Chris Baxter (1953-2017)
On Monday July 31, Kangaroo Island lost a respected and much loved naturalist and long term member of Eco-Action Kangaroo Island.
Christopher Ian Baxter was born in 1953 and spent his young years growing up on a soldier settler block on Baxter Road in SW Kangaroo Island, a stone’s throw from the magnificent Flinders Chase National Park. Chris attended Karatta Primary School and Parndana Area School.
Chris spent many years working for the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service as a ranger, including 20 years on Kangaroo Island (Flinders Chase National Park and Kingscote), the Belair National Park and in the north (Desert Parks Region). It was at Flinders Chase National Park that Chris started working, aged 17. He then went to Adelaide to train and work as a wool-classer. Following this, he returned to life as a ranger, working at the Belair National Park for three years. This period marked the beginning of his interest in birds.
He then returned to Flinders Chase National Park before moving to Pt. Augusta, where he worked for 10 years in the north of SA, a period he described as the best years of his life. Chris returned to Kangaroo Island in 2002 and worked as a tour guide. Hundreds of international visitors greatly appreciated his extensive knowledge of wildlife, particularly our birdlife.
Fellow Eco-Action member and tour guide, Bill Prime said, “Chris Baxter was the ultimate tour guide and the one we all aspired to be like. He had all the knowledge and passion for Kangaroo Island. His personality was such that he bonded with anyone and everyone. There are many superlatives that fit Chris. He touched the lives of so many. He will be missed every day and we are the poorer for his passing, but so much richer for the time we got to spend with him.”
Chris' interest in ornithology eventually lead to the publication of many scientific papers such as those published in the SA Ornithologist and three books including; An Annotated List of the Birds of KI, (1989 and revised in 1995) and Birds of Kangaroo Island: a photographic field guide (2015).
Eco-Action Core Group member, Fraser Vickery commented, “This beautiful book is an extensive, scientific, professional work, based on thousands of hours of field observations, photographs and notes made over 40 plus years. It will be the ‘go to’ guide for amateur birdwatchers and professional ornithologists forever!”
When talking about Chris, he described him as, “A great naturalist, a dedicated environmentalist, teacher and friend who made a huge contribution to conservation on Kangaroo Island and contributed to making the world a better place. Chris was a rare and high-flying bird.”
Terry Dennis, a colleague, said, “In ornithology, I have nothing but admiration for Chris' observational skills and natural ability to record the details, always in a behavioural and habitat context.
“His concise and comprehensive field notes set an example for us all.”
The late Allen Lashmar, a respected KI ornithologist, was both mentor and an inspiration to Chris, who became his natural successor, vetting and adjudicating bird records for the island.
Chris' proudest achievement as a ornithologist was in 2006 at Cape de Couedic with the sighting of an Antarctic tern, the first live specimen recorded in Australia.
John Gitsham, President of Birds SA said, “Chris Baxter was an enthusiastic birder and ornithologist, who contributed passionately to increasing the knowledge of the birds of SA through his keen observations and research, particularly relating to the birds of Kangaroo Island.
“He has left a beautiful legacy by publishing his stunning Birds of Kangaroo Island: a photographic field guide. He will be much missed by the tightly-knit ornithological family of South Australia.”
Eco-Action appreciates Chris' huge contribution to the conservation of our natural environment.
Natural Resources KI
Natural Resources Kangaroo Island wish to express their sincere and overwhelming sadness at the passing of Chris Baxter, one of nature’s true gentlemen.
Born on Kangaroo Island and living in the remote western end of the island no doubt fostered his love for the natural environment and intimate knowledge of the landscape, its history and ecology.
Chris made a huge contribution to National Parks with his career as a ranger spanned 30 years, working in several regions including SA Arid Lands, Adelaide Mount Lofty Ranges and of course on KI, mostly at Flinders Chase National Park.
Chris loved KI and was a leader in conservation, with an incredible depth of knowledge of wildlife, particularly birds. His incredible skills of observation and attention to detail led to scientific research including breeding studies on Hooded Plovers and wetland birds.
While Chris was based in Port Augusta as a wildlife ranger with desert parks he developed a love of semi-arid and arid bird fauna.
His detailed understanding of birds on KI led to published works, most recently ‘Birds of Kangaroo Island’ in 2015. What an invaluable legacy for our community.
He was always open and willing to share his knowledge and no one ever felt inadequate for asking him questions. He encouraged and supported others and was a mentor to many, happy to pass on his valuable knowledge to anyone who asked.
He also acknowledged the lifetime contribution to ornithology on KI by the late Allen Lashmar, who was his own mentor. Chris fought strongly to protect the natural heritage of KI and was a passionate advocate for retaining our islands wild places.
A truly rare person, Chris was and will always be a valued member of the KI community and National Parks SA.