By Bob Curry
As Glenda and I drove to Dave’s memorial service, I deliberately took the Red Hill Parkway (note here the euphemistic “parkway” rather than expressway). I vowed never to use this road but decided, today, to make an exception. I wanted to see what the road had done to Dave’s beloved Red Hill Valley. For Dave, as for many of us in those days, this was his local patch, where he first encountered and enjoyed our birds. The day of his service was a bright sunny cold day – the kind that shows off the landscape at its best this time of year. What we saw was a long deep flesh wound, the kind that leaves a large area of scarred tissue on both sides. It will never quite be the same.
Dave had a long association with the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and the local birding community. As a young man, his first submissions to the Noteworthy Bird Records were of passerines and owls. The first record we note is of Hamilton’s earliest spring Henslow’s Sparrow on April 25, 1969 at Mohawk Road near the East Mountain Brow. His first Red Hill record was a Long-eared Owl at Mt. Albion on December 20, 1969.
But passerines did not long hold his attention. Dave latched on to diurnal raptors in 1971, reporting 40 Red-tailed Hawks over the city on March 27. Although Grimsby has been noted for its hawk flights for generations, it was Dave who realized the full potential of Grimsby Peak (Beamer Conservation Area). Beginning in 1975, Dave initiated the formal hawkwatch and he was the site coordinator for the first 12 years, from 1975 through 1986. Dave and the Grimsby Hawkwatch were responsible for the discovery that far larger numbers of Red-shouldered Hawks entered the province each spring than had previously been realized. Today Beamer is an important monitoring station for diurnal raptors in eastern North America. Dave’s daily laconic presence on the tower will remain a significant part of the lives of many of us.
In spite of his love of hawks, Dave took other birding adventures. I was privileged to share one particularly memorable trip with him. The Hudson Bay coastline of Ontario was and is a remote and desirable destination for Ontario birders. It so happened that Dave’s brother Gary was a bush pilot. So, on June 30, 1978, five of us left for Mount Hope airport bound for Ontario’s far north. Hopping from Timmins to Moosonee to Attawapiskat, we eventually touched down on the gravel strip at abandoned Radar Site 416, west of Cape Henrietta Maria. We had a wonderful day and a half of tundra birding on June 30 and July 1. That night wind and rain set in and the next day, during a lull in the storm, we had a hair-raising take-off and flight south. We have but one people photo commemorating the trip. On a sunny afternoon at Attawapiskat, five young men lean casually against our Piper Cherokee: Dave and Gary Copeland, Barry Cherriere, Alan Wormington, and me.
Dave was the principal atlasser for two squares during the first Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas from 1981 – 1985. One of these, which he surveyed for the second Atlas 2001 – 2005, was the city of Hamilton that included the Red Hill Valley. In the first period he found breeding evidence for Saw-whet Owl and Yellow-breasted Chat, two of several species that no longer occur in the Valley. He would have continued to lament the destruction of our beloved valley.
More of Dave’s contributions to the natural history of the Hamilton Area and the HNC relate to his professional career. At the time of our club’s Diamond Jubilee in 1979 Dave was Director of Advertising at the Hamilton Spectator. Dave rounded up an entire page of corporate sponsors to congratulate the Club on this milestone, the messages surrounding a Barry Cherriere photo of a Great Gray Owl. So when it came to consider production and promotion for Birds of Hamilton, I wanted none other than Dave, who became a member of the production and launch committee. Through his groundwork and his contacts from a long career in advertising, he acquired for us announcements and reviews in all the media in the Hamilton region, not only the newspapers but radio and TV spots. More than that, his knowledge of Hamilton bird history and his enthusiasm for the project kept us on track through all stages of producing the book.
Dave was an accomplished artist. He painted scenes from the Canadian Shield where he and his family loved camping and from across Canada. Some of his most evocative work involved his paintings of the Red Hill Creek and the Valley. He had several art exhibits in the Hamilton/Burlington area, and his works hang in many private collections across Ontario.
Dave loved the old Bushnell Custom binoculars. Indeed the large clear image through the 10 X 50s is unsurpassed by today’s expensive binoculars. Their main problem was their bulk and weight. About 10 years ago my neck couldn’t take them anymore but Dave remained a loyal Bushnell man. So in exchange for his generous sponsorship of us on the Baillie Birdathon, Dave took my old Bushnells as a back-up.
My favourite Beamer image is of Dave tilting his head up at an angle to examine the sky and pick up distant hawks through the Customs. Dave almost invariably found the hawks first and would exclaim, “Over the hempine” or “Over the farmhouse”.
When I hear these phrases in spring, they will conjure up that picture of Dave Copeland.