Wednesday, 30 October 2013

When I grow up

What do you want to be when you grow up?
This is a question asked to every young person multiple times over the course of their adolescent life. It's a superb question designed to spark the imagination of young minds and hopefully create a drive and passion in them to work hard throughout their education to become what they dream.
It's a question that has no correct answer, and allows a child to literally pick anything in the entire world.
When I was younger I can't quite remember what I said, but I think it was something like being a train driver or Superman (the obvious two choices!). One thing I can remember however, is that when I was asked this question, the birdwatching seeds had just been planted in my mind upon seeing my first Jay visit my garden and knocking me for six when seeing its phenomenal barred black and azure primary coverts.
The point of this is that the question of 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' can have any answer based on what that child aspires to at that moment in time. Some children may well follow up on this dream and work incredibly hard over their life to succeed in what they want to do and never veer off that path.
Has that happened to me? Well I can certainly say for sure that I don't even work for the Daily Planet, so I'm not even half way to Superman, however I guess there is still a very small part of me that would enjoy being a train driver, I mean who wouldn't!?
My dreams of my future path changed hundreds of times over the course of my education from engineer to sniper (genuinely!), but one thing that has remained on the same path from the time of that first question was asked is my interest in birds.
I have now harboured an interest in birds for the last 15 years which I feel is remarkable considering I have been introduced to a lifetime of possible interests and career paths. This surely must show that I was either secretly very stubborn on my path to bird watch, or there is something quite uncanny about how birds and wildlife can affect a young persons life if they get that right spark at the right time.
So I will ask you this: Why do you like birds?
I will have a go at telling you why I like birds over pretty much anything else in this world. For a start, it's a universal hobby. You can literally plonk yourself anywhere in the world and you can start bird watching, from the depths of the deepest jungle, to the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world, New York.
I visited New York in October 2011 and was astonished by the number of tame birds in the most remarkable of places such as Yellow-breasted Chat, Ovenbird and Grey Catbird hopping around the ice rink in Bryant Park and even a Hermit Thrush seemingly trapped in the terminal for the Staten Island Ferry.
Hermit Thrush I rescued from the Staten Island Ferry terminal in New York
Yellow-breasted Chat at Bryant Park.
That very first Jay I saw was so powerful in my mind that I couldn't sit there just accepting that a stunning bird was visiting my little bit of the world. I had to visit the library as soon as possible and work out what an earth this remarkable exotic bird was visiting my bird table and where is the nearest zoo for me to take the bird back to.
I have had an interest of all species of wildlife for periods of time, particularly with Lepidoptera and Odonata during the midsummer months as this is when birdwatching in Britain is at its quietest, but there has never been that unbroken flame inside me like there is with birds.
Birds can fly, so with the exception of Ostrich, Kiwi, Kakapo etc, pretty much any species of bird has the theoretical chance of occurring in Britain, no matter how small that chance may be (obviously endemics of Indonesia probably have next to no chance, but the point is that there is a chance!) so the twitching side of me is eternally excited.
I genuinely believe that being a British birdwatcher is like winning the lottery of birdwatching life. In a European context, we are the best country for rare vagrant birds turning up from North, East, South and West, so you never know what will be in the next bush.
Blue Tit: he best resident British bird?
However, there are two main reasons why I believe this bold claim:
1. The breeding birds. We have some unbelievable common resident birds such as the Blue Tit. This is a species that we all take for granted because they are so ubiquitous, but you can be a bed ridden birder for the rest of your life, yet you could still enjoy the stunning beauty of the charismatic little Blue Tit just outside your window being aggressive towards everything.
2. After reason 1, there may not need to be a reason 2, but after attending the migration festival at Spurn Bird Observatory this Autumn, I realised that one of the main reasons why Birdwatchers put the great in Great Britain is that even when the bird numbers are not that enormous and the expectations of those pesky Easterliers never come into fruition, the good humoured conversation and contagious passion shared by almost every birdwatcher in Britain makes for a day to remember 365 days a year.

John Lennon remembers this from primary school; '“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life.”

No matter what I do during the day, no matter what my mood is, my day can always improve by sharing a moment with a bird.

-Zac Hinchcliffe 
When Zac's not counting birds on patch, he's usually ringing birds on his regular Bangor site or is depressed that he does't have the money or time to twitch the latest big thing. Zac is 21 and currently studying a Research Masters at Bangor University and investigating Welsh Twite; adding a touch of science to his birding.

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