Monday, May 30, 2011

New Binoculars

"..Its axiomatic that all good things must come to an end" so said Maalie, and he is right. friendships are so brief, and you are a fool to think otherwise.

One of the parting things he said was " Mate, you are no longer and amateur, you need some good bins" ( said at 3 am at Sydney airport )

So I went out and bought these:-

Now before you experts out there go "Oh yes, that's OK but they are not Leicas". I know that. These Pentax are priced mid range, are rugged, and if I drop them, lose them, or they stop working I am not going to cry over a $3000.00 bill.

Today I went for a walk along the fire trail, in poor light, and enjoyed every minute even though the weather was wintery and dark. I saw Currawong, Yellow-rumped thornbill, Glossy black cockatoo, Satin Bower Bird and heard Bell Minor.

The new Bins are more direct, and will take a bit to get used but they are great. Thanks mate.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dr Jim Fowler. A tribute to a friend.

First meeting Dr Jim Fowler. 2002

What defines friendship? Is it a matter of convenience? Is is coincidence? Is it about "good times"? Its none of that for me. A good friend is about a link, a bond that cannot be defined in real terms. Its not about good times, its about being there for a mate, its about sharing and learning. Jim was a mate of mine, in that true Aussie sense.

Dr Fowlers first days work on Yell. Shetland. 2002.

Not always easy, not always "fun". But a mate is there for you, to lend a hand, to offer advice, to make you laugh and to cry. To share a "moment" that will live in you mind and heart forever. Someone who has made a difference to you.

Jim Talking evolution v's creationism with my son Tom. Kinchega national park 2003.

A true friend is gone too soon, (you did not say "goodbye" mate... fuck you...). Jim has gone too soon. I hope, as friends, you will take the time to read this post. Some will know him, others will not. He passed away doing what he loved- on his beloved lake, in a beautiful part of the world.

Jim with Landcruiser. Outback Australia 2004.

I had first contacted Jim by chance. I was looking to use a quote of Sylvie Guillems for a CD I was recording. " If you are afraid of losing something, then you are dependant on it. If you are not then you are free."

Jim, and my daughter with friend. Paris 2005

I had seen a web site called "A tribute to Sylvie Guillem" and assumed that Jim was the webmaster for Sylvies official site. It turned out he was not, and yet, he was gracious in assisting me search for permission. One thing leads to another, and in this I received permission from Sylvie directly to use her quote. Sylvie has become a friend.

Jim and my youngest son Dave in Willandra shearers quarters April 2011

I thanked Jim for his help and said jokingly " If you ever need a field assistant, I enjoy the outdoors mate." Jim advised me, (cautiously), that he had a research going ahead in Shetland and I was welcome to come.
Jim, my daughter and friends with Sylvie Guillem 2005.

I took up his offer. Also, at this time I had an audition with the Royal opera, and thought I could "kill two birds with one stone" and flights were booked for the UK. Weeks later I was diagnosed with my blood disorder and told I would not be travelling. I defied the doctors orders, postponed the treatment and went anyway. I am glad I did.

Jim enjoying a cool VB at Dunnes swamp campsite April 2011

I met Jim and his team in Aberdeen. I was nervous as I did not know what to expect and I am sure he and his team were the same. We hit it off. They loved the same music, and shared the same interests in cricket, rugby and the environment. Most of all we shared the same enthusiasm for ballet and Guillems dance.

Setting up mist nets Jim April 2010

I did not know a lot about birds, I was always too busy to stop and take the time to look. "Arrow mode" Jim called it. But there was one moment in time that changed everything. We were walking across the moors on the island of Yell. Jim stopped me and said- "Look at that!!" He had "boyish enthusiasm" for everything but mostly the birds. I said "What?" "Above us - THERE"!! He said.. All I could see was a speck rising and falling.

Jim Christmas 2007

We sat down and watched this for a few moments as the crisp Shetland winds blew across the island. "That my boy was a lark ascending" Jim said. We trudged silently back to the camp. Jim produced a few cans of Red Hot McEwans, (for my Aussie readers its a beer on par with VB and that's its real name!), and produced a lunch box which had 2 small speakers and a CD player in it. Jim flicked it on and we listened in silence to Vaughn Williams "Lark Ascending". It was then I knew the link...

Jim and Ken about to climb Skiddaw peak April 2010.

Suddenly I knew what was that drove him. The passionate link to the environment, music and dance- its the way a bird moves, like a ballet dancer and its beautiful if you take the time to look. After 10 days I caught the ferry back and was touched, almost in tears at leaving.

This moment in Shetland was the most memorable experience of my life- that moment of friendship. I was the last member of the Rumble club (email me if you want to know what
it is), All of us would break into opera, or "Me and Bobby Mcgee" at the top of our lungs.

Jim still looking for that Albatross April 2010

I took up bird watching from that day on.

