I am sad to inform you of the passing of John Stirrat, at the age of 79, on
John’s obituary may be viewed at:
John Stirrat was a birder.
What does that mean? Like many of us, he spent a significant amount of
time watching birds. When he wasn’t actually watching birds, John might
have been making bird lists, talking about birds,
thinking/reading/computing/digitizing about birds – not every hour, but
For some of us, birding translates into chasing “good birds” and can become
a controlling influence over our lives. Not John. He was never, ever too
busy to point out birds to beginners, to help someone sort out which
warbler was singing, to show visitors where he had found that secretive
wren. It didn’t matter whether it was the peak of spring migration at
Thickson’s Woods, an autumn hawk flight at Cranberry Marsh or a quiet day
at Frenchman’s Bay – he always made time. He even waded into the flocks of
“seagull detesters”, and encouraged others to distinguish which gull was
On the other hand, John did not respond instantly when someone wanted to
know: “What bird is that”? He would smile and ask them: “What do you think
it is?” To the baffled reply: “I have no idea” – he would calmly say:
“It’s okay – just make a guess”. And so, field mark by field mark, one
identification at a time, he set a great many feet upon the birding
learning curve, and encouraged those people to keep going out and to become
It wasn’t just birds – John was a well-rounded naturalist. He keenly
participated in butterfly outings and workshops, and then took part himself
in several annual butterfly counts in Durham, Toronto and other Regions.
Similarly, he learned to identify our local dragonflies and damselflies,
and shared his new knowledge with one and all.
For our club, Pickering Naturalists, John was indispensable during the
almost two decades he spent on the executive. He was Outing Coordinator
from 2004 to 2016, and actually led almost all of the outings himself for
that entire period. Most of these were local outings in Pickering / Ajax
and on the Durham waterfront, as well as on the lakeshore in nearby
Toronto. We also went farther afield to the Carden Alvar, the West
lakeshore out towards Hamilton, and Niagara River. It was always striking
on these trips – John knew all of the bird group leaders that we
encountered! More distant treks for the club included Presqu’ile, Long
Point, Algonquin, and occasionally Amherst Island. Even after he “retired”
as coordinator, John continued to attend almost all of the outings and was
a great help to participants.
Other roles on the PN executive included Recording Secretary for the club
from 2016 to 2019, and as a general member of the Executive from 2019 to
2021. John was also our sponsored birder for many years for the Baillie
Birdathon, one of the major fundraisers for the club and for birds in
Ontario. He participated annually in our December Members’ Night, and
helped to make our 40th anniversary a grand success.
As a board member for OFO, John was well-known for his role on the
committee for the annual convention. He also served as recording secretary
and helped lead OFO outings in Durham Region.
John was a great friend and birding companion. He will be in our thoughts
as we watch the ducks return in March, as we listen to the dawn chorus in
May, as we scan shorebird flocks on the beach, as we look up at the hawks
soaring overhead Cranberry, as we search for Snowy Owls on the wintry shore.