Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Death of a colleague and a friend

It is with great sadness that we heard of the unexpected death of Brian Dalzell.  The GMWSRS helped Brian with several projects including bird banding through the Fundy Bird Observatory, the common tern restoration project on Sheep Island and publishing his Birds of Grand Manan, A checklist.

Brian initially approached me to sit on the board of the Grand Manan Bird Observatory.  When that dissolved, the GMWSRS was able to apply for funding from the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund and the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund for the banding and nesting restoration projects.

Decoys, rain barrel and outhouse on Sheep Island where Brian coordinated a common tern nesting restoration project.  His concern for restoring bird habitat was paramount.
Brian began birding at an early age and attended his first Moncton Naturalist meeting at age 14.  Mary Majka encouraged him to learn as much as he could.  He was one of the pre-eminent birders in the Maritimes.  One of his greatest fears was loosing his hearing and he was always trying new gadgets to enhance the bird calls so important to identifying birds.

An insatiable birder, he was also very keen on details and kept copious notes of bird sightings, not just his own but any others he heard about, often contacting the observer for additional details.  His training as a journalist no doubt helped him record the details.  He was also a keen historian and had researched John Audubon's visit to the Grand Manan Archipelago in May of 1833.  He also helped the Grand Manan Historical Society and any other organization that could use his skills.  He maintained a swallow colony on the family property on Bancroft Point which remains one of the last colonies on the island. He participated and organized Christmas bird counts on Grand Manan for many years and often joined several counts each year.  His nature columns in local newspapers that he wrote for a number of years had many devoted followers.
Brian showing a school class on of the birds he had banded.
While he often found it difficult to finance living life as a birder, he persevered. He was disappointed when he didn't get chosen to coordinate the current breeding bird atlas for the Maritimes as he had done for the first atlas but he still volunteered to do breeding bird surveys.   The unexpected death of his brother, caused him to re-evaluate his life and he moved back to Moncton after living on Grand Manan Island for many years.  He was able to find work as an independent contractor conducting various bird/environmental surveys throughout the Maritimes and developed that into a successful business.  This allowed him to travel to such places as Labrador, Newfoundland and the Magdalene Islands for birding.  His trips to Labrador often occurred in the winter because he loved lots of snow and cold temperatures! 

Brian was an independent spirit and people didn't always know how to take him. He was known to ruffle some feathers now and then but he was also known to volunteer his time and energy to anyone who needed assistance.  He loved demonstrating bird banding to children who were always thrilled to be able to hold a wild bird.  His humour was one of his greatest assets and humour followed him through life.  The countless stories of his adventures will no doubt be what most will remember, along with his amazing birding skills.

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