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Wayne Nelson

March 8, 2017

 

 

IN REMEMBRANCE OF ROBERT WAYNE NELSON (Dec. 26, 1945 - Feb. 15, 2017) 
by Helen Trefry
On behalf of the Alberta Falconry Association (AFA), I sadly pass on the news that Wayne Nelson,
falconer, biologist, raptor researcher, friend, and so much more- passed away quietly on
the evening of Feb. 15, 2017. Wayne had watched his health deteriorating from progressive
supranuclear palsy and as with all decisions in his life, he was considerate, thoughtful and thorough
in his choice to die by medical assistance, with his wife, Alora, and daughter, Jen, by his
side at home in Camrose, Alberta. In Wayne’s own words, taken from The Alberta Falconry Association 2014 Journal assembled by Alex Stokes, "Some days are just spectacularly beautiful, exciting, and memorable. And many of those are falconry and wild raptor days. My years have seen a number of those days - but not enough! From my early teens onward, the pursuit of these two, closely-related,
magnificent moments has guided much of my life.” And indeed Wayne tried to have
as many of those days as he could.
Born December 26, 1945 in Vernon, British Columbia, it was there that Wayne fell in love both
with falconry and his wife of 49 years, Alora, at the age of 15. He had already obtained his first
Red-tail Hawk at the age of 13 years so Alora knew what she was getting into. George Galicz,
president of the British Columbia Falconry Association, was the first real falconer he met, while
correspondence with Frank Beebe and encouragement from falconer Jim Burbridge helped him
develop his falconry skills. His voracious reading habits filled in the rest.! Wayne and Alora both attendedthe University of British Columbia where he obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree
while an imprint prairie falcon shared their residence. In 1967 the newly married couple
headed to Alberta where they would remain. At the University of Calgary Wayne obtained his Master of Science in Biology and Doctor of Philosophy in Biology – Behavioural Ecology. His research on Peale’s Peregrine Falcons at Kusgwai (Langara Island), Haida Gwaii (the former Queen Charlotte
Islands) began in 1968 and continued for 43 years, probably one of the longest continuing studies by an individual in the bird world. Many biologists and friends count themselves as fortunate for spending time with him in the field. Wayne knew and loved Peregrines so much that when he used the term “kids” to describe eyasses, I wondered if he did not think of them as part of the same family as himself. He spentmuch of his spare time reading scientific papers and could quote raptor paper titles and authorslike a walking reference library. His wealth of knowledge on peregrine behaviour was useful duringthe early attempts to breed peregrines in captivity and he spent many days at John Campbell’speregrine breeding facility comparing wild falcon behaviour to those in captivity. It waswhen I started work in 1981at the Canadian Wildlife Service Peregrine Facility that I first metWayne, where he was still spending time observing peregrines and was involved with the hacks.Falconry was just becoming legal in Alberta and both Wayne and my husband Phil Trefry, also aBC transplant (where they had first met), were keen to get back into the sport. I was soon alsoflying birds and still vividly remember hawking with Wayne and his female prairie falcon “Dee”.Wayne was always adamant that only certain types of foot wear were allowed in the field whenshe hunted and indeed, if we did not observe this rule, we would be stooped at and attacked inthe foot. It gave me my first sense of what the prey must anticipate when she targeted them!Wayne spent so much time with Dee that she comfortably laid eggs en route to our place to beartificially inseminated, in a nest ledge built into his vehicle- and produced fertile eggs as a result!He also delivered that same bird to our home to help wash her with tomato juice- apparentlya skunk also offended her! Wayne was always patient with his birds but did switch to flyingperegrines afterward and stuck with them. The AFA members will always be grateful for Wayne’s tireless and meticulous work from the initial legalization of falconry through the 20 years he andAlora served as Secretary and Treasurer. Wayne was always a stickler for good data collection, includingrecords of quarry taken, falconry birds taken and their eventual outcome- data that only someone with long term vision could see would be useful in later years to justify wild takes and extendedseasons. He encouraged falconers to join NAFA and was a supporter of the Raptor ResearchFoundation (RRF) early on, giving many talks at their conferences. After Wayne finished workingas a Government of Alberta biologist for 25 years, his love of raptors continued through hisproject wing tagging turkey vultures in central Alberta. He also began to summarize his life workin two monographs on the Langara Peregrines, works he was sadly not able to complete. Hopefully,raptor friends and colleagues will carry on some of his work. Wayne’s life was spent as a scientist, falconer, avid reader, writer and researcher, photographer, lover of art and music, loving husband, father and Pa. He always had time and patience for everyone and I will remember him as a man of great honesty, knowledge and humility. He wrote that he found falconers “were a very interesting slice of regular humanity” and that “Each person has a unique relationship with the world, and a unique background”. How true.

 

 

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