Wayne Nelson had been researching the Peale’s peregrine falcons of Kusgwai/Langara Island for over 40 years. He would arrive in late May, spend a few weeks there and then head home to Camrose, Alberta to write up his findings. He usually knocked on the door to say hello before heading west. If we weren’t home, he’d leave a note on the blackboard to say he’d catch up with us on his way back.
In the mid-1980’s, on more than one occasion, we took him to Kusgwai in our fish boat Lady Julia loaded with gear for his adventures. He would rappel down to some of the nests to check and weigh eggs and chicks — no mean feat with the surging sea below him. He worked hard and conscientiously wrote up his reports.
Wayne was a gentle person. He visited the Nature Centre at Delkatla on more than one occasion and prepared a detailed display which has been on show for some years. It gives facts and figures, charts, graphs, and text of his work. It is complimented by his personal, wonderful photographs of Peregrine eggs, chicks, and adults. When he was last there he spoke quietly of his work and we marvelled at his tenacity and persistence.
This year we wondered why he hadn’t shown up at the door as he usually did and wondered if he had come to the islands at all. Then the bad news. We heard a rumour that Wayne had died. We didn’t believe it. Following enquiries, however, we found out, sadly, that he had passed away on Feb. 15, 2017 from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare condition that causes a “gradual deterioration of brain cells in a few specific areas, mainly in the brain stem.” As the disease progressed Wayne would not have been able to do the work he loved and, given the clarity of his mind and thought, it was tragic news indeed.
Wayne’s final report, written in 2013, showed that Langara held six falcon territories, three of which produced seven nestlings. One had an adult pair and evidence that at least one nestling had hatched, and two territories seemed to have either failed or were non-productive. He also showed that in the early 1950s Kusgwai had possibly 24 falcon territories. In 1999 it had ten and in 2013, his final year, there were only six.
What happened? Possibly a combination of DDT pesticide contamination in the early years and the loss of the peregrine’s main prey, the ancient murrelet, from rats released onto the island and from the destruction of murrelet nesting habitat. We may never know for sure, but Wayne’s work contributed enormously to the canon of falcon research and may never be repeated.
Thank you, and goodbye Wayne. You are deeply missed by your family and friends.