«Compiled by Roger Standen May 2015 A reflective Clive Minton, in ‘formal’ attire, on the shore of Delaware Bay in 2006. (Chung Yu Chiang) ...»
The Father of Wader
Tales of C.D.T. Minton
Compiled by Roger Standen
A reflective Clive Minton, in ‘formal’ attire, on the shore of Delaware Bay in 2006.
(Chung Yu Chiang)
4 Marking birds
5 Catching birds
6 A lifetime partner
7 Wash Wader Ringing Group
8 Victorian Wader Study Group
9 Northwest Australia and the AWSG
10 International expeditions
11 America and Red Knot rufa
Preface n 2012, Clive Minton was awarded the Eisenmann Medal for outstanding I services to ornithology. When the Victorian Wader Study Group (VWSG) held a celebratory lunch for him,several people spoke about experiences with Clive and his waders. That provided the genesis for this story.
The irony of Clive’s award from the Linnaean Society of New York being the impetus for this book was not lost on me when I found that the famed Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, after whom the New York society was named, was a ‘hibernationist’ at least for a time during the 1700s when the, as then unproven, theories of migration and hibernation were still being debated.1 Here, 250-300 years later was a man who has spent his lifetime advancing the understanding of bird migration receiving an award for this work under the auspices of Linnaeus.
“He’s writing my obituary while I’m still alive – better to get it straight from the horse’s mouth” is how Clive has described my task of collecting stories and facts about his life and his impact in the world of wader studies. There is much of this book that comes from Clive’s mouth and pencil, but much has also come from family, friends and peers who have walked (or should I say – run) with him on this journey.
To borrow the sentiments of Pete Collins, a long-term member of the VWSG, “when you start to examine the mines of the mind, most of what surfaces are near disasters, but few real disasters.” Suffice to say, “Clive’s success in collecting data and encouraging its analysis is amazing and he is rightly acclaimed as the leader of the flock.” Much of this story hangs on what Clive has achieved, but it is also about what people remember of times spent around Clive and what makes the man. The wader stories
In the Foreword to his autobiography ‘The Eye of the Wind’, Sir Peter Scott says, “Stories that I have been telling with great conviction, believing them to be true to the smallest detail, have proved…to be greatly garbled.”2 He subsequently suggested the application of what he called “the Scott reduction index”, which simply means that the reader shouldn’t expect this to be a true account of everything covered within these pages as some will prove to be exaggerated or indeed concocted unintentionally by memory and time. The material in this book has been checked as much as possible, but the bulk of the stories told to me have been accepted at face value. Please apply your own Scott reduction index to this story too!
Suzanne Ishida is a researcher from Japan who studied Little Terns and came to Australia to see where ours bred. In one of her correspondences with Clive, she said, “I sure hope our combined efforts will be beneficial to the Little Terns and …shorebirds. I would be very sad if I went to the seaside and didn’t hear the sound of sandpiper peeping, or terns screeching overhead. What a sad day that would be!” Indeed it would be. It is hoped that Clive’s contribution will help to avert that ever happening.
Clive has covered the globe and in doing so, has become multi-lingual. He spoke French as a young man, but that is not what I am referring to. What I need to point out is that there are different terms used for the same things across the globe. The English use the term ‘ring,’ for the circular metal identification marker that Australians and Americans call a ‘band’. Americans call the long-legged birds that Clive has spent a lifetime studying ‘shorebirds’, while Aussies and the English call them ‘waders’. These terms have been used interchangeably throughout this story.
In 1983 Nicholas Branson noted about Clive, that it is “impossible to describe so large a character…in a few lines of transcript.” This book is an attempt to expand the story between the many lines already written by Clive and others.
’ve been interested in birds since I was hatched,” has been repeated by Clive I many times over the years and when his lifetime with birds is examined in its entirety, this is absolutely true.
Clive Dudley Thomas Minton was born on October 7, 1934, followed a few years later by his twin sisters, Angela and Diane. They lived on the edge of the countryside in Cheshire, northwest England with their parents, who were both born and raised near Widnes on The Wirral in Cheshire.
Capitalising on the resources around him, particularly the human kind, was something Clive learnt very early, although like young waders leaving their Arctic birthplace, there must have been something hardwired in Clive’s brain that made this a natural process for him. He soon had his younger siblings trained to carefully hold the birds caught in traps in their back garden enabling Clive to ring them.
Looking back now, they say that they “thought this was normal family life.” There are many stories about these early family times that provide a window to Clive’s future life as he not only utilised his sisters’ presence when he wanted them to help, but he let them join him on his daily foray into the woods, playing and birdwatching. He liked other people to enjoy the outdoors with him, but could also build their capabilities into his own interests. They all learnt to love the country life, identify birds and birds’ eggs, fish for tadpoles in the bomb craters and enjoy the animals, both wild and farm. Clive was given the freedom to go off into the woods from a very early age though as he recalls now, those days were different and it was safe to do such things in the late 1930s. He would leave the house at eight in the morning and stay out all day, chopping down trees, building dens, throwing stones at other boys and finding bird nests, returning only for lunch and again at about six in the evening. As his sister Diane described it, “In the late afternoon, after spending
As a nine year-old, Clive helped the war effort by selling tin model spitfires door-todoor. In school uniform, short pants and large cap even the renowned village tightwads opened their purse strings. He was on the way to a lifetime of persuading people to do things they may not be initially keen on.
Birds became his passion from an early age. All those formative years watching what happened in the woods and the open countryside helped refine the skills of pitting his wits against the birds, watching their behaviour and letting them lead him to their nests. His egg collection grew and filled the drawers of a large desk, as he continued to learn more about identifying the birds, their eggs and their songs.
