Vale Dick Cooper
The SERTBC Recovery Team was very saddened to hear of the passing of our long-term Red-tail Volunteer and number one supporter Dick Cooper on Sunday 8 May.
Dick has been actively involved with the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo Recovery Program for around twenty years. His invaluable contribution to the program has helped shape our current knowledge and understanding of Red-tails and their habitats, particularly in the Casterton area.
Dick was always more than happy to share his immense knowledge of the cockatoos and their whereabouts, and established many wonderful friendships during his time with the Red-tail team. His friendly, outgoing nature and passion and enthusiasm for finding cockatoos will be sadly missed by all.
Richard Hill, Tim Burnard and Bronwyn Perryman attended Dick’s funeral in Casterton on the 13 May, where Richard gave a heart-warming eulogy celebrating Dick’s love and passion for Red-tails. Richard has kindly provided a copy of the eulogy which is shared below.
The Recovery Team would like to extend our deepest sympathies and thoughts to Dick’s family, friends and community at this very sad time.
Celebrating a life and love for Red-tails
Eulogy by Richard Hill
I first met Dick in 1997.
I had moved with my family from Melbourne and we had temporarily settled near Cavendish to start a three year study of the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo.
Dick got in touch to report a sighting of Red-tails near Casterton and I arranged to meet up with him.
Apparently I sounded a bit sceptical about the number of birds he had counted when I talked to him, so you can imagine he was very pleased that while on the way to meet him,
I came across a flock of the same number near where he had seen them.
With Dick’s help we quickly discovered that Red-tails were quite easily found nearby to Casterton,
and based on this new information,
I decided to relocate the Red-tail study and my family to Casterton.
Dick was key to the success of the Red-tail work at Casterton.
He knew all the bush tracks,
He knew where there were stands of good stringybark that the birds seemed to favour.
He knew where the big red gums with hollows were out in the bush,
as well as where the stands of old dead red gums were on farmlands.
These were the areas we searched for nests.
Most of the large dead red gums that the birds favoured for nesting were on farms and we needed to get on to these properties to find and study the nests.
I didn’t know any of these farmers,
Dick knew them all.
He rang and introduced me to them, and invariably they agreed to us coming onto their places.
There were lots of reasons why farmers might have been concerned about a stranger asking to come on to their places to look for a rare bird.
That I was working with Dick was the only reassurance that most farmers needed.
We searched for nests in spring, sitting out in paddocks for 2-3 hours on countless evenings.
Sitting quiet and still in the cold breezy spring weather looking and listening for Red-tails flying to and from their nests.
Dick never seemed to wear enough I thought, on those icy evenings,
I was always rugged up with every inch of skin covered.
In late autumn and winter we would search for and find the large flocks of Red-tails that form at that time of year.
Then we would have to find their drinking site to enable us to count them accurately.
Dick knew where all the waterholes were out in the scrub, and all the farm dams were as well (probably because he loved his yabbies and his ducks).
With Dick’s help we found an enormous flock of birds one winter at the back of a property south of Dergholm.
We stood that evening as the birds streamed out of the bush to drink at a dam, counting over 400 birds.
It was one of the largest flocks of Red-tails ever recorded.
Dick loved the bush around Casterton, and I grew to understand why.
Although Red-tails were Dick’s first and most enduring interest,
he was interested in all wildlife.
In spring we would stop and investigate patches of wildflowers,
or he would leave a message on my phone saying he had left a stick beside a tree just west of east boundary on centre track marking an interesting orchid for me to have a look at.
Or a brolga nest.
A phone call to say that the pair on centre track were nesting,
another call a couple of weeks later to say the pair had two chicks.
An eagle nest here, an emu nest there.
There were always new things happening in the bush that he was interested in.
He continued throughout his retirement to go out to the scrub just west of Casterton several times a week, all year round.
His dogs loved those days as well. He was always accompanied by a much-spoilt cream Labrador,
Tammy, Bessie and then Mollie.
They all loved swimming in the bush dams.
Over the years he compiled the most important record of Red-tails and their comings and goings that we have.
We have subsequently used this to help understand where important areas for Red-tails are, and what drives their movements.
Dick had a great sense of humour,
and took quiet satisfaction from our time together.
He was amused by my stories of getting into trouble out in the bush,
despite his warnings.
Even when he was sitting in the car beside me.
I came to grief several times early on in the quicksand like bogs which can
swallow up cars out in our bush.
More than once Dick was sitting beside me as the car settled into the mud,
and I would look across at him and grin sheepishly.
But the local bush guru did sometimes come unstuck himself.
I wasn’t there unfortunately, but there is a good story from the 2012 fires just west of here.
Pete Larkins was on patrol of the fire line several days after the fire had commenced,
and by which time the tracks had turned into deep rutted messes.
Along the track comes an old white Subaru,
known to all of us out at the DSE office, bouncing and bumping along to finally settle, bogged,
in a big hole full of bulldust.
Dick came around to the office to drop off a slab of beer the following day,
standard payment for being pulled out of a bog.
The boys were pleased to see it was proper beer, and not Coopers!
Just last Saturday was the Red-tail annual count.
Dick and I have counted the Casterton area together almost every year
for the past 18 years that the count has been held.
All this week Tim Burnard and I have been searching these same tracks,
bush waterholes and farm dams
looking for the large flocks of Red tails that form at this time of year,
and for where they are drinking so that we can count them.
The Red-tails are back at the same places that they have used on and off for the past 18 years.
This year they are back in very big flocks, perhaps more than we have ever seen around here.
I know how pleased Dick would be.