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'Bird' Westall will be missed

February 15, 2017
BY MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Former Mayor Mark "Bird" Westall, who passed away last week, left a legacy - one that encouraged individuals to live in harmony with wildlife.

For Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Education Director Kristie Anders "coexistence" was the one word "gift" Westall gave to her.

"He was always talking about coexistence. It fit well with the philosophy of the island - figuring out how human beings and wildlife could coexist," she said.

The passing of Westall was a tough conversation for Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Executive Director Erick Lindblad to have because he was a close family friend.

"He is someone who felt really deeply and passionately and worked hard to create an environment on the island that was productive for all wildlife. He will be missed by many," he said.

Westall was a member of the Planning Commission from 1985-1988 and the vice chair in 1988. He also served as a member of the City Council from 1988 to 1996. Westall was the vice mayor for two terms, 1990 to 1991 and 1991 to 1992, and the mayor for one term from 1992 to 1993.

During his tenure, his legislative accomplishments included the establishment of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Conservation District, improving mangrove and wildlife habitat protection and the establishment of the Police Pension Fund.

"He was an icon kind of guy," International Osprey Foundation President Jim Griffith said. "Bird was very much involved in any kind of conservation and he truly lived by the city's model - live in balance with nature. He carried it out in his heart."

Griffith met Westall when he showed an interest in osprey and was introduced to the then Osprey Foundation President Tim Gardner. He said he kept track of the osprey during one nesting season, which led to a a blossoming friendship.

Griffith, who builds platforms for the osprey on the island, originally got the design from Westall.

"He was the originator of the platforms. He made some of the platforms, probably in the late 90s. The big requirement came after (Hurricane) Charley, after it wreaked about two-thirds of the nests," he said. "I never sat down and built a platform with him. He helped design it. He set the pace. It was his concept to form the International Osprey Foundation."

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik said Westall was best known for his work with ospreys and eagles.

"Back in 1974, when ospreys were quite rare due to the lingering effects of years of DDT, Bird established the International Osprey Foundation on Sanibel Island and put up the first osprey nest pole and platform," he said. "Since then, working with the City of Sanibel and the Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC), he helped put up over 100 nest platforms and significantly increased the osprey population on Sanibel. Bird proved that ospreys could live and nest close to humans and close to each other. Bird also devised a method to create an artificial nest platform that bald eagles could successfully use, when many other attempts failed. Bird demonstrated this by putting up an artificial nest platform to replace the eagle nest and pine tree in Gulf Shores that blew down several years ago. Bird's contribution to conservation on Sanibel helped shape what we love and value about Sanibel today. Bird leaves a legacy that will reward residents and visitors alike for many generations to come."

Lindblad said one of his fondest memories was watching Westall speak to the osprey.

"He could whistle and talk to the osprey. Watching him do it was amazing," he said.

In addition to the platforms, Griffith said he and Westall rescued a few of the osprey from roofs after climbing ladders after Hurricane Charley. He said they also found a few osprey nests that were knocked apart that they tried to help.

"He was really fun to work with. Always dedicated and focused on saving the existence of the wild animals," Griffith said, especially osprey. "Anytime I had questions about osprey, I would call him and get his advice."

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Jeff Combs also has many memories of Westall, which all stemmed around nature.

"He had a vast knowledge of the back waters of the island," he said. "He understood it very well."

That vast knowledge led to 39 years of providing Canoe Adventures to individuals, which was grandfathered in before "Ding" got their concession, Tarpon Bay Explorers.

"I never got to go on his tours with him, but he worked with me every year for permits. He would do the canoe tours upon request and they booked them directly with him. He would go out a few times a month and he would have three or four people with him," Combs said of the backwater and Sanibel River tours.

Lindblad said they were very fortunate that Westall was the person that had a contract with the City of Sanibel to maintain the Sanibel River corridor.

"He was doing that to make sure the river system flowed well for flood management purposes. He was looking out for the rookeries of the river. He would make sure it was done in a way to make sure it was in good shape for the wildlife to use the river," he said.

In addition, Combs said Westall would share how he felt about the releases of Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee.

"He had a vast love for protecting it," he said.

Westall was considered a volunteer at "Ding" because of his help in trimming vegetation and removing monofilament line.

"He knew the island. He was the true pioneer that wanted to keep the sanctuary island," Combs said.

Tritaik agreed that Westall was a volunteer and valued member of the "Ding" Darling Refuge family.

"Bird was a true gentleman and dedicated conservationist, who loved to share his passion for wildlife and wilderness with his many devoted ecotour canoe guide customers, which he led for 39 years. Bird was not only eminently knowledgeable of our wildlife species and ecosystems, but Bird was also a student of animal behavior and applied his understanding of animal behavior to share intimate encounters with wildlife without disturbing them, or altering their natural behavior," he said. "Bird was a reliable volunteer and helpful neighbor who helped refuge staff over the years monitor and protect the famous American crocodile, who lived on the refuge and nested in Bird and Janie's yard."

Tritaik said Westall was also licensed to help relocated alligators on Sanibel when they could safely be moved.

There has been a tentative date set for a memorial service on March 12, at 3 p.m. at the SCCF Nature Center.



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