Thursday, 27 February 2014

Birdwatcher to Birder - Becoming a better birder - by Harry Martin

I have been interested in animals, wildlife & birds for as long as I can remember, heading away off to Scotland on holiday each summer since I was wee lad to walk and enjoy the wildlife.  But, I must admit, it’s only in the past year and a half or so that I feel I’ve  really started to progress in my birding.  By that I mean I’ve progressed in my identification skills, my general bird knowledge and I have started keeping a life and year list.  I have always been an enthusiastic bird watcher, but I wasn’t a birder.  My enthusiasm for birds and everything to do with them has grown exponentially.  Why the sudden change in my outlook on birds you may ask.  Well several factors play a part I think. 

Firstly, I took on a role as intern at Aigas Field Centre in the Highlands, in August 2012.  A small part of this role was helping out the rangers in guiding and looking for awesome wildlife.  As part of this identification skills were paramount in quickly spotting and putting a name to the things we were seeing.  This encouraged me to brush up on species I had not encountered very often, or at all, and also to broaden my general knowledge so I could answer any questions our guests may have had. 

Secondly, through NGB, I have found a group of like-minded young people who encourage a love of all things ornithological.  In school and college, kids of a similar age thought I was a bit odd for being so interested in birds and even in wildlife in general.  While this is still an attitude I encounter on a regular basis it’s amazing knowing how many young birders there are out there.  While I have yet to meet any fellow NGB'ers, the group on Facebook is a fantastic hub of knowledge and banter!

Finally, I thought I’d include a quick note on my recent uptake of Birdtrack.  As part of A Focus On Nature’s University BIrdwatch Competition, I decided to set up a team for Manchester and get to grips with Birdtrack.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt using Birdtrack and recording as much as I can is making me a better birder.  Where before I might have shrugged off something I didn't immediately recognise as I was walking to lectures with my music pumping in my ears I now stop and take a look... and also turn the music off! In fact I now find it impossible to walk to campus with music on, fearful of what I may miss singing in the treetops of twittering in the undergrowth.  While some may frown upon the fact that it takes a bit of competition to get me going even more, I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s getting me out more, I’m trying to record everything I see and hear and more importantly I’m contributing to great citizen science for the BTO (even if it is only my daily count of the magpies and feral pigeons outside my lecture theatre). 

I've rediscovered my love of birds this past year and a bit, and if I thought I had an obsession before... I don’t what on earth you call this as now!  I have a lot to learn, particularly identification wise but the challenge is all part of it, in fact it’s one of the things that make birds so great.

-Harry Martin
Originally from Essex Harry, 21 is now studying for a BSc in Zoology at the University of Manchester. A long standing passion for birds, wildlife and photography has seen him jet out to South Africa, Ecuador and later this year Canada, but always returning to the UK where all the good stuff really is. 

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