t think Ray ever slept, and I know he spent as little time as possible indoors.  In his passing, the FWS and the community have suffered a huge loss.  Ray will be deeply missed.”  Jenny Hoskins, USFWS Region 1 Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs

Tribute to Dave Pitkin:

About Dave:
In 1992 Dave started volunteering for the Fish and Wildlife Service and lived on Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  In 1993, the Service hired Dave as a biological technician and he worked on aerial and boat-based surveys of wildlife including Aleutian Canada Geese, Peregrine Falcons and a myriad of waterfowl on the entire Oregon coast.  In 1999, he was promoted and became the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex's Wildlife Biologist. He remained in this position until 2007.  At that time he left the Service and moved to the south coast of Oregon where he worked on a large ranch.  His passion was to be outside and to see wildlife every day; his ranch life kept him outdoors, where he always wanted to be.  He continued to volunteer and contract for the Service and other conservation organizations until his passing on Sunday.

Dave Pitkin

Memorial Contributions: David Pitkin Memorial Fund at the West Coast Bank. Contributions can be made at any branch. Please make checks out to The David Pitkin Memorial Fund and mail it to the West Coast headquarters office:

West Coast BancorpDavid Pitkin - Boat Survey
5335 Meadows Rd., Suite 201
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Fax: 503-684-0781



Memories of Dave:

“I can't recall meeting anyone who held more compassion for birds and their welfare.  He was also one of the hardest working people I have ever met, working tirelessly every weekday from before dawn, to being the last person leaving the office; he also worked, without pay, most weekends.  Another big part of Dave's personality was his sense of humor. Dave had a great sense of humor, often self-effacing.  When he laughed he laughed loud and it was infectious to those around him. He was also a seasoned naturalist and accomplished photographer; many Service publications regarding the Oregon Coast have his stellar images  He was the go to guy for anything from waterfowl, peregrines, salamanders to bog plants and habitat restoration.  We will all miss Dave.” Current and former staff from the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex       

“Dave was hands-down one of the finest human beings and biologists we have met. Both men were the type of guys who got things done, and quietly went about the business of protecting and managing wildlife.The level of knowledge lost for Oregon, and the dedication, is colossal.  We are stunned and deeply saddened…. Next time you see an Aleutian Cackling Geese, you can thank Dave Pitkin and Ray Bentley.  I can't think of a better species that represents the contribution to wildlife that I know Dave had a direct hand in. May you guys fly free.”  Dave Lauten and Kathy Castelein, Bandon OR

“I am not exaggerating when I say we lost two old-school biologists who were among the best of our best. Dave was the best naturalist I have ever met-and I have known many; he had an amazing search image that could discern subtle aspects of wildlife that were lost on everyone else.  He could read band numbers on Aleutian Canada geese aluminum bands from quite a distance.  His sense of humor was fantastic, and many of my memories that I cherish include us laughing until the wee hours of the morning, or from the wee hours of the morning on through the day as we did something outside.  I lost one of my closest and dearest friends on Sunday.  I know that I, and many others internally and externally, will miss him incredibly.” Joel Pagel, US FWS

“We were saddened to learn that David Pitkin, who traveled to Russia under our program in 2002, and FWS employee Ray Bentley died in a plane crash on Sunday. Dave will be remembered in many ways. His copious amounts of professional-quality photographs from the 2002 trip will continue to be used in our outreach efforts for many years to come.  Attached is a photo he sent us of the FWS team in Russia in 2002.” Peter B. Ward U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of International Conservation, Branch of Russia and East Asia

Statements of Condolences:


 Websites and blogs in memory of:

The Oregon Field Guide TV Program blog has a moving tribute to Dave. See:




News Articles about Tragic Plane Accident:






Washington Post:


KGW-TV (Portland)

Idaho Statesman:


KBOI Radio (Boise)

KTVB (Boise)


Last updated: April 11, 2011