A Tribute: Fred Cockburn (04/03/1957 – 01/01/2020)

by Michael L Passant

We were saddened by the news that Fred Cockburn had died on New Year’s Day after a prolonged period of illness which had increasingly restricted his birding activities over the last five years or so.

Fred was a dedicated recorder of the birds of Low Barns for well over 35 years, and amassed an impressive Low Barns list of his personal sightings of close to 150 species; (we have no precise record other than that as long ago as 2007, his list had reached 142, and he was still adding to that). Some of his unusual records included a storm driven Gannet, and inland scarcities such as Honey Buzzard, and Mediterranean Gull. In addition Fred was quite amenable to enjoying the occasional “twitch” and travelled with the writer to enjoy a White-crowned Sparrow which turned up in Norfolk in January of 2008, and in November of the same year Lincolnshire’s Steppe Grey Shrike, to name but a few.

However there were other dimensions to Fred’s life, and indeed the man himself. He was a keen Manchester United fan travelling selectively to both home and away games. He was an accomplished darts player, representing not just local pubs, but was a Super League player, and also played for the County Durham team.

Fred was born in Bishop Auckland, and it was when still at primary school that he had to undergo open heart surgery; – a serious procedure in the 1960’s.

Despite the prediction that revision surgery would be required in the future, after leaving school, Fred went on to work at the Wolsingham Steel Works, before moving further to a variety of other jobs which took him into his mid thirties. Poor health did catch up with him and by the time he reached his mid forties he was unable to continue working.

The long overdue heart surgery was eventually deemed necessary, and it was during his stay in hospital that he was diagnosed as suffering from Hodgkins disease, which finally took him despite several years of treatment.

Apart from being a very competent and respected birder, Fred Cockburn was a gentle rather private and unassuming man, who will be sadly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.