Back in May 2017 I somehow blagged my way into Birdwatching magazine as the guest on their Back Chat page. I still don’t know how I got away with it, even if they did edit down some of my gull comments! Here is my original submission, pre-editing.
What first sparked your interest in birdwatching?
Being dragged on family walks as a kid. I had to make them interesting somehow, so I started looking at birds. I kept a list and ticked them in my book. “Golden Eagle on a gate! Tick! Wallcreeper behind the school bins at playtime! Tick!” My list may have needed some revisions over the years.
Who was your birdwatching inspiration or mentor?
I’m pretty much self taught which is why I still say Hoopoe wrong apparently. But Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham were inspirational figures to me growing up.They still are, probably more than ever.
Do you bird alone or with a friend?
Either alone, with my mate Davy or with my dog, Spacedog. Davy is marginally better at waders than the hound.
Your dream bird to see?
Legit white-morph Gyrfalcon. Or Wallcreeper, as I only heard the one behind the bins in the juniors that time.
Your favourite birding spot?
Northumberland coast. Or Baz Scott’s allotment in Wallsend for crippling views of Lady Amherst Pheasant and Eagle Owl.
Your classic birder’s lunch?
Frazzles and/or Monster Munch (pickled onion, obvs) and a Curly Wurly (or Chomp).
Arctic Tern or Black Tern?
Tricky. Looks/UK rarity versus awesome endurance? Arctic edges it I think.
Favourite bird song or call?
Loads! I love Lapwings because they sound like Star Wars. Waxwings because it means you are about to see some Waxwings. The bubble of a Curlew because I hear it less and less each year (hence why I am fundraising for the BTO Curlew appeal with #99Birds). Not Yellowhamers though. They yell on about not liking cheese and I hate cheese-ism.
Birwatching’s biggest myth or misconception?
That Thayer’s Gulls exist. It’s a Herring. Move on.
The best bird you’ve seen?
I’ve seen some very rare birds, but the best bird is still Peregrine Falcon. The one that I loved most as a kid and still do. Beautiful, powerful and the fastest bird in the world. They rule.
Identifying gulls-nightmare or a nice day out?
I do respect Gull’s tenacity when acquiring fried or pastry-based food and the fact they eat their siblings when they get too annoying. But identifying them? Unless it’s a Ross’ Gull life is too short.
Your favourite bird joke?
“I went birding with Bill Oddie for a weekend one. We saw loads of waders, egrets, herons…”
“No, we had separate beds”.
How do we encourage young people to watch birds?
Take them to the Farne Islands to be pecked by the furthest migrating bird in the world, or to a Peregrine viewpoint to see the fastest bird in the world. Failing that keep them off school for a week and hothouse them Attenborough on loop.
Spotted Flycatcher or Pied Flycatcher?
I do love a Spotted Flycatcher, but I’m a sucker for a monochrome classic so it has to be the Pied. I think it’s because I’m a lifelong Newcastle United fan.
The one place you’d love to go birdwatching?
Papua New Guinea. With Sir David A to show me the ropes.
One birding or conservation issue you feel strongly about?
Raptor persecution. The plight of the Hen Harrier in particular is a national disgrace. It must stop.
The bird that annoys you most?
My local Green Woodpeckers. I hear them mocking me because I can’t see them.
The bogey bird that still eludes you?
White’s Thrush. Eyebrowed Thrush. Some Turdus are hard, I find.
The bird book you’d never be without?
My Collins and Helm field guides are my ‘go to’ books, but I still love my old Collins Gem book from when I was a kid. It has a very vacant-looking Merlin in it.
Why do you love birdwatching, in three words?
Crex, Ducks, RookNRoller.
One piece of advice for birders taking part in our #my200birdyear challenge?
Boost your list with a visit to your local Pet’s Corner for rare Muscovy Duck subspecies. Include butterflies. If necessary invoke the ‘Five Mammals = One Bird’ rule.