The bird watching world lost a light on Sunday November 22nd when Edward S. (Ned) Brinkley died while on a birding trip in southern Ecuador.
According to a Facebook post by Field Guides Birding Tours, 55-year-old Brinkley was two-thirds on a month-long trip through the South American country. He was on a hike in search of “one of the most charismatic specialties in the country, the Jocotoco Antpitta. Early in the morning on a trail, Ned was not feeling well, accompanied by a knowledgeable person on site, and his condition appeared to be deteriorating rapidly. We don’t know many details yet, but although paramedics were called, Ned died before he could be taken to a medical facility. Words cannot express our sense of loss for someone who has been an integral part of Field Guides. We mourn Ned, his family and loved ones, and the gaping hole in the fabric of the bird watching community into which he was so closely woven. “
In the Field Guides’ post, Brinkley was described as “a dear colleague and infallible friend, soundboard, polymath, tireless team player, teacher and fellowship”.
Brinkley began birdwatching as a child in 1971, “when a glowing prothonotary warbler set the course of his life in the Great Dismal Swamp,” according to a Field Guide biography. He worked as a bird watcher for Field Guides from 1998 to 2011 and returned to the company in 2019. He was supposed to lead bird watching trips for field guides to Finland and Alaska in 2021.
For 20 years he was the editor of North American Birds, the Journal of Ornithological Record published by the American Birding Association, and for many years he wrote the always insightful Changing Seasons column. He was the author of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide for Birds in North America and a Ph.D. in comparative literature and film from Cornell University and was a former professor of literature and film at the University of Virginia. He was also the co-owner of a bird watcher bed and breakfast in Cape Charles, Virginia.
Since the news of Brinkley’s death came in, some of his friends and colleagues have posted tributes about him on Facebook.
Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, wrote:
“I am shocked and very sad to learn that Ned Brinkley passed away suddenly and very unexpectedly. It’s hard to believe that a character so full of life and so passionately passionate and knowledgeable about so many things has disappeared. There really wasn’t anyone like him and it will take many of us a long time to come to terms with this great loss. “
The Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory noted that Brinkley was one of its advisors and “a good friend of all Virginia bird watchers.” Over the years, he spent hours on the Hawkwatch platform in Kiptopeke State Park and was a welcome presence for CVWO’s fall biologists. Everyone who knew him had a wonderfully warm story to tell about birds and so many other topics – how generous he was with his time, knowledge, lunch (!) And worldly expertise. The bird world is grateful for all that he has given. Rest in peace, ned! We will miss you.”
George Armistead, chief network officer at Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures, said Brinkley was one of his best friends. They met in 1988 at a Christmas Bird Count in Virginia.
“I think Ned was at least a genius,” wrote Armistead. “He was able to compile information and present it in a digestible form with an efficiency that I have never seen before. He was so well read, able to speak a number of languages, that he knew where to find all the information he needed, and he could quickly access and compile information on obscure birds, little-known subspecies, or little-known records. As an editor, he was furiously hungry for completeness, and he likely ghostwritten twice that he’d hired to edit or review. He would shock you with the information he could keep in his brain. He was a shocking person. He would shock you with his joke. He would shock you at how persistent and stubborn he could be. In the next moment he would shock you with a fantastic meal that he prepared in just a few minutes. He was generous and thoughtful and could speak a blue stripe. He wasn’t shy. “
Armistead concluded, “Gentle sailing amigo. Send us some sea birds. “
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