Tuesday 3 August 2021

An Appreciation of Judith Wakelam

Judith releasing a Swift. Photo Nick Upton

Judith's involvement with swifts began thirty years ago when she went to see the late Chris Mead for advice on what to do with a grounded adult swift she had picked up. She described how Chris was sitting in his big chair with a swift, looking for all the world like a brooch, on his sweater. Thereafter, she became an accomplished rehabber, processing up to thirty a season, both grounded adults and chicks which had fallen from the nest. Feeding nestlings every two hours plays havoc with your sleep patterns, but she never complained. She became well known to local vets and wildlife centres, who were happy, and relieved, to pass on to Judith swifts that had been brought to them by members of the public.

In her later years, she gave many talks to local groups and at conferences. In particular, she made valuable contributions to the biennial international swift conferences in Cambridge, Stettin and Tel Aviv. She was a natural communicator, with a puckish sense of humour.

Judith was not just about swifts. She was interested in all aspects of nature and wildlife. Look into the small pond in her tiny back garden teeming with newts and frogs; look at the bundle of hair that she took from Tess, her German Shepherd, to put out on a tree for nest building tits and goldfinches to steal; look at the borders planted with flower species irresistible to bees and butterflies - all witness to her passion for nature. And there is more. She helped her friend Norma with her deer projects, specially muntjac. She went on toad patrol every year, holding up traffic to let the toads get safely across the road, She kept careful records of the wildlife in the area, her favourites being the barn owls in the churchyard and the grey wagtails breeding in a nearby rivulet.

Swifts at All Saints' Worlington. Photo Judith Wakelam
It was Judith who blew the whistle on the destruction of a swift colony near her home, leading to the creation of a vibrant new colony in All Saints' Worlington.

And, as you would expect, she had boxes for her beloved swifts, with cameras installed, so she could enjoy their antics from the comfort of her kitchen. 

Mastery of the Skies. Photo Judith Wakelam

Another wildlife-related passion was photography. It is a measure of her talent that she won the Oxford Museum of Natural History's 'Summer Swifts Competition' in 2014 with her picture 'Mastery of the Skies'.

But perhaps the greatest buzz of all for Judith were her annual safaris to the world's wildlife hotspots: the Serengeti, the Okovango Delta, the cloud forests of Costa Rica and many more. Judith enjoyed companionship so she always took a friend on these trips.

Judith was a very private person, revealing only to her closest friends, details of her background. She rarely spoke about her health until it was clear that things were going seriously wrong.

Judith, you will be sorely missed by the many people whose lives you touched.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,
 and let perpetual light shine upon her.
 May she rest in peace. 

Jake Allsop