Every once in a while one experiences a privileged opportunity of sharing a ‘golden’ moment of an enduring nature during the course of one’s regular guiding activities.

One such memorable occasion was when I recently guided the Robbins’ family spanning three generations of enthusiastic birders, of which Chan Robbins was by far the most experienced at age 94.  This specially tailored trip by Avian Leisure was around the South Western Cape on behalf of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours earlier this month.

Chan Robbins and Marie-Louise

Chan Robbins and Marie-Louise of Avian Leisuresharing a birding moment in the Boulders Coastal Park – home of the now critically endangered African Penguin

Some years back I had a similar ‘golden’ experience guiding an extremely spry Kay Goodhue of Seattle at age 82 in her quest for 33 highly localised South African bird species to bring her global ‘life list’ up to an impressive 7000 species by year end, before heading on elsewhere in her travels to improve still further on this epic ‘listing’ achievement!

Working with Chan Robbins was an indulgent experience rich in old world charm and graciousness as his regular expressions of gratitude and appreciation were warmly and sincerely extended during our travels in response new sightings for his steadily expanding ‘life list’.

Chan’s bio is about as impressive as you can get for a Harvard graduate in biology, who banded his first bird 75 years ago as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, before establishing himself as one of the few songbird biologists in the US. Research into the harmful effects of DDT and other pesticides served as an inspiration to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. This was followed by a bird banding stint of ten winters on Midway Island, including the banding of ‘Wisdom’ a 61 year old Laysan Albatross as the oldest known bird on Earth, and apparently still in good health, reportedly raising another chick this last season. Add to this the co-authoring of Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification in 1966 and 636 publications and numerous awards, along with research into tropical forest fragmentation, and his enthusiastic support as role model of countless young birders, and you have a measure of this remarkable man. A.B.A.’s Birding vol. 44 No. 5 Sept 2012 contains an interview covering Chan’s achievements and a list of engaging tributes dating back over decades of interactive birding activity.

Add it all up and the mind boggles at what collectively constitutes a birder of iconic proportions with an incisive mind regarding the future of birding which serves as an inspiration to us all in terms of what can be done in a lifetime of dedication within the birding world

Although retired Chan still has an office at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre he regularly visits to actively involve himself in assisting in the sorting out of tens of thousands of albatross recapture records while still enthusiastically adding to his ‘life list’ as his stated highest priority !

For me time spent birding together proved to be a delightful interlude in so many respects and served to illustrate what one can still do for birding  in a personal capacity during retirement. This in the knowledge that great value has already been successfully added by the likes of Chandler S. Robbins and others like him as an example to us all…

For more info contact Patrick at patrick@avianleisure.cocm


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