Birder's Guide

MAY 2015

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 27 of 35

It's 2:55 p.m. and I'm at London's Heathrow Airport, sitting on a plane bound for Glasgow. I have made the fight by the skin of my teeth. Classic me. I am visiting Scotland at the behest of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for a series of engagements that include delivering a talk to the general public about the idea of watching birds in urban areas. The author (front, right) leads a group around Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve in Essex, England. Also on the cards is leading a walk around a local urban nature reserve, again for the general populace, to try to inspire them to open their eyes to the wildlife that sur- rounds them. The United Kingdom is a na- tion of animal lovers; it's been claimed that we have, per capita, more people interested in nature and wildlife watching than any other country in the world. A tall accolade for sure, but even within this bird-loving realm, there are many citizens who just don't have a connection to nature. They believe that nature is only to be found in the depths of the countryside, away from prying eyes, or on television. Many are unaware that they may encounter nature within the very urban centers that they in- habit. I love talking to audiences like the ones in Glasgow. Just seeing the looks of genuine surprise on some of their faces is priceless, when they discover for the frst time that attractive birds like Eurasian Jays and European Goldfnches can be found in their neighborhoods. I traverse the UK and beyond, extolling the virtues of watching birds in built-up ar- eas. It was a calling that I fell into by acci- dent when I was originally asked to appear on the BBC's "Springwatch" program nine years ago to talk about the birds at Worm- wood Scrubs, my west London patch. If I'm not writing about urban wildlife, then I rel- ish the thought of talking to live audiences about urban birds and their conservation. These public engagements, alongside regu- lar media appearances, have been par for the course for me as The Urban Birder over the ensuing years. Urban birding seems to be a very popular subject these days, as I have been invited around the world to talk about it. But be- fore I go any further, let me formally intro- duce myself. I was raised in Wembley, north London, in a predominately black and Irish neighborhood. It is an area best known as the site of Britain's world-famous soccer ground, Wembley Stadium. I have been in- terested in birds and wildlife since before I can remember. Despite this innate inter- est while growing up, I had no one around who had the slightest leaning towards natu- ral history: no family member, no neigh- bor, nobody. Whenever I asked questions, I was told that there were no birds in the city and all nature was in the countryside. As I didn't have a mentor, I taught myself about the natural world and, in particular, birds. By the time I was eight, I had become a walking compendium on British birds, and I was leading groups of my classmates on nature walks around the school woods. I continued to beg and plead to be taken to the Shangri-La known as the countryside, in vain. Instead, I was confned to my local urban area. It was there that I discovered the delights of urban birds. 26 Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | May 2015 Opening the Door

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