By Miriam Raftery
January 11, 2020 (Ramona) – John David "Dave" Bittner, 75, of Julian was known to many for the “Hawk Watch” programs he led for decades at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona that he founded, and later at the Begent Ranch. On Thursday, Bittner died of a 50-foot fall suffered while rappelling down to replace batteries and memory cards in a camera near a Golden Eagle nest in the Bandy Canyon area in the San Pasqual Valley.
“We will miss him dearly and are so thankful for his work and dedication to saving wildlife and their special habitat,” the Wildlife Research Institute posting on its Facebook page. The institute, of which Bittner served as director, pledged to continue hosting Hawk Watch and planned an impromptu memorial service this morning at the Begent Ranch.
Bittner and his wife,Leigh, had a passion for protecting wildlife and purchased 3,000 acres that they donated to the county to buy the Ramona Grasslands preserve and sell property to the Nature Conservancy as a wildlife preserve. That is home to many raptors, including bald eagles.