Bruce Duncan – environmentalist, hawkwatcher, raptor bander, educator and winner of HMANA’s highest honour, the Maurice Broun Award for Lifetime Achievement in Raptor Conservation – passed away in Hamilton, Ontario on 11 November 2006. His sudden and senseless death resulted from a traffic accident caused by the driver of the other vehicle involved. Born in the United Kingdom of Scottish heritage, Bruce came to Canada at a young age with his parents and siblings. After receiving a degree in Psychology from Wilfred Laurier University he spent three years working as a guide and interpreter at Quetico Provincial Park in northern Ontario. This experience caused him to return to school to earn a degree in biology at the University of Waterloo.
After 11 years as a resource interpreter for the Grand River Conservation Authority, in 1988 Bruce joined the staff of the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) to look after their outdoor education program. He became the HCA’s staff ecologist, then Director of Watershed Planning and Engineering, and in 2004 was named General Manager and Chief Administrative Officer of the HCA.
His interest in raptors led him to spend many years as a bander and hawkwatcher at the fall hawkwatch site at Hawk Cliff, on the north shore of Lake Erie near Port Stanley, Ontario. As a bander he was known for not wearing gloves, even with the largest eagles, and he had the scars to prove it. Bruce met his future wife, Janet Snaith, through his work at Hawk Cliff. Their involvement with raptors and the location was such that their 1992 marriage took place at Hawk Cliff, with both of them (and the Minister) wearing binoculars and a firm understanding in place that if a really good bird showed up the ceremony would be delayed a bit!
Bruce also helped out at the spring hawkwatch at Grimsby, on the south shore of Lake Ontario, which had been started in 1975. In 1990 he spearheaded the organization of the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch (NPH). As the NPH’s first President, he guided the membership in continuing the work of the Grimsby Hawkwatch, finding and training new hawkwatchers, and educating the public about the natural phenomenon taking place right over their heads. His ‘Hawk Talks’ during the annual Open House held at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area, the NPH watch site, were always popular. Almost every year during one of these talks a Bald Eagle would appear, giving those assembled a real treat. Despite his busy work schedule he would book at least two days in the hawkwatcher rotation each season.
With his broad interest in nature, Bruce was willing to get involved. He served as President of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and the Ontario Bird Banding Association, as well as on boards and committees of many organizations, including the Long Point Bird Observatory and the Owl Rehabilitation Foundation. Recognizing that general interest in bird watching was increasing, in 1986 he founded the Hamilton Bird Study Group, which he led for 10 years; the group is still going strong and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. In 1992 he was named Hamilton’s Environmentalist of the Year and also received the Canada 125 Award for Environmental Service to the Community.
In addition to banding and hawkwatching, Bruce wrote or contributed to many articles on birds of prey for different journals, among them HMANA’s Hawk Migration Studies. He served on HMANA’s Board of Directors, was a presenter at the HMANA conventions at Cape May in 1991 and Corpus Christi in 1993, and attended the 1995 and 2000 conventions at Windsor and Hawk Mountain. In the late 1980s he coordinated reintroduction hacking programs in the Hamilton area for Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, and since 1995 acted as consultant and primary bander for the Hamilton Community Peregrine Project.
In a news story the Hamilton Spectator called Bruce “a community treasure” and headlined an editorial, “We lost a teacher”. The memorial service on November 25 was attended by so many people that the large funeral home was overflowing and extra parking had to be arranged. While pictures of Bruce were displayed on large screens in all the rooms, a representative of the Government of Ontario, colleagues from the HCA and several friends spoke warmly in his memory. Bruce is survived by Janet, their two children, James and Katie, his sister Margaret and brother Jim. A quiet man with a dry sense of humour, his only wish was to share his knowledge and love of nature with his family and others. He was perhaps most aptly described by his friend Bob Curry, as “a gentleman, and a gentle man”. Bruce is and will be missed. Whenever in the future a Bald Eagle goes over Beamer, many will think of him.