Vankleek Hill’s Bill Radix has participated in 64 Audubon Christmas Bird counts

After more than 45 years with the Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society, 90-year-old Bill Radix is ready to take a step back from birdwatching.

The Vankleek Hill senior, who has participated in an incredible 64 Audubon Christmas Bird counts over the years, is stepping away from the annual counts. Beginning in 2023, Radix has decided to retire from field observations and instead will participate as an at-home feeder-watcher.

“My balance is gone and I don’t want to be alone (out in the field),” explains Radix, as he sits in his living room in Vankleek Hill.

Being alone out in the field was one of the reasons a younger Radix enjoyed birdwatching so much.

“I love birding and wanted to be out there whenever I could,” he says. “I wanted to spend time of course with my family too, but they might have been a little short-changed now and then.”

Raised in the Netherlands, Radix moved to Vankleek Hill in 1972, where four years later he met Bill Pilon, the owner of Pilon’s Bakery in Vankleek Hill. An avid birder himself, Pilon took Radix under his wing.

“He really taught me a lot,” reminisces Radix of Pilon, who quickly became a good friend. “Bill Pilon made it so much more. He taught me about the birds themselves.”

A friendship grows

Though busy running his bakery six days a week, Pilon would drive his car every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. to Radix’s house, whether his friend was ready to go or not.

“He didn’t care if I had just come from a party or something,” Radix smiles. “He’d blow his horn and I had to go.”

The pair would head out Sunday mornings to their favorite spots, enjoying the company of each other while surrounded by their feathered friends.

“At that time it was a little bit of an odd thing,” Radix says of birding in the late 1970s and early ’80s. “It was not the normal thing to do.”

“They were good times.”

In 1977, Pilon and Radix joined several other birding enthusiasts in the village to form the Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society. The group quickly grew and continues in the community to this day.

Led field trips at Alfred Bog

The nature society participates in three Audubon Christmas Bird Counts each year, in areas including Vankleek Hill, the Larose Forest and Alfred-Montebello regions and Radix has participated in every one since 1978. The Vankleek Hill club also does its own spring bird count each year.

For many years Radix was also involved in the Saving the Alfred Bog Committee of the Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society and led field trips inside the bog (not the current boardwalk), where he identified the flora and fauna for the group’s members.

“This was not an easy feat as members had to wear tightly laced running shoes to walk in,” recalls Christine Trudeau, vice-president of the Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society. “Any other footwear was sucked into the water of the bog and as you walked on the sphagnum moss everything moved, including trees.”

“You had to be fit to follow Bill in there!”

As he retires from the annual bird counts, the nature society is recognizing Radix in 2023 for his many years of participation. Trudeau has written to Birds Canada to tell them about everything Radix has done for birding in Eastern Ontario, and the organization is looking into a way to honour him for his contributions.

“If Bill saw great Eastern Bluebird habitat, he would go see the owner and ask if he could install bird nesting boxes on their property,” Trudeau relates. “Our motto is “Conservation through Education”, so in my opinion he is definitely a strong pillar of our society and we would like to thank him.”

Enjoyed being alone

Radix says he will continue to enjoy his hobby through participation with the Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society in his at-home feeder-watcher role. Watching is in fact the correct term in Radix’s case, as he has never been able to truly enjoy listening to his friends.

“I love to be a birder, but I never learned the sounds they make,” says Radix, who suffers from hearing loss from working noisy factories for many years. “I love to watch them, but I really can’t hear them.”

His favorite bird? Every single one he sees.

“They’re all special,” Radix enthuses, explaining he never took photographs while on his journeys because he was busy enjoying the peacefulness of the outdoors “just watching”.

“I enjoyed being alone sometimes too – it’s a nice feeling.”

Members of the Vankleek Hill and District Horticultural Society at a spring tree planting at Pleasant Corners Public School in 2006. Left to right: Val Allen, Bill Radix, Al Fraser, Sid MacCallum, and Mary Higginson. Photo: Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society
Group photo of the Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society on a birdwatching outing at Voyageur Provincial Park in August of 2010. Left to right: Monkika Vogel (in background) Andrée Jarzyna, Peter Hodgson, Ria Trépanier, Christine Brunet (behind Christine is Jean Hodgson), Diane Binmore, Frances Fraser, Bill Radix, and Julia Addison. Photo: Vankleek Hill and District Nature Society