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Farewell to legendary Cairns birder Dawn Magarry

Elinor Scambler | Guest Contributor

The recent passing, on Sunday, 31 March 2024, of Dawn Magarry at age 92 is truly the end of an era in Cairns birding. Dawn and her late husband Arnold (1918–2013) married in Cairns in 1951, and In the mid-1960s, moved to Heavey Crescent, Whitfield, where they established a large rainforest garden. Their garden was to be the site of Dawn’s interesting and meticulous bird notes over many years - petal-carrying courting fairy-wrens and nesting Papuan Frogmouths are just two species that come to mind.


In 1976, Dawn succeeded another keen birder, Marion Cassels, as Secretary of the North Queensland Naturalists Club. She continued to serve for more than 20 years and published notes in the Club’s journal, the North Queensland Naturalist, into the 1990s.


Year after year the Magarrys travelled to Georgetown for “The Nats” traditional Easter campout, sighting amongst other species, Gouldian Finches and Grey Falcons. Gouldians (or in fact, sadly, no Gouldians) also featured in a 1992 finch survey near Georgetown for the RAOU (now BirdLife Australia). Dawn also surveyed shorebirds for the Queensland Wader Study Group (Birds Queensland), and contributed to the Bird Observer (Bird Observers Club) and Sunbird (Birds Queensland).


It might be easier to write a list of people and organisations that Dawn didn’t help! She advised and informed so many, including scientists studying Rufous Owls, Metallic Starlings, kookaburra plumage, and Star Finches.


She willingly sought help from local birders for international visitors, but when one BBC film crew (chasing parrots) did not turn up to fixed appointments, Dawn told them (in no uncertain terms) that they were discourteous and shouldn’t expect help in the future! Birdwatchers were always welcome at Heavey Crescent and she enjoyed outings and shared interesting sightings until well into her 80s.


I was personally grateful to Dawn for sharing her memories of Tableland farmer-ornithologist Jim Bravery and (in retrospect!) for the help she gave to bird recorder Ray Swaby, for his pioneering 1983 tape recording of Sarus Cranes at Bromfield Swamp. There will be more tributes to Dawn in coming days and we’ll all be grateful to her, for generous advice and birding companionship over so many years.


Elinor Scambler


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