Rest In Peace, finatic

Matt Muir, Chris Mallory, and BJ Stacey in Arizona, 2017. Photo by Scott Loarie.

It is with a heavy heart that I report the death of BJ Stacey. Most of us on iNat knew him as finatic, a tireless observer and identifier, and one of iNat's most prolific users. While I corresponded with him quite a bit over the years, we only met in person a few times, always in the desert. I remember my first impression in Anza-Borrego was, "Wow, this is a big dude." He was a big dude, big enough to comfortably carry two SLRs on belt holsters (macro and telephoto, of course), like some kind of naturalist gunslinger. But his generosity with his time and expertise was just as expansive. That part of the desert was one of his regular stomping grounds, so he was able to show us a bunch of spots we wouldn't have checked out otherwise.

BJ and Jay Keller also organized an amazing trip to southeast Arizona later that year. I was only there for the tail end of it, but again BJ's generosity, unflappability, and wry sense of humor were on full display. Everyone I’ve ever spoken with about BJ has stressed those qualities.

It would be remiss of me not to mention his many contributions to science, including research on leopard frogs, terrestrial gastropods, and, of course, Amplaria staceyi, a species of millipede named in his honor in 2021.

BJ had been battling a serious illness for several years. His condition declined suddenly last week and he passed away peacefully Thursday afternoon with his wife Michaeleen by his side. He added over 100,000 identifications on iNat helping over 17,000 people all around the world and was one of iNat's most active observers since joining way back in 2012 when iNat was much smaller, so it's not too much of a stretch to say that if you use iNat, you probably benefited from BJ's work. Once, Scott even went so far as to define a "finatic" as a unit of measurement for expressing large quantities of observations, 1 "finatic" equalling 52,656 observations at the time.

I'll miss BJ (I never got to get his thrash metal recommendations!), and I know many of you will too. Please share your memories of him in the comments, or, if you wish, you can make a donation in his honor at the memorial iNat fundraising page Michaeleen and Jay have set up. iNat meant a lot to BJ, and one of his final wishes was to again promote and support this community of people who share the abiding love he had for nature.

Posted by kueda kueda, February 28, 2022 23:10

Comments

I first met BJ on iNaturalist as finatic - and thought of him kind of as a fanatic. I knew @gyrrlfalcon had turned him on to iNat. But who was this person who's able to dedicate so much time to exploring and observing nature - there must be something wrong with him. But after meeting him in person and seeing what a warm, big hearted, funny, jolly giant BJ was, I felt like fantatic didn't really capture it. BJ had a huge love and passion for nature, but also a kind of laid back rock and roll attitude. He talked to me about his road trips with his wife that enabled him to cover lots of ground while spending time with her. I saw what a leader he was in the natural history world not just on iNat but in the birder community. And how much his friends love him. And I'll never forget the great 2017 southeast Arizona trip BJ and Jay spearheaded where we got to spend quality time in the field - I reread this blog post I wrote back then and the awe I feel for BJ still comes through - rest in peace!

Posted by loarie 4 months ago (Flag)

I'm really sorry good people like he die, it's a big loss to science, people and iNat. I never spoke to him and only saw him on the leaderboard, but everything is clear through how you describe him.

Posted by marina_gorbunova 4 months ago (Flag)

"The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members." – Coretta Scott King

I was so lucky to get to go out in the field with BJ at the Southeast Arizona iNat-athon. I consider myself a pretty hard core observer, but after hanging out with the rest of these folks, I was getting as worn out as my camera batteries! It was incredible to be among these literal giants -- BJ the tallest of them! What a time I had with him -- and it reminded me that iNaturalist is a community made up of incredible people like BJ. BJ and Jay worked so hard to make the iNat-athon so much fun. I'm eternally grateful for this experience.

People like BJ make a mark us on all. He inspired me to be more observant. In the earlier days of iNaturalist, I remember getting the chance to look at a lot more observations (outside of my area), and BJ's stood out -- such high quality shots, such amazing organisms -- I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a bit envious (not just of his photographic abilities, but also of all of the biodiversity he spotted!). Through his observations, I was able to live vicariously as though I too was seeing what he saw. That's another amazing attribute from this community -- as we look through observations, we are seeing organisms through their eyes. I loved seeing what BJ saw.

I'm incredible grateful for BJ. Rest in peace, my friend.

