(photo by Dave Milsom)
Roy Baker (1929 - 1999)
by Jim Coey
In the fall of 1999, the birding world in Ontario and in particular the people of the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch heard some bad news, news that actually made the CBC night-time news cast and Reuters wire service reports - Roy Baker had disappeared while on a field trip to Gabon.
What news that did filter out of this small West African nation was sparse and disjointed. Details that emerged were few, and Roy has not been seen since. To say that Roy’s fellow hawkwatchers at Beamer Point in Grimsby were in shock would be an understatement. It seemed impossible that Roy, an almost constant everyday presence and indeed hawkwatch stalwart in the ‘Klabunde’ mode during the season, would be no more.
In looking back on his career, apart from some legendary names such as Copeland, Myers, and Cherriere, no one more personified the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch than Roy Baker. Sporting his familiar green jacket and assortment of hats, as well as his huge pair of 17 x 60 binoculars, his was a presence larger than life.
Roy brought his young family from England to try farming in the new world. Tragedy struck early when his young wife unexpectedly died and Roy was faced with the daunting task of bringing up four young children. The devotion his family showed to him was an indication of how successful he had been at raising them. After selling his farm near Bolton he operated a steel fabrication business, finally selling it to retire to birdwatch and hawkwatch full time.
An outing at Beamer with Roy present was always an event, and sometimes the hawks took a back seat to Roy as he held court from the trunk of what ever car he was sporting at the time. Lavish glasses of wine and beer and gourmet food sometimes cooked on his ever present camping stove were liberally shared with all comers. Camaraderie and repartee were the order of the day.
Roy was at his best around children and I often remember those days when we brought our children to Beamer when he would be surrounded by ankle biters and enjoying them immensely. He was solicitous of newcomers to the hawkwatch, often lending them ‘good binoculars’ so they could marvel at the spectacle of kettling Broadwings.
It is hard to believe and indeed to accept that his signature tune ‘Harrier here’ will not be heard again.