A few weeks ago I was asked to write a post on my experiences in the birding world by none other than fantastic birder, twitcher and all round naturalist Elliot Montieth. Now you may know Elliot from his absolutely brilliant blog – https://elliotsbirdingdiaries.wordpress.com – this blog was part of what inspired me to write my own blog, not only because I saw another person of the same age was going ahead with this dream that I had held for many years but never dreamt (ironically) of ever going ahead with, but also because I saw the extensive knowledge of wildlife, in particular of the avians, that Elliot had. You can see the post on Elliot’s site here: https://elliotsbirdingdiaries.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/for-the-love-of-birding-dawood-qureshi/ ,I hope you enjoy it.
When did you start birding?
Ok. My turn now. I actually ‘properly’ started birding around the age of 8…but the truth is that I was actually more interested in whales, insects and reptiles (a rather weird combination I know!) than birds for a very long time! Birds were an interest too, but the feathery fiends that soared the lands of my brain at this time in life, were the Eagles, the Condors, the Vultures and the Hawks – garden birds were invisible – not because they weren’t interesting, but because those glints of sound teasing me from the tree tops were just plain inaccessible. I really got into birding when I received my first pair of binocs, age 10 and raring to go – overcast day, a pattering of drops as rainclouds converged overhead, nippy wind pulling my hair – my eyes were pressed to the soft rubber…and there he was! Flitting in and out of the concrete structures, a rather clumsy landing and my first binoc twitch was…a feral pigeon. Not the most brilliant of finds, but in my defence it was my first binoc twitch and in an urban area.
After that I was hooked, birding was an art I had never practiced as I did now; the feeling of bliss after a good old twitch beats pretty much everything else I can tell you. A whole host of urban birds followed after that, and birding really helped in terms of allowing me to get outside and really getting the benefits of the natural world in an enjoyable way.
Who got you into birding?
Well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t think it was just one person who got me into birding, although my mum was probably the person who got me into wildlife and observing and studying the natural world, she insisted upon me reading (by the way, reading at that age translates as ‘looking at the pictures’) a great many natural history guides and books, and I think that it was this that lit the fire of passion for the natural world that I have today. My earliest pangs for nature were quenched mainly by urban wildlife – an assortment of wagtails, pigeons, gulls and a great many invertebrates (these being – aside from plants – the very easiest to access); it was the urban birds that really had me running after birding, they were so very common that it made them easy to twitch and also easy to remember, and thus a great encouragement. Further down the line, natural history programmes slid into the picture; these were fantastically made programmes about faraway lands and exotic animals I had only the dream of seeing, but it was these that again brought the avian world to the top of the pile; and as I had not a chance of observing a bird of paradise in its natural environment, a starling would most certainly do. As I got into birding more, I realised it was me who was encouraging myself to seek out these masters of the sky, and the simple fact that I loved it enough to perk up after hearing the rapid chirp-chirp of a chaffinch, even if I could not see the bird, was enough to keep me going.
Why do you go birding? What drives you?
I think that what drives me to avidly bird, and indeed what drives many others to bird; is that simple peace-of-mind. In that environment, the birds being your only goal, and a goal that you love, it is easy to slip into a feeling of gratefulness, gratefulness to what you have and to the fact that you’re here and able to observe the natural environment and all of its mammoth glory. Birding also has a feeling of accomplishment, an interesting emotion that often brings people back for more. It allows you to exercise your many senses and to seek out and watch creatures that are often overlooked, and it also means that you notice things that most others wouldn’t, almost as if you have broken out of the bubble that people are always cooped up in. This feeling of being able to witness a world so hidden from other eyes is what keeps me going the most, it’s a very liberating feeling and because the natural world is so broad you never get tired of what it is and even what it becomes. It’s not stressful, you know that if you get something wrong, you’re not going to be scolded for it, you’re not going to be asked to start over; you can feel safe with the thought that you can go back and finish off what you started at any moment you want, and the world really does feel as if it’s your oyster.
What is your best birding moment?
That really is a very hard question. There are so many great birding moments to choose from, but I think there’s one that stands out for me. Picture a sandy expanse, cool breeze buffeting the vegetation that grows all around the area – a vast body of water, rippling slightly, is calmly sitting in the clearing, over its surface race the likes of teal and shoveler, each vying for attention in its own colourful way; this bosom paradise is College Lake nature reserve, in Tring, Oxfordshire. I have talked many a time about this place, it is a major part of my patch and probably the most wildlife rich – living in a highly urbanised area means that travelling to college lake is quite a long journey, but I must say it is definitely worth it. Sitting in the dusty but warm hide, scoping the sunlight that flashes off the surface of the lake…when suddenly, a glimpse of green hued feathers, a beautiful bobbing flight and a call unlike any other…a male Lapwing!. He dances through the air, shifting with the changes in breeze, his wings like rudders as he carelessly flits and falls to the ground, makes a graceful landing and, slender head-crest raised, he pads off around the sandy, rock beach; even after landing the beauty of the lapwing is almost unparalleled. I’ll never forget my first lapwing.
The Future – what do you think the future holds for the world of birding?
The future is both a mixture of dark and light for the avian world I believe. With the many wonderful organisations like the RSPB, AFON and the BTO, plus the whole new host of young conservationists, I can feel slightly relieved that the natural world, and specifically the birding world, has a bright future and that it stands a chance. But then I look elsewhere in the world and see the atrocities that are occurring without barriers to the wildlife that exist there. I think the plight of birds such as the sandwich tern and the turtle dove have already been mentioned – these, along with many others, should serve as warnings to what may happen if we do not stop the people who just don’t care. I know I sound slightly pessimistic, but I think we need a little bit of pessimism, it galvanises people into action – and that’s what is needed; action. Petitions that have been going around recently, like that of Mark Avery’s: stop driven grouse shooting, are just the tip of the iceberg; if we can find it in ourselves to care about the natural world – our world – enough, then we’re halfway there, all it requires is the breathtaking sight of the hen harriers sky dance, or the capercaillie mating season, and that can make an entire generation believe in what the birding world has to offer and what the birding world has that is worth saving. And that’s what all of this is, these conservation movements, these marches and campaigns, it’s not a race of egos, it’s not a place to show off that we care more than you do; it’s getting probably one of the most powerful organisms on the planet to care, to care about what they do, and to care enough to rectify the mistakes of their ancestors and save the only home we’ve got… Planet Earth.