Posted by sambiology 4 months ago (Flag)

I first met BJ on a pelagic birding trip out of San Diego. I was new in town, having moved down from the PNW to go to grad school at San Diego State University. I knew he was going to be on the boat and I had a hidden agenda. I cornered him (which was easy since he was in the back chumming popcorn) and I asked him if he would give a talk to the SDSU Natural History Club about iNaturalist. It didn't take much convincing, and we enjoyed each other's company and the birds and sea life for the rest of the trip.

We hung out a few times over the next couple of years, but the next thing I have to say about BJ is deeply personal. I was on the last year of my graduate student contract, early November 2016, when, unexpectedly, my spouse let me know she was leaving me for her lover. For the next two months I did little but slam whiskey until I was homeless (try making rent on what any university pays a grad student). Michaeleen was in Colorado for a few months for a class, so BJ invited me to live with him during that time. It wasn't much, only four months, but it was a net that caught my fall, and I will always love him for that. Thank you too Michaeleen.

That's when our friendship started in earnest. We went to Palomar to look for endemic microsnails and ended up finding them, as well as four new species of millipedes, only one of which has been described so far: Amplaria staceyi. He showed me some of his stomping grounds: Otay Mesa and the valleys draining south into the Romana Valley where he taught me how to chase wildflowers and I got my lifer California Peony (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5486496) . One magical night down east of Otay we found the full ripe of snail time, with thousands of individuals of half-a-dozen native species (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10632822).

When he got sick I was still in San Diego, and we had a few more trips. He told me that, before it was all over, he wanted to have a species named after him and to be an author on a scientific publication. Well, we got one of them taken care of. The other will have to be posthumous. BJ helped me a lot with curating the Molluscan Mycophagy project, and I hope to get a publication that includes his work out in about a year or so. We texted a bit on New Year's; that big heart coming through those little letters. I'll miss him dearly. Sending my love to BJ's friends and to all naturalists everywhere.

Posted by pileated 4 months ago (Flag)

Casey I remember you telling me that story down in Santa Barbara and I've been thinking about it a lot since last week, because of BJ's kindness but also because I was genuinely shocked by how superficial my assumptions were about both of you, mainly because we'd only (or mostly) interacted with each other online. I need to remember that we are all more than we seem, in all contexts but especially on the Internet. Thank you for sharing that story with me over beers that one time, and now with everyone else.

Posted by kueda 4 months ago (Flag)
Posted by biohexx1 4 months ago (Flag)

My heart is broken that we lost BJ so young. But my heart is gladdened by all he was able to squeeze in to these scant 51 years. Like @pileated, I first met BJ on a San Diego pelagic, in February of 2010. He seemed at first impression like a good ol' southern boy, but once he started talking - wow! A very different, warm and big-hearted person was revealed! I invited him to go birding with me while I was in San Diego, and he took me up on that. As soon as we got into the car and discovered our mutual love of Diet Coke, and our penchant for birding non-stop, and eBirding...well, once that happened, I felt like I'd discovered the brother I never had.

The big moment - especially for iNat - was a weekend trip with a number of members of Queer Birders of North America. We had booked into a pelagic for October of 2012. The next day, a bunch of wanted to seek out the Harris Hawk in Jacumba. My wife Peggy (@tui ) and I were already staying with BJ and Michaeleen, so we car caravan'ed as a group. By then, I was deep into iNaturalist, having joined two months previous. I was fascinated, already, by all the plants, bugs, butterflies, and other things I could now catalog, and a trip to an area distant from home meant seeing it all with new eyes. Apparently, despite my relative amateurishness at it, BJ was convinced.

Later on the Jacumba day, we were all hanging out by the cars near the Salton Sea. We were all scanning madly, except for BJ, who was minding something on his phone. In his nonchalant manner, he got our attention when he looked up and said "Blue-footed Booby," and had the wherewithal to snap the picture - https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/180476 . I can't remember for sure, but I think I said something about "That'd be a great iNat entry." (here's the eBird list from that day - https://ebird.org/checklist/S11751100)

BJ joined iNaturalist four days later, on October 11, 2012. If I never did another thing for the environment, bringing BJ Stacey to iNaturalist would be an adequate accomplishment. He quickly surpassed me in everything - species, observations, but none of that matters compared to the greatest things of all - curiosity and scope of knowledge. He astounded me in so many ways. He ended up teaching me so much about how to get the most out of iNaturalist.

Our last big trip together happened in late March of 2019, when we visited Anza Borrega and the Salton Sea. He had been suffering from the disease that would take him eventually, but we were able to make this trip during a better phase, along with our spouses. He knew that iNaturalist had kindled my passion for lichens, and had been wanting to take me to some of the remarkable desert assemblages that he had observed. We had a great time.

