|To:||Kevin and Gwenyth Bray <>|
|Subject:||The Quintessential Bird|
|From:||Denis Wilson <>|
|Date:||Mon, 23 Jul 2012 14:07:38 +1000|
Kevin and Gwenneth Bray; and other COG Chat lIne members|
Sorry for the delayed response, but I was away with some of the Canberra Native Plants people at Shoalhaven Heads on the weekend, looking at Orchids.
I am one of Steve Wilson's sons, and so I can confirm Mark Clayton's personal testimonial to Betty Temple Watts.
I was not her favourite bird-watcher, because on several occasions I caused her to need to redraw several illustrations for Birds in the Australian High Country, by finding a particular bird in the ACT which had not been known there previously.
My discovery of a small family of Swift Parrots on Rocky Knob (still an iconic birding spot, thanks to Geoffrey Dabb having taken up residence nearby, in more recent times) caused the Lorikeets and Cockatoos plate to be re-painted.
I believe the Pink Robin which Dad banded in the Brindabellas similarly required a plate to be re-painted. That was an interesting case, as when discovered in the ACT, it was not yet reported from NSW - an anomaly which has long-since been rectified.
Mark's comment about Betty Temple Watts' garden is spot on, as Betty was trained in botanical illustration, but she taught herself to do quick sketches of birds, and she would sit in her study and sketch maybe just a foot, or the head of a small bird, which it was feeding in the Grevilleas just outside her window. These tiny details were important to her ability to paint the birds in life-like positions, unlike the stilted poses normally used in most Field Guides. She had the eye of the Artist, not a mere illustrator.
I have one of her paintings, of a White-throated Treecreeper, and my brother Brendan has another small painting, of a Yellow-faced Honeyeater.
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw a huge growth in the number of birdwatchers resident in Canberra. In my family's case, it was due to the decision by the Menzies Government to centralise the Defence Departments in Canberra, around the Russell Hill complex. My father worked in the Navy Department and his job was moved to Canberra in 1959. He soon met up with key birdwatchers, notably US Diplomat Don Lamm, who was on his second posting to Canberra, and who and already met the key birders in Canberra.
After arriving in Canberra in September 1959, Dad soon made contact with CSIRO birders, notably Warren Hitchcock and then Dr Harry Frith. Dave Purchase, who will be familiar to many COG members, replaced Warren Hitchcock upon the latter's retirement. Harry Frith was Chief of Wildlife Division of CSIRO when the words Chief of Division meant something.
Harry Frith decided to publish "Birds in the Australian High Country" and selected Betty Temple Watts to be the illustrator. He then selected a number of CSIRO specialists to edit various families of birds for the book. My father was the only "amateur birdwatcher" to be invited to be one of the selected contributors. The rest were CSIRO officers (or in the case of Ken Simpson, a former CSIRO officer, who had moved to the National Museum of Victoria, in Melbourne).
There is more detail about the writing process in the Foreword by Francis Ratcliffe, and in the Editorial Preface by Harry Frith, in the First Edition of the Book, dated 1969. I am pleased to note that Mark Clayton was recognised in the list of contributors to the Revised Edition of the Book, in 1976.
The people involved with the "Birds in the Australian High Country", were key members of what became COG. Initially it was the ACT branch of the RAOU. That body undertook a strategic review of its role and constitution in 1969. Members of the Canberra branch of the RAOU were involved in that review and in 1969 and 1970 decided to form the Canberra Ornithologists Group.
Interested readers can find much more about the early days of COG, from the on-line scans of Canberra Bird Notes which are linked from the COG home page.
On Sat, Jul 21, 2012 at 5:40 PM, Kevin and Gwenyth Bray <> wrote:
"The Nature of Robertson"
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