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Ornithologist Arlo Raim, KB9LLF (SK)


Arlo Raim, KB9LLF, of Danville, Illinois, was killed by a southbound Canadian National freight train on the morning of Friday, August 20. He was 67. Raim had been in Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve -- part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage (Illinois) County -- to monitor the effect of increased train traffic on cardinals.

According to Canadian National spokesman Patrick Waldron, Raim was not authorized to be on the tracks, although the railway had hired the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) -- based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- to assess the increased train traffic’s impact on birds in the area; Raim worked for the INHS. Waldron also said that ever since Canadian National had purchased the line from Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway in December 2008, that particular stretch of track has experienced increased traffic.

“He was one of, if not the best, bird tracker in the world,” said Dr Mike Ward, Coordinator of the Critical Trends Assessment Program (CTAP) at the INHS and one of Raim’s supervisors. “He used radio telemetry to track animals as varied as peregrine falcons, coyotes, turtles and northern cardinals.” According to Ward, Raim’s most noteworthy research may have been the 2002 tracking that showed crows changed roosts every two days, a discovery that shed light on why West Nile virus is able to spread so rapidly. Raim was the Crow Project Leader at the INHS.

Raim began working at the Natural History Survey in 1975, logging hundreds of thousands of miles tracking birds in Panama, Mexico, the US, Canada and Greenland, colleagues said. Raim’s longtime colleague and supervisor Bill Cochran told the Chicago Tribune that Raim also created a breakthrough technique to attach a transmitter to birds by sticking a false eyelash to the bird’s back.

“Over the last 30 years he, in his station wagon with antennas on top, has been a common sight on the roads of central Illinois,” Ward said. “Over the course of his career he tracked animals throughout North and Central America. He was a tireless worker who was completely committed to his job and therefore to a better understanding of the behavior of wildlife, especially birds.”

According to Ward, Raim was routinely courted by entities in Europe and elsewhere with higher salaries, but he remained in the Champaign-Urbana area, primarily because he didn’t want to move his dogs -- two Dalmatians and a mixed hound he’d obtained from shelters.

Beth Chato, a friend of Raim’s from the local Audubon Society, said birding was “his life. He lived simply in a trailer when not on the road and was prepared to drop whatever he was doing to stay close to whatever bird he was tracking.” Chato said Raim did a great deal of valuable research and made himself available to help amateur birders: “He was on the Audubon board years back. He always helped with the spring bird count. He was a very good birder.”

Raim’s page on the INHS Web site lists his interests as tracking wild birds; capture and handling of aggressive birds; collection and processing of blood samples; recovery of dead birds and determining the local abundance of birds and other wildlife for studies dealing with West Nile Virus; recording and organizing the results of field studies.  -- Thanks to Steve Caesar, NH7C, and the Chicago Tribune for the information



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