When last we chatted around the holidays, he still seemed optimistic. The news hit me hard, and I've been somewhere between deep sorrow, anger, and gratitude for his life ever since Friday morning. But ultimately what he gave to the world will remain because of what we, as community scientists, can do.

BJ - you are the standard of FINATICISM forever! Peace, brother.

Posted by gyrrlfalcon 4 months ago (Flag)

I didn't know BJ anywhere near as well as the other folks on this thread but I feel lucky I was able to meet him and experience his kindness. He lent me a portable battery for my UV light on a last-minute trip to Baja California in spring of 2017, which I used during the evening of what I consider to be one of the best days of natural history I've ever had.

I remember driving out to his house with a little apprehension at taking his equipment, but he reassured me with his cheerful and generous mood – I have BJ to thank for facilitating that day. He was enthusiastic to help someone else experience the kinds of things he also loved.

I'm in awe of how much he was able to see and experience during his time, and for the inspiration he provided by way of example.

Posted by leptonia 4 months ago (Flag)

I personally have not talked with him, but it has been my pleasure to look at the pretty milipede named after him whenever I see his name when reviewing observations and looking at leaderboards. Rest in peace.

Posted by glycymeris 4 months ago (Flag)

BJ was solid gold through and through, not just as a naturalist, although he certainly was a superb naturalist, but truly as a super-fine human being. Very funny, quite brilliant, very kind, very generous, very sweet, very loving.

One time some years ago now, when I was about to visit San Diego, I asked BJ and Jaykeller if I could meet up with them when I was there, They were the top two iNat observers worldwide at that time. They said sure, and asked if I would taken them on beach walks to teach them to ID the local marine mollusks.

Of course we got to do all that and more, and we became very good friends almost instantly.

It was seeing them in the field iNatting full-blast that inspired me to imitate them to broaden my scope out from mostly mollusks to everything, which is what they seemed to be able to do.

One of the nicest things. for me was when BJ and Michaeleen were able to visit Sanibel, Florida (shell capital of the US) while I was there with my husband Ed for our annual trip in each December since 2011.

I think anyone who knew him loved him. Miss you like crazy BJ!

Posted by susanhewitt 4 months ago (Flag)

My last conversation with BJ was, predictably, me inviting him on ridiculously short notice to join me looking for nudibranchs in the San Diego tidepools. We had been trying to make this happen for a while. He gracefully declined, explaining that he was now dealing with cancer and quarantine - but then quickly segued to his excitement that his wife was going to drive him around so he could continue to make iNat contributions from the window of their car. ❤️ I’m sure other have also heard the same words of encouragement he closed with : “ Enjoy the trip and find lots of stuff to make me jealous! -BJ” Thank you, BJ, for your inspiration and joy in nature.

Posted by anudibranchmom 4 months ago (Flag)

BJ was awesome. He was behind one of the best experiences on iNaturalist, organizing a trip to share some of his favorite nature places in Arizona with others, and connecting so many of us in person that had only known each other virtually. I'm not sure who I expected to meet when I flew across the country, but I don't think I quite expected BJ to be quite as hilarious as he ended up being. I was looking through photos of people from that 2017 trip, and I don't have a single frontward-facing photo of BJ -- in every one, he's helping someone look at something on the ground, or is busy photographing something himself, or is looking always looking out of frame. I'm so glad I got to be on that single trip with him, although we talked about more afterwards - S Texas, Tanzania, Alaska, S Florida. What an iNat giant. Memories of BJ will bless this community for a long time.

Posted by muir 4 months ago (Flag)

When I moved from Cleveland to the Salton Sea in 2015 I had just gotten back into using iNat again after joining in 2013 as part of a college course. BJ was hands down the top observer in the area yet he was actually the one who was really excited to meet me. It took almost a year before we actually met each other in person and I was admittedly a little weary of meeting up with a total stranger from the internet but those nerves quickly wore off. I showed up to his house in an Iron Maiden T-shirt and we quickly hit it off. We bonded over our love for 80s heavy metal and nature.

