Memories of Bob

I first met Bob Hibbett in 1981. Maybe 10-years older than me, he cut quite a striking figure, being tall and upright, wearing long flowing hair and sporting a clutch of love-beads around his neck. He spoke with a slow, deep voice and in conversation made me realise that he was not like other birders - he used to hang around the pubs and clubs with professional Chelsea footballers, and had lost a digit or two from one hand due to a failed schoolboy firework experiment - it is fair to say that I found him a touch exotic.

He became a mainstay of my birding world throughout much of the 1980s. Along with his young son Scotty, Steve Broyd and Stuart Holdsworth, we formed a merry band of birders who travelled across the country in his Citroen in search of the rare and the wonderful. Birds such as Little Whimbrel (Kenfig), American Bittern (Magor), Greater Yellowlegs and Caspian Tern (Minsmere), Squacco Heron (Radipole) and Varied Thrush (Nanquidno) readily spring to mind, but there were many more - we were lucky enough to be in on the finding and identification of the Elmey Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in 1985. Bob loved his music, so the car's tape deck was always in action. We would often bring along our own tapes, although Bob had his favourites, including the Hall and Oates album 'Abandoned Luncheonette', which he would sing along to, failing to match the silky blue-eyed soul tones of Darryl Hall. It remains, to this day, one of my favourites. Pre-work twitches became a feature, with Bob picking us up at some un-Godly hour to travel as far as Suffolk, yet still have us back in our work places by 9AM.

Bob liked nothing better than to be out in the field. Many was the time that a day trip to Minsmere ended up becoming a day trip to Norfolk, or even Lincolnshire, as Bob could never accept that there wasn't something better to see 'just up the road' even if that entailed a further 90-mile drive. And when we returned to Surrey he often insisted that, before he drop me home, I stop by his house to say hello to his wife Roll and youngest son Lee (aka Smudge), where I would be served up a gargantuan meal. I didn't have the heart to refuse even though I knew another dinner would be waiting for me at home.

It was at this time that the Thursday Night Birder's Club was formed, a gang of locals who met up for a drink and ornithological chat in the pubs of Sutton and Cheam. Bob was very much a regular, sometimes our numbers swollen to 10-15 people. He would often turn up with the latest BB or new field guide tucked under his arm, which would be discussed and pored over. Often that coming weekend's birding campaign would be planned, and at times maps from around the world would be spread out across the tables to plan foreign trips, whether they were just in the mind or would actually see fruition. They were carefree and happy days.

Bob moved down to Cornwall a good few years ago and my contact with him became irregular - a phone call here, a day's birding there - and the last time I saw him was at Dungeness maybe six years ago. And it was to be, alas, the last time. I heard from Steve Broyd that Bob passed away yesterday. At times like these our thoughts, of course, go straight to that person's family. Then we remember our time spent with them, what we did, where we went, the laughs, the successes, even the day's that didn't go according to plan (an accident with a farm tractor; a pheasant flying through Steve Broyd's windscreen showering us all with broken glass and bits of ex-game bird; the big dips). Sadness not just at their loss, but that it makes all of these memories bittersweet.

He was a calm, generous man. He was very kind to me, to a lad very much his junior. Nothing seemed too much trouble. For that Bob, and for all the driving, thank you! One thing stays with me above all else. And that is picking up the ringing telephone at home to hear that slow, deep, drawl... 

"Hello Stevie..."

Another birding trip would be about to begin!


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Mike Netherwood