Monday, 16 May 2011

Jim Fowler

Saturday was a very sad day. On Saturday I learned that I, and many others, had lost a very dear friend: Dr J. A. Fowler.
I received a phone call at midday from my friend Pete asking whether I had heard from Jim and telling me that the police had found his car, an empty kayak and fishing gear. They had also found a body which they were trying to identify. 

I called his mobile in desperation but knew the truth. Pete showed the police where to find a photo and soon the unthinkable became reality.

How could this have happened so suddenly? My last contact with him had been a message gleefully telling me that he was taking his kayak out in search of perch.

The cause of the accident is not fully understood. I like to think that it was an epic adventure involving an enormous pike. That would be a great new tale for Jim to tell! 

Jim was a well known Ornithologist who has left his mark on hundreds of budding ecologists. His text books, Statistics for Field Ecologists and Statistics for Ornithologists are well thumbed volumes on my bookshelves. Having used these books to help me through my degree it was funny that I should meet and become friends with the man himself the year that I graduated.
I had taken up bird-ringing at university, and, on graduating in 2002, contacted the BTO to find a trainer back at home in Cumbria. They put me in touch with Jim. A few days later I found myself in a woodland in the very small hours being instructed in the art of putting up a mist net. Bird ringing trainers are extremely pedantic about the way in which their nets are erected, where each person stands, which knots are used... and Jim was no different... even though I had been putting up nets almost every weekend for two years! My first impressions of Jim were of a very earnest and slightly bonkers academic; he tried to do everything too quickly, frequently dropping items, losing them and tripping over branches. However, when handling the birds he was a master showing me how to confidently manipulate these tiny animals in order to take them safely from the mist nets. He was an excellent trainer, strict but fair and honest. 

Soon I had a job with the World Owl Trust at Muncaster, and Jim was delighted to be able to train me in ringing Barn, Little, Tawny Owls and Kestrels. He also took great delight in stepping to one side while I crawled into gaps between hay bales or up rickety ladders in order to retrieve owlets.

Since my stint working in Scotland, I have done very little birding. But Jim has stayed a close friend and, with his love of blogging and communication, we were in almost daily contact one way or another. His friendly jibes have been an almost constant presence and I can't believe that every time I mention my lambs on Facebook there will be no quip about mint sauce from Jim. In the words of his close friends, Jim was a truly Runcible Character!

One of our last times out together was when I was in the depths of the worst time of my life some months ago now. The comforting familiarity of Jim's company and conversation (and scolding as a wriggling wren managed to escape me before its ring was fixed on) was a great help and a break from everything that was going on outside the woods.

He was a most excellent and intelligent man; friend and mentor. I miss his daily mickey-taking and am deeply saddened that he will not be at my wedding next month: he was so enthusiastic about the opportunity to attend a pagan ceremony. Readers of his blog will know how he celebrated the pagan festivals. He wished to have some druid robes made up by "a little woman in Barrow market that does things for desperate gentlemen."

Farewell on your new travels Jim. Another "well earned break."


IsobelleGoLightly said...

Our condolences to you on the loss of your friend. Such a fine man.

CAMILLA said...

My deepest sympathies to you of the sad loss of your very dear friend.

You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Bluestocking Mum said...

How sad to see this J. Sending you my condolences. He sounded a great character.

What a shock for you all.

Jemima said...

I've just read your blog and it's got me crying all over again. Jimmy was my uncle (or nuncle as he might say). Even though I've got lots of happy memories of him I feel absolutely robbed of all the ones I thought I still had coming. I can hear his voice in my head still, I hope it never goes. I can't believe he's gone. I feel such a gap. It was good to read about him though. Thanks. Jemima

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny Holden said...

Thank you all for your kind words. Thank you so much for reading and leaving a message Jemima: I'm sure that all of us who knew Jim must have a dreadful hollow inside us, but I feel especially for all of his family. What an awful and untimely loss. Much love, Jenny.

Norma Murray said...

Even though until now I had never heard his name,I am so sorry to hear of the untimely loss of this man. A real pity he is gone, both for his family and friends, and to the wildlife he so obviously helped.

Michelle said...

This man obviously left a gigantic crater by his passing. Could any of us ask to do more?

lorenzothellama said...

Thsnk you Jenny. He loved helping students and people new to ringing. I can just see him dropping the rings and tripping over things.
He started ringing when he was about 10, catching birds in our back garden and putting little plastic rings on them.

Jim is my big brother. I don't think I have ever felt so bereft.

elleeseymour said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Jim was certainly a lovely man and he will be greatly missed. I enjoyed reading about his travels and adventures and his love of birds. He must have been a great mentor for you and I'm so sorry too for your loss.
We should have a pagan event to celebrate his life :)

mollygolver said...

Jenny, I'm so sorry. You must feel so devastated.

Anonymous said...

He was my lecturer at Uni and made a very strong impression on all of us, we loved him and his slightly eccentric ways, my favourite memory is of going on a field trip and him giving us the afternoon to explore a small town while he went to a local pub, needless to say most of us skipped exploring to sit with him in the pub. he was much more interesting than the village!
We are all devastated to hear about his passing. I wonder just how many people Dr Fowler was an inspiration and friend too. Many more than most of us will ever aspire to I'm sure.
I'm so sorry for all of you that were close to him.

simon said...

Jenny- thank you for a moving tribute. I do recall him talking about your work with owls! I am certain he will want you to go on with a passion and vigor that only he seemed to muster. Keep enjoying life and the outdoors!