I’m never quite sure how or why I first took an interest in nature. Most of my friends at school weren't at all interested. Then again, that never seemed to bother me – Classical music, brass bands and all things military aren't exactly what you’d expect a young girl growing up in the 90’s and 00’s to be interested in…
Still, by 2006 I was passionate about environmental issues and nature, with birds being the main topic. I can remember visiting the Lake District, having a wonderful time starting to get to grips with ID-ing everything, as well as the disappointment of not seeing eagles or red squirrels. This was then topped up with what can only be described as irregular trips to Titchfield Haven and other local sites. They may have been irregular, but were certainly enjoyable.
I finally started birding more regularly when I came to realize a career in music was only ever going to be a dream. My weekends, once filled with music were now empty but not for long. “Early” morning band practise was replaced by bird ringing and birding, and free time during the week allowed for volunteering. All these things massively improved my ID skills as I mingled with many an experienced naturalist. It was around this time that I discovered NGB as well and started meeting the local young birders. University also helped – finally an educational institute with more birders! (That said, I haven’t forgotten my year 11 tutor who was a keen birder too).
I’ve been on a few twitches since 2013 – my first being a Bluethroat, and the most recent a Greater Yellowlegs. I’ve also has fun exploring parts of the UK I’d never been to before including Norfolk and Shetland (more on that later), but I think it’s my patch birding that I’m enjoying the most right now. That, and conservation (aka, watching Little Terns!). Ringing sessions have been pretty awesome too, though that’s not technically birding is it?
Now to attempt James’ challenging questions…
Who inspires me? I suppose when I first took an interest in nature, the Springwatch presenters, David Attenbourgh and Chris Packham were inspirational, and helped spark the birding bug. Now, I’d say I could add to that. I’ve met many older birders while volunteering and birding locally, including Bob Chapman and Pete Potts who seem to be able to DI almost anything, birds or otherwise. Definitely something to aim for in the future! All these birders have been great and encouraging to me and others. There are young birders too, such as Findley Wilde, who’s passionate about Hen Harriers. It’s great to see the future will be in safe hands. I only wish I’d been so keen back then.
Greatest birding experience? Hmm, such a touch one. I’ve loved spending time on my patch – seeing all the rarities found by other regulars and also enjoying the commoner species. My first Osprey justified not dashing 5 miles along the coast to see a Brown Shrike. Watching the Little Terns fledging after helping Wes Smith out last year was also a great experience. However, I’m going to choose Shetland.
Spending a week on Shetland (mostly Unst) thanks to AFON, Shetland Nature and their sponsors, was amazing. I’d never been so far north before either which added to the experience. The birds were great, the atmosphere was great and the people were lovely. It beats inner city Southampton any day! On arriving, our first bird on dry land was a Siberian Rubythroat, and the last an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler. The other 99 were brilliant too. 31 lifers in 1 week isn’t bad! Oh, and the great company, Seals and Otters – yeah. It was amazing!
And finally, favourite bird. Umm, what? I’m not sure I have a firm favourite; too much to choose from. For the sake of answering the question, plus the fact I’ve become rather fond of them, I’m going to say Little Terns.
One of the few seabirds left in the Solent. There used to be Puffins ‘n all, but they’re long gone sadly. I volunteered with the RSPB last summer and shall be returning this year. Watching them, and thousands of gulls (Med & Black-headed) and the other 2 tern species, nearly every day for a month was fantastic. The chicks are rather cute and they fledged for the first time since 2010, which made the experience even better. With a helping hand from the RSPB, it’s great to see them cling on in the ever increasing urban sprawl that is the Solent.