Ornithologist and nature safari leader, Terry
Stevenson, completed the Art Foundation course at
Bradford Regional College of Art in 1972. He is the
principal author of the Field Guide to the Birds of
East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda,
Art was never Terry’s favourite subject during
mediocre school years at Tong Comprehensive but
he was thrilled by his experience of art school. “It
was a wonderful time, the early 70’s, the freedom
of adult life, and the excitement of ‘real art’.
I remember Sarah Nuttall (daughter of Jeff, the artist) being a great inspiration, and also one of the lecturers, Nick, who’d been at Chelsea School of Art and suggested that I apply to the Sculpture department there. I did, and spent the next 3 years working on installations (as we liked to call them), walking the King’s Road, and enjoying every minute.”
Terry’s art work was inspired by nature. “My very first interest probably began with my grandad taking me to Shipley Glen, and then as a teenage bird-watcher with frequent outings to Spurn Head and Fairburn Ings. Feeling a need for some more exotic wildlife and landscapes than the English countryside was providing, I took holiday at the local Wonderloaf factory and went to Kenya for several months in 1974. It was amazing, hitching-hiking around, taking long walks and visiting famous sites like Mt. Kenya, Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara. I also went to the remote Lake Baringo, where I came to know the owners of a small and luxurious lodge, and Jane who lived next door!”
Armed with his degree in Fine Art, Terry’s artistic talent gave him the means to pursue his love of ornithology and transform his career. In 1976 he won a Boise Scholarship from the Slade School which gave him a ticket to travel anywhere in the world, so he returned to Kenya. “I was mainly travelling to get ideas for my art work but the abundant birdlife was a constant distraction. In 1977 I was offered a job as a resident naturalist at Lake Baringo and this became a major turning point in my life.
From a simple start of leading daily bird walks and boat trips, I began a working relationship with Field Guides, an American based Worldwide Bird-Watching Tour company, and I now organise and lead tours for them to about 16 countries in Africa, the Indian Ocean islands, and India. Birds are the main focus, but we also make a serious effort to see as many mammals as possible, from lions and leopards in Kenya, to mountain gorilla’s in Uganda, lemurs in Madagascar, and tigers in India.
On the 30th November 1986 I led a team that set a new world record by seeing 342 species of birds in one day; it took place across Kenya and the record still stands today. Jane and I currently live in a mud and cow dung mansion on our farm near Mt. Kenya.”
Photograph supplied by Terry Stevenson