Tuesday, 17 May 2016

When Did You First Begin Bird Watching?

I wish I had a £1 for every time I’ve been asked when I began to watch/take an interest in birds.  The simple answer is there isn’t a specific time and I can’t answer the question without going into a great deal of detail as to how my interest grew over many years.  Do I count my childhood years when I watched David Attenborough on a twelve inch black and white TV (I’ve just noticed that TV tonight includes some colour footage of  Zoo Quest from the 1950s so I’ll be watching that), or the time I took such great interest in James Alder and Ian Armstrong as they searched for Dippers and Nuthatches in the Breamish Valley probably in the early 1970s (Dipper is still amongst my favourite species), or the first day I opened my copy of the Readers Digest Book of Birds many years ago and which I still think is an excellent book for those beginning an interest in bird watching.  I remember looking at this book and thinking how exotic species such as Great Crested Grebe, Hoopoe and Waxwing were and at that point I had seen none of these birds in the wild.  I’ve certainly made progress there!  When ones interest in any subject begins usually depends a great deal on opportunity and that is why I am such an advocate of giving such opportunities to young people.  When done appropriately I know few youngsters who cannot be excited about the natural world…yes really!  Opportunity and encouragement are key.

The simple truth is that an interest in birds and natural history in general came into my life in stages, until now it is a major part of it.  I don’t see any point in holding regrets that I wasn’t an avid naturalist as a youngster, but it would have been nice if I had been.  Later years saw a career and a multitude of other demands getting in the way, although I don’t offer that as an excuse, but only as more of a failure to get the balance of my life and routines in order, and I’m sure I’m not alone with that problem.

The 1980s saw my interest increasing especially after trips Speyside and searches for Capercaillie, Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill, but it was my first trip out of the UK for bird watching at the start of the new millennium that really ignited a very serious passion.  Who could not get excited by time spent in Bialowieza Forest and on the Biebrza Marshes?  It is the atmosphere and feel of such places that I retain in the memory as much if not more than the species seen.  I still feel that Europe offers as exciting birding as any part of the world, perhaps because I feel it positive to have a feel for and an understanding of the birds being watched, not that this has prevented me exploring further afield.

In the beginning identification of bird species usually plays a major element in anyone’s growing interest and it was naturally a very important issue to me in the beginning.  I say that as one who still remembers the thrill of learning the difference between a House Sparrow and a Dunnock!  With growing experience I’ve come to believe that identification is but one factor among many, and I believe each person will find their interests taking them in varying directions.  In my case it has led to a wide interest in ornithological matters and some heaving bookshelves, not to mention a more rounded interest in natural history in general.  I’ve also come to appreciate that sharing ones knowledge with others and watching their growing appreciation of nature is equally as rewarding as making my own discoveries.  Why else would I be up at 4.00am in order to co-lead a Dawn Chorus walk with Samuel at the Rising Sun Country Park.  So if you’re going to ask me when I first started to watch birds, please be ready to listen to a very long and complicated explanation.

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