A tribute to Audubon naturalist Judy Markowsky

Posted Aug. 16, 2011, at 1:34 p.m.

For Judy Markowsky’s many followers and admirers, the news of her passing was devastating. Judy was an exceptional individual who was teacher, mentor, friend and inspiration to me and many others. I feel the weight of her loss as acutely as anyone outside her immediate family. For nine years I worked with Judy at Fields Pond Nature Center, and in that time and after, I learned more about nature and sharing knowledge with others than I ever thought possible.

In the last few years Judy struggled with a number of illnesses. The weekly Fields Pond column was an important outlet for Judy that kept her spirits up.

Her many friends were more than happy to go on outings with Judy to find fodder for the columns. It didn’t take much for her to find inspiration either. A bird’s song in the forest or a track in the snow meant there was a story to be told. Two species of grebe babies found together in Essex Marsh was enough to set Judy on a full-blown exploration of grebe life histories.

Judy’s knowledge of birds was legendary, and even as her speech declined she would still work to explain why that little sandpiper was a least sandpiper rather than a semipalmated sandpiper. Birds were her passion, but she was inquisitive and knowledgeable about all aspects of nature — whether it was hiking up a stream to find its ultimate beginning or identifying that squashed animal on the road.

Scatology and predation were favorite subjects of hers, and squeamish onlookers would marvel when Judy calmly explained what animal had left a fecal deposit, or what had been eaten. A hair, a feather, a track or a scat was all she needed to develop a scenario.

If she didn’t know the answer to a puzzle in the wild, Judy knew where to look for an answer or whom to ask. Always the patient teacher and supporter of those willing to listen and learn, Judy had a way of making everyone around her feel important and knowledgeable themselves. She will be sorely missed.

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