1997 - 2013
Whilst almost all communication is done over this social media site, and therefore it's likely that most members have not met the vast majority in person, it is quite surprising how quickly friendships can spark up and characters shine through. This is the case with Cameron Bespolka. A 16 year old Hampshire birder, son and brother, Cameron joined the Next Generation Birders in early 2013 and quickly became settled in the group dynamic of NGB. Always quick with a joke or witty retort, Cameron became well known within NGB thanks to his dedicated patching, love of the South Coast and inability to twitch a nearby Semipalmated Sandpiper as he was 'pressing apples'!
Frequent updates from Cameron on the state of birding on his patch (Winchester Sewage Farm) quickly showed him for the die-hard patcher he was, and many of us were impressed with his amassed total, but especially his enthusiasm for birding simply for the joy of birding itself, an example being the 4 wigeon that dropped in early December, unremarkable to many birders, but an extreme rarity for Cameron's patch, and a record which he suitably celebrated. Another Cameron-ism was his determination to find a Yellow-browed Warbler on his patch, a feat which he did not achieve this autumn, despite many hard hours trying.
Some of Cameron's tweets showing his dedication to his Hampshire PatchFondly nicknamed 'Ron' by some NGB members, on account of his red hair, Cameron had many firm friends, as is apparent from the huge number of tributes paid by his fellow schoolmates. Alex Berryman, a fellow Hampshire birder, who knew Cameron well, said:
On the occasions I had the pleasure of meeting Cameron personally, he was always one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. We often spoke frequently about the current birding events in Hampshire which he discussed with so much enthusiasm and excitement; he had a successful future ahead of him which makes his premature death all the more tragic. My feelings are with all those closest to him, may he rest in peace.
Cameron died on Tuesday the 17th December 2013 whilst skiing in Lech am Arlberg in the Austrian Alps. Cameron, his father and their ski instructor were buried by an avalanche, his father and the instructor escaping with injuries. This is a truly tragic event and one which devastated the NGB member base when news came on Wednesday evening. Within minutes, messages of disbelief, condolences and tributes were being paid on the NGB Facebook group and on twitter.
We had just had contact from him on that Monday, noting that he was "loving the snow" and that he'd had sightings of Dipper, Golden Eagle and Alpine Chough, despite forgetting his binoculars. A true birder through and through.
It gives some justice to the tight-knit community that birding has created when one looks at the outpour of admiration and sadness shown for Cameron on Twitter by many birders from all walks of life. It's so heartening to see that in this hobby, which is too often picked over for its occasional pettiness, there will always be individuals caring for each other.
All of us at Next Generation Birders would like to offer our condolences to Cameron's family, we know that the thoughts of every member will be with you all at this time. We also wish his father, Kevin, a swift recovery from the injuries he sustained in the devastating event.
Tributes were paid by much of the birding community through social media such as Twitter
Patchwork Challenge and NGB have discussed a suitable way for Cameron to be remembered. It is with great thanks to Patchwork Challenge that together we have dedicated the NGB minileague in his memory and the Cameron Bespolka Prize has been created, to be awarded to the winner of the minileague. It is hoped that the minileague will encourage all NGB members to visit their patch more regularly, hopefully resulting in improved ID skills, a more fulfilling birding experience and perhaps even a few nice self finds.
Cameron was heavily involved with PWC and we hope that this serves to remind all birders what a dedicated patcher this young man was. As Jake Gearty, another South Coast birder, put it: Where ever you are now mate, hope you're still watching out for birds, especially that Yellow-brow.