Sunday, 8 January 2017


Before the second world war Birdwatching was considered a somewhat eccentric pastime for country parsons and village squires. After the war, young people had more leisure time and mobility.
The Hampshire Ornithological Group and a few other young birders turned this on its head. They were the true pioneers of citizen science where groups of dedicated amateur birders worked together to expand and build their knowledge. They set up ringing groups, travelled to the far extremities of the British Isles from Fair Isle to the Scillies, adding new species and verifying them, quite simply they were on a mission and Graham was in the vanguard.  
On his return to Pembrokeshire in the early 1970’s, Hampshire’s loss was Pembrokeshire’s gain! As some of you will know, Graham Rees was the driving force behind the creation of The Pembrokeshire Bird Group along with Jack Donovan whom Graham joined as co-County Bird Recorder on his return to Pembrokeshire.  
Graham and Jack authored the Pembrokeshire Bird Atlas, to this day the most authoritative reference work of our time for the county avifauna.  Always self-effacing and less flamboyant than Jack, Graham did most of the spade and footwork for The Atlas but they were a great team. He also inspired others of us to send in records and participate in the compilation of the Pembrokeshire Bird Report.
Grahams phenomenal work at Strumble Head was truly ground breaking. The advent of modern telescopes such as the superb Optolyth 70x30 revolutionised our ability to identify distant birds as they flew past the headland. The purchase of a “Questar” mirror lens moved things even further on!
Graham always seemed to have the time and patience to share his knowledge. I and countless others were fortunate to be able to pick his brains and learn the esoteric art of sea-watching. It was a gateway into a whole new world of birds, staring through an eyepiece at the view of some small bird a mile or more away and identifying it by mainly developing the feel for GISS = General Impression of Shape and Size. Graham would keep a running commentary as we pieced the necessary features together until we nailed the Wilsons Petrel or Little Shearwater, truly awesome!
In recent years, his ill health has meant his contribution to ornithology has been more from his study than his natural environment out there in the field, particularly (and most sadly from my point of view) his perch in the lookout at Strumble Head. I am sure there is still more to come from a man I am extremely proud to call friend and mentor.

Cliff Benson


“I met Graham for the first time in the mid eighties on a trip to Strumble and his enthusiasm and knowledge of seabirds was amazing.  I caught the bug and have been doing it ever since.  When I visited Strumble from the ‘wastelands of Ceredigion’ I noticed he was always so helpful to anyone who turned up, pointing out the identifying features of the birds that passed by.  He liked to talk to anyone with a like-minded interest, as long as it was birds and not plants!  He calls all plants “Scabby Scrunge”.  Such a very inspirational man.” 

Red Liford

Coming to Pembs from London, I hadn't really got to grips with sea-watching despite having been watching birds for 20+ years at that point, but sitting day after day in the look out at Strumble Head listening to Graham means it is no exaggeration to say that I owe everything I know about seabirds to him. He is greatly missed there.

Chris Grayell