That day he took me around San Diego County to various places before we met up with San Diego State's Natural History Club to explore the tidepools in La Jolla. I believe that was the first day I met @jaykeller too. I had been to the tidepools at Cabrillo National Monument before on my own but after spending an afternoon absorbing an incredible amount of knowledge from BJ and the SDSU Natural History Club I was hooked. It was that day with BJ that I witnessed one of the most incredible nature sightings, East Pacific Octopus babies hatching from their eggs and beginning their lives. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/4733912. I visit the tidepools any chance I can get now. When I heard of BJ's passing it hit me with a ton of bricks even though I knew he wasn't doing well but when I was at the tidepools this weekend it hit me particularly hard because my love of intertidal ecology can be accredited almost exclusively to him and for that I will be forever grateful.

I was fortunate enough to spend many weekends with BJ going on iNat adventures all over southern California and Southeast Arizona. Desert life was a big shift for me and I knew nobody when I moved there so having BJ to explore Anza Borrego with was great. He was a friend I could "nerd out" with, for lack of a better term, and feel totally normal. In fact, those who were blazing by us on the trails and not looking at every plant and insect seemed a little abnormal. Like they were completely content with being oblivious to the world around them. BJ was the total opposite. He was interested in everything and always hungry to learn more. As the biggest contributor to iNat BJ was always humble and never afraid to ask others, including myself, for help on IDs. Of course he knew an existential amount more than I did about pretty much everything but any time I could help him ID a desert plant it gave me a feeling a great happiness to be able to assist someone who had helped me and so many others and innumerable amount of times.

BJ introduced me to a number of other iNat users over the course of a couple years. In our outing to Palomar Mountain in March 2017 to find the millipede species that would eventually be named after him, I was able to meet @cedric_lee, @cdegroof, and reconnect with @pileated who I had met at the Salton Sea for the annual Christmas Bird Count. Looking back at that trip now I'm honored to have been able to collect specimens with the man the species was named after.

BJ introduced me to black lighting for insects and he and I along with @biohexx1 performed the first (and only to my knowledge) nocturnal survey of the Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge. We weren't super successful due to heavy light pollution in Palm Desert but the species list we put together added multiple confirmed species to the list that was slowly being compiled by myself and UC Riverside researchers.

Meeting @kueda and @damontighe in March of 2017 with a few others (sorry I forgot your names!) in Anza Borrego to look for rare plants during the super bloom was one of my favorite days exploring the desert with BJ.

Exploring Southeast Arizona for the first time in August 2017 during the "iNat-athon" trip that BJ and @jaykeller put together was an experience like no other. Being able to talk to and learn from so many amazing naturalists from around the country was surreal. From gaining psyllid knowledge from @psyllidhipster to Euphorbia knowledge from @nathantaylor to handling a Northern Black-tailed Rattlesnake with @muir and @berkshirenaturalist . None of that would have been possible if not for BJ. I cant even put into words how grateful I am for the planning that went into that trip to make it such a huge success and to bring the iNat community closer together.

The Arizona trip was amazing but my absolute favorite trip with BJ was our epic 4 day trip across San Diego County for the City Nature Challenge in 2018. In the 4 day span we each made almost 1000 observations and documented almost 600 species. I don't think there was a biome of San Diego County that we didn't thoroughly explore and document. It was an all out grind from sun up to sun down and into the night at least one of the days but it was so worth it. It was extremely gratifying to work as a team with BJ calling out different species we didn't want the other one to miss.

Posted by matthew_salkiewicz 4 months ago (Flag)

The impact BJ has had on my life is so great I couldn't even sum it all up in one post before hitting the character limit. He was my naturalist partner in crime for 3 years but also a great friend. When I brought up the upcoming Iron Maiden tour in San Diego he told me he didn't think he'd make it to September but I bought an extra ticket just in case. Figured it would be a fun way to celebrate fighting as long as possible and making the most out of every day. Sadly it didn't happen. It's also a huge bummer that COVID prevented us from getting together the past two years after I moved back to California. I'm definitely going to miss him and will be thinking about him every time I spot a rare organism or take a trip to the desert or the tidepools. Rest easy, man.

Posted by matthew_salkiewicz 4 months ago (Flag)

As @marina_gorbunova said, I only knew him from his username and position on the leaderboards. The loss of knowledgeable, good people is sad in so many ways.