Eventually Clive came to actually think like a bird and that has been one of the most telling strengths contributing to his success as a bird bander.
Clive was fortunate to have two grandfathers around when he was a child, one who would always take him for walks in the woods and show him where all the nests were in his garden and the other who was a pigeon fancier. These men provided strong family links to support his developing passion for birds.
Clive’s father Tom served as a 17 year old on destroyers in the navy during the First World War. When Tom returned from the war, he gained a first class degree in
In an era when women weren’t encouraged to extend their formal education, Clive’s mother Ida was the only female to take science to higher levels at her school.
Although she went no further, she maintained and extended her interest and knowledge through Tom’s career both in terms of his actual work and in entertaining customers, suppliers and senior personnel.
Tom had gathered his own egg collection as a boy, but while he was away at war, it was damaged when his parents moved it. Only about 30 eggs were left by the time Tom handed it on to Clive who set about rebuilding it, for while he was interested in watching birds, his particular interest at the time was egg collecting. Clive took just one egg from each nest, not a whole clutch like the professionals once did. There are still a thousand eggs in his collection in Melbourne that hasn’t been added to since he was about thirteen. The collection was legally imported into Australia, but has not been looked at for over 30 years. It is stored in a large multi-drawer cabinet that was purchased from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) for 25 pounds.
Climbing trees is a skill every egg collector worth his salt needs to become proficient at and Clive was no exception. When aged about seven or eight years old, he was already a very keen collector with a growing ability to find all sorts of bird nests. He recalls once climbing up a tree at the side of a golf course. About eight feet from the ground, at right angles from the trunk, was a broken branch and at the end he could see a hollow. Naturally, Clive climbed up and shinned out along the horizontal branch. He looked down over the end and saw “two bright yellow eyes” (said with emphasis as he retold this story) belonging to a Little Owl, which then ran up the hollow straight towards his face. Trying to back-peddle he fell off the tree, fortunately landing on grass. When retelling this tale, Clive was laughing so hard that he was almost unable to finish. He did, however, remind those listening about Eric Hosking who lost an eye from a Tawny Owl!
5 In his book “An Eye for a Bird”, Eric described the accident that happened early in his photography career when aged 27. He had constructed a hide about 20 feet above the ground at a Tawny Owl’s nest to try and get photos of the owls at the nest.
When he packed up for the night, he left his equipment in the hide to avoid disturbing the birds. However, as he got back to the car, he thought he heard voices and became worried about the security of his camera and flashlight so he returned to check. Eric described what happened next, “Out of the silent darkness a swift and heavy blow struck my face. There was an agonising stab in my left eye. I could see nothing. The owl, with its night vision, had dive-bombed with deadly accuracy, sinking a claw deep into the centre of my eye.”3 Eric subsequently photographed the owl at the same nest site the following year when the birds nested in the same hollow. His story illustrates how fortunate Clive was at that early age with his encounter with the Little Owl.
Diane noted that, “As Clive grew older, the dichotomy that was country life in England was apparent. This was a place and time where hunting, shooting and fishing co-existed happily with deep interests in the birds, animals and fish that lived around us. He was friends with all the farmers in the area and understood that crops had to be protected from pests such as pigeons and wild ducks. So while immersed in scientific studies of birds and their habits and habitats, he saw no conflict in shooting pigeons (and rabbits) off the farmers’ crops.” As a hunter and bird-keeper in my youth, I can understand this position.
This view remains with him today and while his hunting trips are far fewer now than they were in the early days, he has continued to hunt and has introduced his children and grandchildren to his hobby. But according to his sister, “Clive was not house trained, so he brought the sackful of dead birds to the door, and the rest of the family took it from there. By the time my sister and I were 12 years old we could pluck and gut a pigeon ready for the table or freezer in ten minutes flat!” He also once brought home a swan that had hung itself running into a telegraph wire, hidden under his duffle coat as it was illegal to take swans. It took almost a whole day to pluck, and as only Clive and Angela really liked its taste, it took several weeks to eat!
Clive obviously thought that to leave it to rot was a waste, when he could eat it himself.
When in their teens, the young Mintons lived in a three storey, 18th century house in Etching Hill, Staffordshire. Clive hung mist nets out from the upper storey to catch the swallows and House Martins nesting under the eaves. The nets stretched from the house to nearby trees. To retrieve the birds, Clive and his father held a ladder up vertically and his younger sisters had to climb up to the top, free each bird and bring it back down safely for banding. “Have you ever climbed up a vertical ladder? It feels as if it is leaning backwards about 20 degrees!” recalled Diane. “Very Scary!” This Hosking 1972 3
Diane also recalled helping Clive with what was to become a long-term study of Mute Swans. Her description vividly brings to life the scene as it unfolded. Catching swans on the foreshore meant creeping up on them quietly without the intent becoming known. So again the younger sisters were roped in to be ‘friends’ with the swans and feed them bread crusts, gradually edging closer, “with big brother crawling along behind us on hands and knees. When he judged the time was right, he swung both arms wide, catapulting each sister sideways while he rushed through and quickly collected a swan, kneeling over its back to secure the wings before they could be used as weapons against him.” Later, during the Queen’s coronation in June 1953, Clive’s parents went to London leaving him and the girls at home. Diane’s sickness had been kept secret from their parents to avoid them missing the coronation celebration. In the house at the time, flying loose, were a few young Jays. While the young Mintons were watching the ceremonies on television, the Jays managed to fall into a bucket of water. They were then dried out in the oven, at a ‘just warm’ temperature. They survived wonderfully and the youngsters cleaned up the mess before their parents came home.