John Warham (1919-2010)

Published on 01 December 2010 in Obituaries

John Warham provides an example of what can be done in ornithology. A small, enter- prising, intelligent person, an acute and knowledgeable observer, and pleasant to deal with, he was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, and was educated in Retford, Nottinghamshire. It was here that he studied the birds of a patch in Sherwood Forest, eventually publishing a splendid account of them illustrated with flash photography, Bird-watcher’s Delight (Country Life, 1951). His early adult life was interrupted by the Second World War, when he joined the British Army, being demobilised as a Captain in 1946. He then pursued bird photography, spending 12 years travelling around Australia with his wife Pat, visiting offshore islands while she went nursing, writing papers, popular articles, and books about wildlife photography and cinematography (both 1966). When I called on him at his subsequent exhibition in London, the other visitor was a respectful young David Attenborough.

Having done virtually all he could in bird photography, he resumed his education at Durham University, ascending the academic steps to DSc in 1985. Meanwhile, he had taken up a teaching post at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1966, and resumed his visits to subantarctic islands, studying first the crested penguins and then the petrels, and writing copiously about them. He collaborated with Dom and Vin Serventy in a classic Handbook of Australian Sea-birds (Sydney, 1971), and eventually con- centrated on the petrels, doing original research around the world on such subjects as their stomach oil and voices, and eventu- ally writing two large books on The Petrels: their ecology and breeding systems (1990) and The Petrels: their physiology, behaviour and conservation (1996), saying nearly all that could then be said about them. A remarkable record and achievement.

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