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
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
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
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.