Wednesday 7 September 2016

Alan is Gone - 1954-2016

I was not going to post this as it didn't really seem appropriate for a birding blog but after seeing a great write up by Josh Vandermeulen I decided writing about a great birder was OK for a birding blog.

Alan Wormington was not known to many birdwatchers in Newfoundland. He was an Ontario birder. Alan died at 62 years old on 3 September 2016 where he lived in Leamington, the closest town to Point. Pelee. It was cancer.  He was an intense person who spent more time looking at birds, looking for birds, thinking about birds than perhaps any other Canadian. When birdwatching is your life every day for close to fifty years the knowledge accumulates. It begins to concentrate and purify, maybe it ferments a little and ages like a fine rare scotch. Thoughts about birds become clearer. New ideas rise to the top. Alan understood the birds of Ontario in a way unmatched by anyone.   
I do not remember the first time I met Alan but in the early 1970s we were both teenage birders going to Ontario high schools, or supposed to be. We went on a Thanksgiving Weekend birding trip to New Jersey.  Tom Hince and I took a bus from Ottawa (where I lived until 1973) to Kingston and met up with Alan and Mark Jennings both from Hamilton at the time.  In Alan’s tin box Toyota we drove through the night to New Jersey and spent a great three days birding Cape May and Brigantine. On the way home we drove through New York City to see a few sights and stop for a pizza. It was well into the night when the car broke down in downtown NYC.  Somehow we got it towed to an afterhours garage. We spent the next 48 hours waiting for the car to be repaired while sleeping at the YMCA by night and birding at Central Park and Jamaica Bay National Wildlife refuge by day with just enough money for a one street vendor frankfurter per day. Finally the car was drivable.  Soon as we got back into Canada Alan dumped Tom and I off on highway #401 to hitchhike back to Ottawa because it was mid-October and the winds were east. It was going to be a good day for jaeger-watching in Hamilton. He would miss that if he drove us back to Ottawa. Such was ‘The Worm’.  Hard-nosed when it came to feeding his interest in birds but completely open when it came to sharing the knowledge.
I enjoyed reading Alan’s annual birds reports for Point Pelee. I was interested in the way he saw things. Sometimes it was a little hard to swallow what he was proclaiming even though you had a hunch he was probably right. For example one year there was an exceptional warm spell around Christmas triggering waterfowl from the south to fly north to the Pelee area. He labelled these ducks as record early spring arrivals for the Pelee area.  Absurd isn’t it or was it?  How could anyone call those spring arrivals in December?  Wouldn’t those ducks go back south again when normal winter weather returned in January?  Alan was free to say what he thought because he knew so much more than anyone else.
Alan was a birding pillar. Much of what he knew was passed on to his compatriot birders lucky enough to bird with him regularly at Point. Pelee.  Apparently he was in the process of writing a book on The Birds of Point Pelee.  I heard the book will be picked up and finished by others including another Father of Ontario birding Bob Curry. That should be a good book.
Alan you will be missed.  I was going to ask you what you thought about Black-bellied Whistling Ducks occurrences in Canada. There were three photographed in Newfoundland in May 2016. I am guessing they were likely bona fide vagrants but how do you deal with the possibility of escapees in Ontario? And who am I going to tease when the next Townsend’s Warbler shows up in Newfoundland widening the illogical gap in total number seen in Newfoundland versus Ontario? 
Next time I go to Point Pelee I will see a few people I know and hordes that I don’t but the place will be empty without an Alan Wormington.  Bird migration will continue unabated spring and fall at Point Pelee. The birds will not care in the least if Alan Wormington is watching them or not.  But we the human element will lose out on the cutting edge insight on bird migration at Point Pele without the advantage of Wormington vision.
Hah so you never did get a Ruffed Grouse on your Pelee list!?!?
Alan is gone.  1954-2016 

Kevin McLaughlin - Alan Wormington - Bruce Mactavish at the tip of Point Pelee, Ontario in October 2004.         Photo by Ross Harris.


  1. Another great one, Bruce! Thank you for this!

  2. Most appropriate post! Thanks for the great recollection.


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