My friendship with Jim led me to other great people. Jill and Peter,(Jims sister and brother in law). (Ken and Linda, bird watchers & bird ringers) ,Pam, Big Dave, Worzel and Strudels ( Jims son and daughter in law). Just to name a few.These are more than friends- they
are family.

Jim and Pam 2010

Every year Jim and I would get together- Spain, France, UK, Australia. We would spend a day fell walking, bush walking, bird watching. There was always something new to learn and discuss. Jim spent time with my children and had shown them things-David, (my youngest), bird watches and its a treat to share this with him. He took Jim on a walk and found Pilot bird. A lifer for Jim. He went fishing with Jim as well.
Jim was a mate who would be there for my entire family and friends. His home was our home, and the doors of Maalie court were open to all.

Jim Being "runcible" in search of that beer. Australian desert 2006

Was Jim "perfect"? LOL! Not on your life. We had some heated debates over cars, attitudes and he was without a doubt the most clumsy person I have ever met. Often losing equipment, or tripping over his feet. We drank too much together, often getting into massive debates and forgetting what we had.. All easily forgiven.

Me. bird watching in the Lakes district 2010

What he had was passion. Passion in bucket loads for those he cared about. It was a passion that was infectious. It came at a time in my life when my health had changed for the worst. I "lost" my music, but gained so much more. I would change nothing.

In 2007 he bought my daughter a bunch of flowers for her 16th birthday. Her first

Her flowers. nothing more to say.

Jim spent a great time with us here in Australia. From the outback, to 50 miles out to sea, a beer in a club, to a beer beside a fire in the bush. It was 4 weeks I shall cherish 100%.

A question for you mate:-

Jim, on the pelagic trip, you said to me you were so excited because it would be the last time you would see your favorite bird- Albatross. The other scientists let you ring one as their guest. You were not aware but you beamed as you did it. Such is your boyish enthusiasm. Did you know something was wrong? You touched on your fathers short life, and that the doctor put you on heart tablets...

Mate- If i could say one thing to you is "Thank you" for the gifts of birds,of slowing my pace down ( and not tail gating the car in front), but mostly the friendship. You are part of my family.

What is the measure? When someone has gone too soon.

You have gone too soon and I am grieving.

I am sure one day I will see you again, perhaps as your favorite bird the Albatross. Perhaps you are on the wing already. I will keep my binoculars out and look for you.

A mate, yes.. part of my family.

Goodbye old mate. This poem is for you:- Youth and Love. R.L. Stevenson.

To the heart of youth the world is a highway sign,
Passing forever he fairs and on either hand,
Deep in the gardens golden pavilions hide,
Nestled in orchards bloom,
And far on level land

Call him with lighted lamp in the eventide.

Thick as stars at night when the moon is down,
Pleasures asail him,
He to his nobler fate fairs,
And but waves a hand as he passes on.

Cries but a wayside word to her at the garden gate,
Sings but a boyish stave,
And his face is gone.
Is gone.

"Fowler" means bird catcher and friend. Bowen Mountain April 2011.

I will miss you mate.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pelagic trip.

With Dr Jim Fowler as my guest it was with some trepidation I agreed to head out to sea on a smallish fishing boat to look for sea birds. We joined the Southern Ocean Seabird Study Association at Wollongong Harbour at 7am on a bright autumn morning.

Why trepidation? I don't like boats. I tolerate them, but I find them too slow and, as a friend said "But Simon you are a Piscean and, as a fish, you would not like to be on a trawler!" I used to sail every Sunday on Sydney Harbour and out over the horizon. I loathed it, (Sorry uncle).

We met up with a group of 20 or so enthusiasts. Now- I like bird watching a lot but I am not a "twitcher". What is a twitcher? A person who gets SO nervous and excited about seeing a new bird they "twitch". I have heard of stories of a twitcher who left his wife on their wedding night simply to look at a rare bird....(I could go on about getting priorities right in the bird department but i digress).

So within a few minutes of departing the harbour, excited yelling became part of the days activities as each twitcher became increasingly excited (some hysterical) with being the first to spot a new bird.

However- I have never seen Albatross before so it was a life time event and one I would not miss. Below are the birds I saw. All photos by Dr Jim Fowler:-

Black Browed Albatross

Campbells Albatross

Bullers Albatross

Shy Albatross

Yellow Nosed Albatross

Crested Tern

Providence Petrel

The work Done by SOSSA is vital in monitoring the health and population of these magnificent birds. Long Line Tuna fishing kills Albatross at a huge rate and its important that all of us be aware that "dolphin safe" does not mean "wildlife safe".

After 9 hours at sea, and several moment where I wanted to return my breakfast to the deep we returned to Harbour. I have to confess- this was a life time moment. The birds are simply the most beautiful I have seen. The way they fly is magnificent. I am grateful for the experience.

NEXT:- Australia's Pastoral history..