This morning we opened the bird banding station at Tommy Thompson Park (TTPBRS) for spring season, and though I’ve been looking forward to this day for the past month, it was bittersweet.
Beloved birders, this is a post that I have put off writing for the past three days. It’s a post I never imagined I would write. It’s a post I hate having to write. Because writing this means acknowledging that my friend Bronwyn Dalziel, bird bander extraordinaire, passionate ornithologist, inspired educator, tireless volunteer, lively and good humored young woman, forever-curious scientist, preternaturally patient bird-extracting-mentor, is no longer. And the reality of it hasn’t quite sunk in.
The last time I saw Bronwyn was at the Toronto Ornithological Club meeting two weeks ago. All we could talk about was how excited we were for the beginning of spring banding season, how we couldn’t wait to see the warblers again. And now I wish more than anything that at some point during that conversation I had just stopped, given her a big hug and thanked her.
Bronwyn helped me extract my first bird from a mist net in August 2014. She found a gorgeous Cedar Waxwing that was just barely tangled and easy to pluck out from the net, and encouraged me to try my first extraction. Make no mistake, beloved birders, I am no banding station whiz-kid; I’m a midlife learner — slow, clumsy, and largely petrified of most living creatures. Bronwyn knew this — I had been volunteering for close to two years before I even attempted an extraction! — and gently suggested that perhaps I might want to give this bird a go. I remember shaking, terrified that I would hurt the bird or get myself tangled in the net or somehow end up eaten by the bird (I didn’t grow up with animals and I have a overactive, slightly hypochondriacal imagination), and I remember Bronwyn’s incredible patience and herculean empathy for the slightly deranged middle-aged woman that I must have resembled. And yet she never once mocked or judged my fears (or questioned the fact that I came to the banding station weekly, diligently, and solely to scribe — a job most people find completely boring). Instead, she slowly walked me through the bird-extraction process and before I could back out of the whole enterprise, I had somehow miraculously extracted a gorgeous, silky cedar waxwing!
I miss Bronwyn’s quirky sense of humor and the conversations we had about Shakespearean tragedies on our way to check nets. I miss hearing her rattle off Japanese verb forms or regale me with stories about her latest manga reading or fanfiction stories she was writing. I miss Bronwyn’s photo album full of grackles (only she could craft a narrative arc out of an album with 200+ grackle photos). I miss Bronwyn’s infectious enthusiasm about all things bird-related. I miss listening to her educate people who walked into the banding station on a weekend. I miss her teaching; so much of what I know about birds came directly from her. I miss her endless encouragement and her smile, every time I told her about yet another bird that I had managed to extract.
This morning was particularly eerie because Bronwyn’s presence was everywhere in the banding station. Her handwriting was on the whiteboard, her notes & lists were in the drawers, her walking stick by the door. I kept expecting her to walk through the door with stories of grackles, or data transcription or her master’s thesis project or the latest writing project she was working on.
I wish so much this blog post didn’t have to exist.
Thank you, dear Bronwyn. You are greatly missed.