This post is a 100 year anniversary tribute to a great birdwatcher: Guy Charles Madoc (1911-1999), whose work has inspired others to share in the wonder of these creatures. The picture below of Madoc with friends is courtesy of Madoc’s daughter, Fenella Davis.
“We were recently delighted to be in touch with Guy Charles Madoc’s family, first through his grandson and then with his daughter. They mentioned that it has been 100 years since his birth and this has prompted the writing of this small tribute to Madoc.
“GC Madoc was one of the pioneers in bird watching in Peninsular Malaysia who wrote a lovely book on birds in our region – An Introduction to Malayan Birds by GC Madoc, Malayan Nature Society, 1947, revised 1956(1). These were actually his second and third editions of the book. The first edition of the book he wrote was while imprisoned in [Singapore’s] Changi Prison during the Second World War (he served both the British & Malaysian Governments in the intelligence and security areas). That first edition, published in May 1943, was limited to one copy (above). It was typed on paper stolen from the Japanese commandant’s office, with a ‘secret typewriter’, and circulated widely in the prison. Having recently published a book on birds(2) we recognise how much effort goes into the writing and production of such work, even more in Madoc’s time.
What makes Madoc so special?
“There have been a number of ‘pioneers’ in bird watching in Peninsular Malaysia who wrote what they observed and shared their love of God’s creatures. The ones that we know best from their written work are Robinson & Chasen (1927-1939)(3), GC Madoc (1947) (right), MWF Tweedie (1970)(4) and AG Glenister (1971)(5). The beauty of Madoc is that his descriptions of birds and their behavior were so apt and delightful that they stimulated the interest of many to watch birds further. The Malayan Nature Society, in their 1976 reprint of Madoc’s book say ‘There has been a steady demand for the book over the years, … It seems desirable that this book, which may now be regarded as a classic, should again be available…’
“Although there have been a number of books since, most focus on field identification and do not spend sufficient time on describing the birds in any great depth, information that many desire. What makes bird watching so fascinating is not the identification or photography of another ‘new’ bird but the fascinating discovery of more about a single bird, even a ‘common’ one (there are no common birds!). Madoc was one of the first to encourage ‘depth’ in bird watching.
‘Madoc himself says, in the preface to the revised edition of his book (1956), ‘I hope someday it (his book) will be superseded by a Nature Society publication in which the pooled knowledge of all Malaya’s ornithologists will be presented comprehensively …’ Fortunately we recently had two excellent publications in this form by David R Wells(6). Some of the information in these volumes have come from Madoc’s observations – his 8 volumes of field notes were bequeathed to the British Natural History Museum in London.
“To summarise, Madoc inspired us to look deeper at birds, see their behaviour and character. Hence my wife and I have been cultivating a ‘friendship’ with birds for much of our adult lives. I often think that I am following in his footsteps.
“Madoc has the distinction of having a bird named after him and rightly so for all his work. The picture shows a female Madoc’s Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius madoci) (below right).
“I would like to end this dedication with a poem. In my watching of birds over most of my lifetime, I have had a recurring and evolving ‘prayer/poem of the heart’. I initially titled it ‘A Bird Watcher Prayer’ or ‘A Bird Photographer’s Prayer’. But as time went by I think of it as ‘A Bird Friend or Lover’s Prayer’. I have never written this ‘prayer/poem’ down before (and it comes in various forms in my heart) but can think of no better person to dedicate it to than Madoc.
“A Bird Friend or Lover’s Prayer/Poem
(a.k.a. A Bird Watcher Prayer)
Dear Lord, please at least grant me a glimpse of this bird,
a fleeting glimpse will be sufficient.
And just a blur digital image will suffice,
just to show I spotted it, please Lord.
Oh thank Lord, but could I just get a better look
and even more a good picture, just one will do.
Yes, preferably like one of those pictures,
you know, where the eye and feathers are delightfully in focus!
Ah that was good, but could I just get a short video recording…
and a view of nesting…
and a picture of juveniles…
and a recording of calls….
And more and more…
Dear Lord, all this struggle and ‘kiasu’ attitude is wearing me down.
There is no competition here, only reality.
It doesn’t matter that I do not see the bird, not even a glimpse.
Just to know it has a safe habitat, is continuing to flourish, is a joy to my heart.
May these creatures that you made with such beauty and diversity continue to exist.”
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS & Datin Dr Swee-Im Lim
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
We are indebted to Fenella Davis (Madoc’s daughter) for her kindness to provide and allow us to use images of her father and his first edition book (only copy). I have long hoped to see this book and am delighted to be able to catch a glimpse.
Picture of Madoc and friends and front cover of 1st edition of Madoc’s book are courtesy of Madoc’s daughter, Fenella Davis, who retains the copyright. The copyright of the female Madoc’s Blue Rock Thrush image belongs to Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS.
1. GC Madoc, An Introduction to Malayan Birds, Malayan Nature Society, 1947, revised 1956 with drawings by BD Molesworth. A gem of a book. Available from Nature Owlet shop at Malaysian Nature Society office KL.
2. Amar-Singh HSS, A Friendship with Birds – A Guide to the Identification & Appreciation of Common Birds in the Gardens & Cities of Peninsular Malaysia, 2009.
3. Robinson & Chasen, Birds of Malay Peninsula Vols 1-4 (1927-1939).
4. MWF Tweedie, Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula, Longman, 1970.
5. AG Glenister, The Birds of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and Penang, Oxford University Press, 1971.
6. David R Wells. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 1 (1999), Volume 2 (2007).