Stephen E.T. Kacir, 43, of Norristown, a naturalist, researcher, and bird-watcher extraordinaire who had been president of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club since January, died Tuesday, March 22, of a heart attack at his gym.
"It is with sadness beyond words that we inform you that our current president, Steve Kacir, passed away suddenly on Tuesday evening," the club said in an statement on its website, www.dvoc.org/Main.htm.
Mr. Kacir was active not only in the organization but in the wide world of birding.
He spent most of his life in Ohio, where he became fascinated by nature at an early age. While some children want to grow up to be police officers, doctors, or firefighters, he wanted to be a marine biologist - a choice later whittled to whale expert.
"Steve came to birds by way of fish," according to his biography on the club's website. Days of fishing in northern Ohio led him to realize that birds were competing for his attention with turtles, dragonflies, and muskrats.
Eventually, he traded rod and reel for bird-watching as his chief avocation. While Mr. Kacir was attending Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, Edward H. Burtt Jr. introduced him to the idea of going to specific habitats just to view birds.
Mr. Kacir's interest in birding deepened as he carried out undergraduate research on the European starling, and also the practice of some birds to bathe in squashed ants - called "anting" - in order to cleanse themselves of antibiotics they ingested from their environment.
The birding bug, however, did not really bite Mr. Kacir until his senior year, when a merlin swept past him on Ohio Wesleyan's campus. "The falcon had come within feet of him and allowed a very close approach as it perched in a small tree. The realization that one could get so close to such a majestic and powerful bird was the spark that set off all future birding obsessions," his biography said.
Mr. Kacir graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a bachelor's degree in zoology. At Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, he studied the genetics of diamondback terrapins, then moved to Norristown in 1999. He became the lab manager and a researcher in immunology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
At the suggestion of a fellow scientist, Mr. Kacir joined the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, an association that quickened his development as a birder, naturalist, and wildlife enthusiast.
He led club field trips, often focusing on photography and night birding; served as chairman of the club's rare-bird alert committee and oversaw development of the Delaware Valley Rare Bird Alert; and compiled a weekly summary of birding news in the Delaware Valley.
He also volunteered for both the Delaware and the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlases, which tracked nesting behaviors, and helped with the monthly bird count at Riverbend Environmental Education Center in Gladwyne.
In 2008, Mr. Kacir saw and documented a record 194 bird species in Montgomery County.
"Many of Steve's intellectual pursuits in ornithology were guided by his desire to understand birds' evolution and behavior in the context of their ancestral archosaurs, both avian and non-avian," according to his biography. "It is the boundless diversity of life and the vast array of adaptations that have evolved in living organisms that continue to hold his fascination, whether it is expressed in writing, presentations, photography or a day's birding."
His wife, Emily Whitfield, said he loved comics, science fiction, and dinosaurs. He doted on the couple's three cats and recently had been polishing his photography skills.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his parents, Robert and Susan Kacir; two brothers; and nieces and nephews.
A 12:30 p.m. visitation Wednesday, March 30, will be followed by a 1:30 p.m. memorial service at Volpe Funeral Home, 707 W. Germantown Pike, Norristown. Burial is private.
Donations may be made to the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, c/o Treasurer, 1314 Lenore Rd., Meadowbrook, Pa. 19046, or the Nature Conservancy via www.nature.org/Donate.
by Bonnie L. Cook, Staff Writer, Philly.com