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.