A tribute to Maggie H Dunn 1924 -2022

Maggie H Dunn, who died last week.

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Maggie H Dunn died peacefully in Montrose House on Thursday July 28.

A founder member of the Arran Natural History Society, which was formed in 1977, and as the first ANHS bird recorder, Maggie produced the annual bird report in 1980 and continued producing it until 1991. Every year since, she has contributed to the annual report.

Maggie was also a local teacher. Both as a teacher and as a member of the society, Maggie was an inspiration. Through her, many developed and shared her passion for the birds of Arran. Her enthusiasm was boundless.

Maggie was a wonderful person, always with a twinkle in her eye. Our thoughts are with her family at this time.

The Arran Naturalist No15 (1992) edited by Tristan ap Rheinallt has a very apt tribute to Maggie written by her very dear friend Audrey Walters when Maggie moved for a few years to Hampshire.

‘It was Maggie Dunn, through her enthusiasm and vision, who not only started the annual report but who maintained it through her meticulous and prolific note taking.

‘Throughout her time on Arran, she meticulously recorded the birdlife here, writing up her notes in longhand.

,Everyone who sent her records of sightings was thanked personally by letter. Every doubtful record was followed up.

‘The mammoth task of writing the annual report was done without the use of a computer.

‘She served the Arran Natural History Society with total dedication to its ideals.’

In that same Arran Naturalist magazine, Maggie wrote an article that gives an insight into her qualities. These are a few selected paragraphs.

‘Since I came to live in Arran in 1956, with a young child, a baby and a husband to look after, every available opportunity was taken to watch birds, even if only in the garden and surrounding fields.

‘Later, when I began teaching in Brodick School, there was often a lunchtime to have a quick walk or drive to observe birds while consuming sandwiches.

‘My constant companion on walks was my late husband Alasdair who, although not a birdwatcher, was interested to make ceramic birds. His eyes would often be on the seashore looking for driftwood to use in his sculptures while mine would be raised to the skyline!

‘In 1980 I found myself in charge of a small party on one of Jonathan Williams’ Island Safaris.

‘We had climbed to the top of the Narachan searching the horizon for eagles, had given up hope and were descending on rough ground when the resident pair of “Goldies” swept down so low overhead that we could almost have touched them.

‘Those from south of the border were overawed, indeed we all were, by the effortless soaring and huge wingspan of these majestic birds.

‘Now below us, they ignored the mobbing crows which were completely dwarfed by comparison.

‘One whose name, in my mind, will always be synonymous with fulmars, is Bernie Zonfrillo, who visited Arran whenever he could in order to ring these birds.

‘This involved me standing by, averting my eyes, as he leant over cliff-tops such as Drumadoon, lowering his long pole with a net at one end in which he would bring up a fulmar.

‘I must mention how exciting was the visit of the Cranes to Shiskine and I was fortunate enough to see them along with Audrey Walters, keen birder and friend. Sometimes we were not so lucky, like the day we missed seeing the hoopoe!’

Dedicated and enthusiastic. Her passion is clear, and it was fun. Maggie concludes: ‘These memories, never to be forgotten, are all part of Arran, and will linger with me forever.’

These qualities were constant throughout her long life. When in 2020 I was writing the book to mark the 40th year of the annual Arran bird report, it was to Maggie that I turned.

Many a get-together we had in her home in Whiting Bay and in Cooriedoon talking about birds. I listened as she drew on her vast experience and there was such joy in these recollections.

Her memory will linger with me forever. Maggie Dunn was my friend.

Jim Cassels, bird recorder for the Arran Natural History Society