Date: 3/6/17 11:30 pm
From: Bill Grabin <grabin137...>
Subject: [Maine-birds] Re: Memories of Peter Vickery--friend & mentor--one of the great ones
Thanks Jeff. What a wonderful tribute

On Monday, March 6, 2017 at 11:34:47 PM UTC+8, Jeff Wells wrote:
>
> 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
>
>
>
> Jeff Wells
>
>
>

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