The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Tim Fisher 19472010

All birdwatchers and professional ornithologists who have had the smallest contact with the Philippines in the last 25 years or so know the name Tim Fisher. For most of them he was their first—sometimes their only—link to the country, and it is with a sense of shock as well as immense sadness that we come to realise that he is no longer around to help and guide us, so sudden and so unexpected was his passing on 13 September after a short illness .

Tim was born in Hereford, England, and was interested in birds from the age of eight; he actively watched birds from then until his untimely death. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School and then studied for a degree in Applied Biology and Biochemistry at Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire. Later he qualified as a chartered accountant with Price Waterhouse in London.

By 1974 the urge to travel led to him finding employment with the Jardine Matheson group of Hong Kong. He spent 10 years with the company in Hong Kong, Fiji, Japan and the Philippines. His time in Hong Kong can be traced from his contributions to the Hong Kong Bird Report starting in 1975 and continuing until 1978, although he left for Fiji and Japan in late 1977. Then he was transferred to Manila with a brief to sell four-wheel drive vehicles, not an easy job at that time. When Jardines decided enough was enough in the early 1980s, Tim decided to make Manila his home, pursue his own activities and specialise in the birds of the Philippines.

This was not the end of his Hong Kong activities, however, as he still had many friends there and in 1985 he was invited to take part in the Hong Kong ‘Big Bird Race’ (BBR), the major fund raiser for WWF Hong Kong. He was a member of ‘The Professionals’ team (Plate 1). One report of his performance read: ‘a formidable birder but difficult to control in a BBR. Keeps shrieking he wants to look at these wonderful birds or locate what he knows is hidden in the reeds or undergrowth. Melville, being tall and big, simply yanks him down the road’. Tim’s boundless enthusiasm, sharp eyes and quick ear were all assets in a BBR and he added Pale Blue Flycatcher Cyornis unicolor to the Hong Kong list during the 1991 race. Most importantly, ‘The Professionals’ raised much more cash than any other team—well over two million HK dollars—for WWF Hong Kong’s Mai Po project. After the mid-1990s, however, Tim’s interest waned as his old friends gradually moved on.

Tim’s field skills were all the more remarkable as he was red-green colour-blind. There are many anecdotes resulting from this disability and it is easy to imagine his frustration with fast-moving lorikeets— a blur of predominantly red and green—during a 1976 trip to Irian Jaya and problems locating his first Whiskered Pitta Pitta kochi in a thick dark forest tree—‘look for its red belly to the left of the red laser dot’ was not helpful advice for him.

In birdwatching circles Tim became ‘Mr Philippines’. When he first arrived there he was the sole birdwatcher and was often frustrated because there was no-one to go birding with. Over the next quarter of a century he acquired a huge field knowledge of the birds of this frustrating and complex country. This knowledge he freely imparted to others and put to good use as he developed his skills in arranging and leading bird tours there. Almost every birdwatcher who visited the Philippines in that period did so with Tim’s help. Ultimately he visited almost every corner of the country, although it seems he never reached the Sulu archipelago’s Tawi Tawi group. His explorations led to much of the current knowledge of the endemic avifauna and where best to see them. Sadly he was not very good with documentation and thus it was very fortunate that he was a co-author of the first modern fieldguide to the birds of the Philippines (Kennedy et al. 2000). His extensive field knowledge was used to create the comprehensive plumage and voice descriptions in the guide. Another achievement was his involvement in the discovery of the Bukidnon Woodcock Scolopax bukidnonensis, both when it was heard and seen on Mount Kitanglad, Bukidnon Province, Mindanao, in February 1993 and also when a specimen was taken on Mt. Kitanglad in January 1995 (Harrap & Fisher 1994, Kennedy et al. 2001).

In earlier days he was involved with the Haribon Foundation, but with local interest in birdwatching starting to grow he found a new group to help and encourage. The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines is hugely indebted to Tim: he helped them immensely as they got started. There was no one better than Tim to set them off in the right directions, help with identification, fire them with his enthusiasm and generally act as a guide and mentor.

Everyone who met Tim during his time in Asia agrees that he was one of those people that it was hard not to like from the start. He was full of energy and determination and always had a smile on his face, even when the going was rough. He also had a very good relationship with the Filipino team that he employed and he gave opportunities to many local people. He was a key person in the Philippine bird world for so many years that his legacy is immense. His sense of humour, his hospitality and his liking for a beer were legendary. One short anecdote sums this up—a tour group were nearing the end of a long weary return trip to Manila, and Tim was busy fishing out empties from the legendary Fisher cool-box when he announced ‘there’s still one beer left if anyone wants it’. After a pause, a client magnanimously replied, ‘Don’t worry Tim, you have it’, to which Tim replied, ‘Don’t be so bloody stupid, I’ve got one. There’s another if anyone wants it!’.

Tim will be remembered very fondly by all those guided by him, the many visiting solo birdwatchers he helped, all those he introduced to birdwatching, those he employed and all those who shared a cheerful and convivial beer with him. Tim, from us all, thanks!

Many people have helped in the compilation of this tribute to Tim and I would particularly like to thank Des Allen, Hugh Buck, Bob Ferguson, Mike Lu, David Melville, Pete Morris, Ken Searle and Clive Viney, for their recollections.

Harrap, S. & Fisher, T. (1994) A mystery woodcock in the Philippines. Oriental Bird Club Bull. 19: 54–56.
Kennedy, R. S., Gonzales, P. C., Dickinson, E. C., Miranda, H. C., Jr. & Fisher, T. H. (2000) A guide to the birds of the Philippines. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kennedy, R. S., Fisher, T. H., Harrap, S. C., Diesmos, A. C. & Manamtam, A. S. (2001) A new species of woodcock (Aves: Scolopacidae) from the Philippines and a re-valuation of other Asian/Papuasian woodcock. Forktail 17: 1–12.