Date: 3/6/17 7:34 am
From: Jeff Wells <jeffwells...>
Subject: [Maine-birds] Memories of Peter Vickery--friend & mentor--one of the great ones
I first heard of Peter Vickery as a teen birder growing up in Bangor in the late 70's.
Even then he seemed to be a legend.
When I procured a copy of his then recently completed Annotated Checklist of Maine Birds, I was blissful and studied it daily until the cover came loose and the pages were worn. Soon after that, perhaps around 1980 when I think Peter and Barbara may have been still living up in Lincoln, I got to see Peter when he did a presentation on Great Gray Owls in Brewer for the Penobscot Valley Audubon Society. As a young birder I was impressed by this dynamic, bold, charismatic, funny and exceptionally knowledgeable person but I was painfully shy and I am not sure if I even dared to ask him a question. I don't remember too much about that first meeting but a year or two later I had the opportunity to be on the then-annual Penobscot Valley Audubon boat trip that circumnavigated Isle au Haut in order to count the Harlequin Ducks that winter there. Peter and Barbara were on that trip and I got to see Peter in his element, identifying birds long before anyone else could even see them, pointing them out to everyone on board, and patiently explaining how to identify them in vivid, memorable, and precise language. At one point Peter jumped up on the seats in the stern in order to get a better view and I, wanting to prove my mettle, jumped up beside him only to discover how difficult (and probably dangerous) it was to be perched up high in the rolling seas. On the ride back into the harbor as my seasickness subsided, Peter made a point of engaging me and discussing the House Finches I had documented recently in Bangor-the first that far north in Maine at the time. I remember how special I felt to be having a birder-to-birder conversation with the famous Peter Vickery!
In 1984, I moved to the Augusta area and Peter and Barbara were living in nearby Richmond. At some point Peter had given me his phone number and I began calling him just about weekly (I still have the number memorized) to discuss the latest bird news. Looking back on it now I appreciate how patient he was with me and always so interested and engaging despite his busy life which included frequent bouts away from home as a professional bird tour leader for Massachusetts Audubon Society. As spring approached that year, Peter casually mentioned on one of our calls that he might have a job available that summer to work on project to survey grassland birds in Kennebunk and would I have any interest in taking it? You can imagine how excited I was to have a job in the bird world with my idol and Maine's premier field ornithologist!
That was the start of about a decade of working with Peter on grassland bird research on the Kennebunk Plains. When we started, the area was still a private commercial blueberry harvesting operation and the managers were not excited or particularly supportive of our efforts to understand the implications of the new herbicide that they were using there to try to remove all the plants besides blueberries. Peter initiated the research there because of a concern that Maine's only population of Grasshopper Sparrows (not to mention many other rare and uncommon species) might be wiped out. He persuaded the Maine Pesticide Control Review Board to only allow the use of the new herbicide (Velpar) under the condition that a research project be set up that would allow its impact to be assessed. To make a long story short, we documented that use of Velpar on the whole site would likely have resulted in the extirpation of Grasshopper Sparrows from the site. Eventually the Nature Conservancy stepped in and protected an adjoining parcel of land at the site and then after much more work, the site became the first one purchased with funds from the Land For Maine's Future program. Now birders know of it as the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area and it still has Grasshopper Sparrows and all the other birds that were there in 1984. Without Peter stepping in back in 1984 it might now instead be a housing development like you see in much of the surrounding area.
I was blessed to have had the incredible good fortune to spend a lot of time with Peter in the field in those years. We had so many memorable experiences together and I learned about so many aspects of field biology from him, including how to identify those pesky grasses and other plants. I still always remember him enthusiastically pointing out and teaching me the identity and name of "Nemopanthus mucranatus", a shrub that was growing in a bog in Corea where we had found nesting Willets. Peter gave me a loan so I could get my first pair of good binoculars, a pair of Leica's that were the top of the line at the time. Once he presented me with a copy of the recently published Shorebirds of the World, complete with a piece of a shorebird skull attached that he had found at Scarborough Marsh!
Peter's encouragement and support continued over the years and was instrumental in me finally switching from pursuing a degree in music to one in biology and in continuing on in my education, as he did, to earn a doctorate. Peter's passion for conservation also was an important reason for my decision to become a professional in the field of conservation.
I could go on all day about how special Peter was and how important he was to me and many other people that he mentored over the years and it could never do justice to his memory. But I know for me he will always be remembered in the field, standing on the deck of a pitching boat, bent over his Questar scope scanning the ocean off Lobster Cove on Monhegan in winter, or taking big strides through a brushy field, pointing out birds and other living things with joy, telling stories with a smile and a giggle.
Peter was a great one. He had a long-lasting and significant impact on people and conservation here in Maine and across the world.
I miss him.
I only hope that we who knew him can try to follow his inspirational example as a memory of his legacy.
Thank you Peter.


Jeff Wells

Maine birds mailing list
You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "Maine birds" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email to maine-birds+<unsubscribe...>
For more options, visit

Join us on Facebook!