Posted by mamestraconfigurata 4 months ago (Flag)

As with everyone else on here, it was an extreme pleasure to be counted amongst BJ's friends. I have known him since he contacted me on iNat back in March 2016 and offered to meet up and go on an adventure. There were two parts to the naturalist experience for Finatic, and the second should not be lost among the visible vastness of the first: 1.) his extreme devotion to documenting nature and 2.) his extreme joy in meeting other naturalists. Both of these experiences brought him equal joy. The collegiality and knowledge he brought to the table was immense when one was out surveying with him. I am not ashamed to admit that I have learned a ton about being a better naturalist by hanging out with him. We journeyed to the Bay Area in July 2016 and photographed humpback whales off the coast of Pacifica, we journeyed last July 2021 to southeastern Arizona, many trips to the California desert (Anza-B and the Algodones dunes), and many night moth events here in San Diego County. We would meet up for one or two days/nights during any of the iNat City Nature Challenges, Moth weeks, Coastal bioblitzes, Border bioblitzes, or just because the weather was ideal for maximizing species counts. And he could maximize species counts with multi-tasking. At night, with U.V. lights to attract moths, beetles, and other night insects, we would scout around with flashlights and U.V. flashlights for scorpions, tree frogs, and nocturnal snakes. All the while, he would also be collecting bat sonar data with his iPad and bat-detector. Like I said, I have learned to optimize time to get as many species as I can, all from adventuring with Finatic. During December 2021 and January 2022, I was honored to drive him around local spots in La Jolla and Santee Lakes to get him out in the sun and with a camera in his hands. I am honored to have known him as a colleague, a friend, and a brother in the cause of nature.

Posted by biohexx1 4 months ago (Flag)

I did not know him in any way, but his contributions to iNat are impressive! Surely a loss for the community. May he rest in peace!

Posted by ajott 4 months ago (Flag)

So very sad. We overlapped quite a bit in the locations and taxa we observed, at least in AZ, CA, & OR, and like me he tried to contribute as many identifications as observations, only an order of magnitude more! iNaturalist has lost one of its pillars of the Western US. He will be missed!!

Posted by hkibak 4 months ago (Flag)

a terrible loss; I'm very sad to hear of this. I was always looking forward to his observations. rest in peace, finatic

Posted by nomolosx 4 months ago (Flag)

So sorry to hear of this loss to the iNat community. Like many commenting here, I didn't know him personally, but I always seemed to be running into him here, there, and everywhere in observations and IDs!

Posted by weecorbie 4 months ago (Flag)

This is Steve Jesionka, please excuse the late post.

B.J., the gentle giant, after a long and courageous fight, left too soon.

I met B.J. through Michaeleen years ago. I did not have the pleasure of knowing B.J. well. When I would see him, I knew he was wise beyond his years. He had a calmness and a presence that was refreshing.
I knew that B.J. was a naturalist. Honestly I thought that this was his part time hobby, sorry for saying that and forgive my ignorance. But those who know B.J. know he never did anything part time. I should have known better.
It takes a special person to be a dedicated naturalist the way B.J. and all of you are.
It is extremely impressive to read about his research on Leopard Frogs, Gastropoda, and in particular Amplaria Staceyi. What an honor.
It is an honor to know B.J. We mourn his passing, but we must always celebrate his life.

Rest In Peace and Grace B.J. May your journey be smooth and easy. From Steve and Bernice Jesionka

Posted by sjesionka 4 months ago (Flag)

I'm very saddened to hear BJ left us. He was and will remain forever an iNat Titan!

Posted by patsimpson2000 4 months ago (Flag)

Still miss you like crazy BJ!!

Trying to plan a visit to Encinitas and it just seems so strange that I won't be able to see you or ask you about where the good shells are, or anything else.

love, Susan

Posted by susanhewitt 29 days ago (Flag)

I can surely relate Susan. I am reminded of him quite often in my travels and really any time I am iNatting. He was such a trailblazer here and was always taking it to the next level. He was always one to share weird observations with, be they mine or others, as his enthusiasm and passion ran deep.

Posted by jaykeller 26 days ago (Flag)

He would have loved my recent trip to the Revillagigedo Islands, though I know he would have been dreaming of white sharks the whole time #finatic

Posted by pileated 24 days ago (Flag)

BJ was just the best person to share anything great with, and so helpful and kind in terms of, for example, showing me his secret spot for shelling, which was really terrific back then, super rich in species.

I hope his secret spot is back in form again after a few years having it be in bad shape because of far-ranging construction nearby in the lagoon etc which changed the currents and decimated the diversity of what washed up there.

And of course it is always great for me when I can iNat with someone who knows more than I do about so many things. That is usually not the case for me here in NYC, where I seem to be the local expert on so many aspects of the local biodiversity!

Posted by susanhewitt 24 days ago (Flag)

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