Memories from Byron Bird Buddies

Sadly our dear friend and birding buddie Heather Harford, died on the 30 May after a two year battle with cancer.

Heather’s unveiled enthusiasm and knowledge for all things birds and the natural world was inspiring and she will be missed by all who knew her.

With her family and husband Jim, she moved to Byron Shire in 1997. She became a committee member of Byron Environment and Conservation Organisation (BEACON) and a hands-on member of Federal Landcare.

Heather joined Byron Bird Buddies (BBB) in 2007. Besides being involved in monitoring activities at our sites in the Byron Wetlands, Vallances Road, Brunswick River, Belongil Estuary and the BBB education program, she also kept a tireless vigil on the beach-nesting birds in the Belongil Estuary and the Brunswick River.

During the breeding season at Belongil she visited two to three times a week to check on the Pied Oystercatcher nests especially if there were chicks. With a shoulder bag full of “educational” material, look-out anyone who entered her patch with a dog! – with the bag swinging and that small-step stride of hers, up she rushed and gave them some education. At the Brunswick River in 2008, Heather took on the role of a surrogate mother again when the threatened Beach Stone-curlew successfully nested in 2010. The chick banded A1 can thank Heather for its life.

As part of BBB education program and collaboration with the Northern Rivers Regional Shorebird Committee, Heather was responsible for the design of the “Shorebird in Byron Shire” signs, now erected at key shorebird sights in the shire. The signs have been transformed and erected in other shires from the Tweed Coast to the Clarence River and beyond. From that sign design, thousands of brochures have been distributed through Tourist Information Centres, Shire Councils and National Parks.

In 2012 Heather resigned from BBB, but continued her birding work with the Birdlife Australia Shorebird 2020-Ballina program. She was an active member of the subcommittee to save the coastal Emu in the Clarence Valley and despite her illness she joined the Ballina Shire Coastal Group Advisory Committee and up until her death she was a committee member of BirdLife Northern NSW.

She was a passionate member of Brunswick Valley Birdwatchers (BVBW) group and one friend Faye Smith tell the story of when she first joined, “Heather was an instant friend and enthusiastic mentor. I well remember her taking me around the West Byron Wetlands to show me a ‘lifer’ at the time – a Golden-headed Cisticola. With great enthusiasm, animated body movements and laughter, she demonstrated how the bird performed what she called it’s ‘helicopter flight’ of course, she gave me one of her well-known ‘bird calls’ to match the animated helicopter flight! The Golden-headed Cisticola will forever be the Heather Helicopter bird for me.

Heather was full of great stories but the one I loved was where she found a nest of abandoned Red-browed Finches which she hand-raised, keeping them alive with constant feeds from an eye-dropper, a feat in itself. They survived and would follow her everywhere as she worked in the paddock, landing on her shoulders and in her hair. They eventually flew off but would return for an occasional visit. One day she was talking to a couple of men in the paddock (probably Mormons) and the finches flew in and landed on her head, can you imagine, guess they did not think she needed saving after that.

Heather had a wonderful appetite for life and an infectious laughter and she will be a great loss to conservation…. Farwell Heather and as her friends Denise and John Ewin have said “RIP Heather and wherever you are, may you be enjoying he joyous song of birds.

Heather is survived by her two children Kurt and Kim Petersen, step-son Todd Harford and two grandchildren Jude and Chanti, sadly Heather’s Husband Jim, died in 2007.

Jan Olley, Byron Bird Buddies

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