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."