My old man served in the British Merchant Navy, traveling all over the world, mostly in the Southern Oceans between Africa and South America. He saw a lot of birds, mostly seabirds, and became interested in them and by the time he had left the navy to start a family with me mum he was hooked. One of the first places he started going birding was Hilbre Island in Cheshire. A bird observatory has existed there for well over half a century. Founding member John Gittins encouraged my dad and I was inevitably dragged along on many birding outings particularly to Hilbre and another Cheshire hotspot, Frodsham Marsh. At first I wasn't really interested in birds, I was too busy having fun running around getting wet and covered in mud or sand. I got to see some cool birds and remember holding my first one care of John, a Willow Warbler that he had trapped (to be ringed/banded) in one of the Heligoland traps on Hilbre. My curiosity was certainly aroused, I was 5 years old after all and what 5 year old isn't curious about nature? Hilbre and the surrounding Dee Estuary was Internationally renowned for shorebird numbers. Shorebirds have been studied on the island for decades. At high tide, large numbers roost on rocks around Hilbre and Middle Eye. One morning I was playing on the cliffs at the south end of the island and noticed a large roost of shorebirds sleeping on a sandstone pillar. I crawled closer through the grass and lay there watching them for a few minutes. Without warning the birds suddenly exploded into life and I saw a large dark bird hit one of them. It was some kind of raptor and the shorebird was brown with a down curved bill. A Peregrine and a Curlew. The Peregrine flew to the edge of a sandy area below the cliff and began to eat the Curlew. I was transfixed and my heart pounded like a drum. From that moment on I was really hooked. I began to collect dead bird's wings, mostly shorebirds like Oystercatchers and Redshanks. I stuck 'em in a scrap book and kept it hidden under my bed but being so young I didn't know to clean the wings. The book began to stink and Mum threw it out. My dad and my Uncle Billy both kept detailed notes in their notebooks and I began to do the same. Uncle Bill was a very talented bird artist and a twitcher back in the late 70s and 80s and I was encouraged to draw birds like he did. I still have some of those notebooks. Treasures from a long life ago. I went to a rural elementary school near the small village of Aston, which is near Runcorn. My principal was a kind old man who loved both Cricket and Birds. Mr Woodcock told my parents that I'd play Cricket for Lancashire one day and I'd also be a birder. He got one prediction right. Mr Woodcock built a bird hide in the woods at the back of the playground and put up bird feeders. One of our classes was to sit in the hide in small groups and note down what birds we saw. I fondly remember watching Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Jays, Blue Tits and Robins visiting the feeders. It was magical part of my life that I'll always cherish and it's one of the main reasons why I enjoy backyard birding so much now. As I grew older we took faily trips to Norfolk, Northumberland and Cornwall. I saw Pectoral Sandpipers at Cley, Arctic Terns on the Farne Islands and Black Redstarts in Cornwall. We went overseas to visit family in Gibraltar where I got to see hundreds of Honey Buzzards and Black Kites. It was a great childhood. My other big passion in life began to overtake birding and playing soccer and traveling to watch Liverpool consumed both Dad and I. Birding was still a passion but not as important.
|With Dad birding on the coast (probably North Wales) in 1977 - We won the European Cup that year! The Mighty Reds that is!|
Moving to America has been very rewarding but it has also been very frustrating. The birding culture here is very different to back home in the UK. Both cultures are very similar in many ways but very different in others. Most birders in Britain probably have a similar story to the one I've just told. Most birders over here, at least a majority of the ones I have met, began birding at a much later age. That's cool an' all BUT it needs addressing. We need to encourage and mentor more young people and get them outdoors birding. Too many kids sit on their asses watching crap on TV or playing computer games that would give my principal Mr Woodcock a heart attack. There aren't enough working class and middle class kids, who live in urban areas, going birding either. Taking kids birding is expensive for parents. Binoculars are often too expensive a luxury item for most working class families to afford. That's why it's up to our already established birding communities to step up and encourage as many kids as possible to get in to birding. Audubon programs, loaner optics programs, birdathons, birding classes, bird feeder workshops, nest box building workshops....the list goes on and on. There are already many mentors out there encouraging kids, offering superb programs and they are doing awesome work. We need more. Mentor a kid and take them birding. Find a way to get them a bird book and a pair of binoculars and watch them evolve into a birder and eventually a person who cares about our environment. I was mentored by several adults who had a passion for birds and birding. Without mentors I may not ever have gotten into birding.
|26 years later I was fortunate enough to work at one of the most magical birding locations on the planet, Cape May in New Jersey|
|My most important job of all. Here I am showing my beautiful daughter a Wilson's Snipe at Lake Henrietta 36 years after watching a Peregrine eat a Curlew.|