15 Jul 2021

Remembering David Fisher: a lifetime devoted to birds

BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita and David Fisher signing a Memorandum of Understanding between BirdLife and the Neotropical Bird Club © Margaret Sessa-Hawkins
BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita and David Fisher signing a Memorandum of Understanding between BirdLife and the Neotropical Bird Club © Margaret Sessa-Hawkins
By Raymond Jeffers

On 22 May 2021 BirdLife’s Rare Bird Club lost a tireless supporter of conservation, and it is no exaggeration to say that David Fisher had devoted the whole of his adult life to birds.

The seed had been planted when, as a schoolboy growing up in Cardiff, he flushed a Common Kingfisher from under a bridge and was instantly hooked by nature’s beauty. Next stop was tertiary education at Weymouth College, allowing him to start an English bird list. Soon his insatiable appetite for more birds demanded crossing the English Channel on a 2,000-mile road trip, ultimately reaching a Turkish raptor watchpoint.

David was now well and truly hooked, but there was the small matter of getting a job. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds engaged him as a warden. He was grateful for that and the invaluable insight it gave him into how a passion could become a profession. Still, the travel bug remained. The logical next step was overseas tour leading. His keen eye, communication skills, depth of birding knowledge and unending patience with less gifted birders made him a natural. Back then international birding tourism was still in its infancy, but David had the courage and foresight to be not only a paid guide but also a bird businessman: those days in Weymouth, when he had reluctantly gone to class rather than out birding, were starting to pay dividends.

 

Appropriately, David Fisher's passion for birds was inspired by seeing a Common Kingfisher © Kasperczak Bohdan / Shutterstock

 

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In 1982 David became managing director of the tour company Sunbird, a post he held until 2001. Through his immaculate trip planning, ability to pick a talented team and attention to each participant’s wants, it is no surprise that under his tenure Sunbird was repeatedly voted by clients one of the best UK bird tour operators. On stepping down from the leading role he remained a director and senior tour leader for the company.

However, there was so much more to David than his day job. Among many other roles, he was a rarity committee member and chair (including for the Seychelles), an editor (for example, for the Ornithological Society of the Middle East), an article writer, accomplished bird photographer, financial donor and a font of everything bird-wise. He visited some 100 countries and all seven continents.

It was the ‘bird continent’ of South America that was his true love, and he served two distinguished terms as Chairman of the Neotropical Bird Club (2009-2011 and 2015-2021). Typically, he threw his energies into leading an organisation devoted to raising funds for small conservation projects.

In the last few years David was hit by illness. Personifying the words of the Welsh Bard Dylan Thomas, David did not lament his ill fortune but rather would “rage, rage against the dying of the light”. But as ever with him there was no external sign of fury, rather an internal steely determination to carry on, especially with his conservation work. Of course, the birding continued and that prodigious life list grew further still. But it was never about lists; it was always the birds. Nothing could dim that schoolboy enthusiasm for viewing a Common Kingfisher that he had seen a hundred times before.

David’s legacy is manifold, but perhaps the greatest is the way that in word and deed he inspired others to get out and enjoy those special places, and above all do what we can to conserve the natural world. The world of birding is poorer without David, but so much richer for his contribution over many years.