Stuart Devonald 1933-2013

We were deeply saddened to learn this month of the loss of one of our great friends, Pembrokeshire volunteer and birder of many decades, Stuart Devonald.

With the passing of Stuart Devonald, Pembrokeshire has lost an observer with more years of field time than any other, all of which he put to effective use accumulating the longest list of bird species seen in the county.

Stuart Devonald at St Ishamels

He had happy memories of growing up at St Ishmaels where his boyhood wanderings nurtured his growing interest in the natural world. He remembered Corncrakes calling in the fields and becoming exposed at harvest time, of days spent at the Gann without seeing another person, just lots of Wigeon and his first Spoonbill and tracking Rook flight lines to discover the only colony in the district, at Anchor Hoeten.

He counted himself lucky to have Tommy Warren Davies as his mentor during his formative days. Little surprise then that Stuart’s interests encompassed all aspects of natural history, botany and birds predominating and that he became committed to conservation through what has become The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. He served the Trust in many ways, becoming a long serving member of the management committee for the islands of Skokholm and Skomer, a leading light of the mid-Pembrokeshire Section and the Pembrokeshire Bird Group and one of the editorial team for the Pembrokeshire Bird Reports.

It is not generally known that in the mid 1960’s Stuart was among the group of pioneers that began seawatching at Strumble Head, before it became established as the foremost locality in Wales for this form of birding. He joined in again in the 1980’s to help establish this pre-eminence.

In birding circles Stuart was regarded as being “lucky”. If a rare bird turned up he seemed effortlessly able to connect with it but that was really because he spent a lot of time in the field alertly examining all he saw. Finding the first White-winged Black Tern for the county and the only Spanish Sparrow yet recorded pleased him no end.

Stuart was an easy going and likeable man with a fine sense of humour, indeed seemed to relish events even when it seemed the joke was on him. Walking out along the Gann seawall one day he encountered a bird tour who were agonising over a group of waders out on the mud. The leader asked Stuart what he made of them, to which he replied “they are Knots”. When the leader conveyed this to his clients one asked “why are they Knots?”, so he pointed to Stuart and replied “because the great panjandrum said so”.

A frequent activity at Strumble Head is counting and logging groups of migrating Scoters. This is not always easy as they do not always string out in neat formations but often bunch together. With several observers involved, the perceived totals can vary by one or two and around this event a conspiracy developed. Being a Headmaster of a school, it was considered that Stuart should be good at counting, so the other observers would wait until he announced his count and then all pitch in with a number that was slightly less. On the back of this charade he became known as “Count Devonald” and it was some time before those involved let on to the joke. As those who knew him would expect he took it all with good humour and appeared to revel in the appellation.

Ever friendly and pleased to meet others, Stuart was generous in sharing his knowledge, not just about natural history but about literature, poetry and classical music, all of which his interest encompassed. He was also devilishly good at generating puns which could bring merriment at the most unexpected moments.

Stuart will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Graham Rees