Thursday, December 16, 2010

Birder Profile: Phil Slade

Phil Slade
Stalmine, Lancashire, England, UK

How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

My birding started when as a family we used to go camping to the great outdoors for weekends and holidays in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. It was then I noticed different birds to those I was more used to in the urban environment where we lived at that time. I didn’t have a mentor as such but the local birders at the time (and there were a lot less then) were very helpful. In the early days the then common Yellow Wagtail sparked my imagination, so it is ironic that the same species just thirty odd years later now occurs in much fewer numbers and is on a list of threatened species.

How long have you been birding?

About 30 years overall birding with about 25 years of those as a bird ringer/bander, plus spells of photography in between and during those times.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I am now retired so going birding, ringing and trying to include bird photography takes up three or four days a week but I often make that 7 half days so that I can pursue my other interests, update my blog "Another Bird Blog" and see my family. I have a couple of local patches I favour for birding, one of those is part of Morecambe Bay which is internationally important for the numbers of waders and wildfowl that use it in winter, at migration time or for breeding. My other local patches are inland ringing sites where the consistency of ringing effort is all important, both to me and to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) who sponsor UK ringing.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your area? in the world?

As above, anywhere in Morecambe Bay especially in the Spring and Autumn. On a world scale I just love birding the Mediterranean, especially Menorca, in early Spring or Autumn.

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

Birding is now such a popular hobby in the UK and there are so many birders in my local area that local birding hotspots can’t remain unknown or undiscovered for long. Having said that, on a daily basis I am often first in a given location and birding is so unpredictable that the either the presence of other birders or the fact that someone may have searched the same spot earlier doesn’t put me off.

Where in your area would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

Perhaps the places just a few miles inland that tend to be under watched in favour of coastal locations, the honeypots, where bird migration can be more obvious.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I think I am just a normal birder who gets intense pleasure out of my close involvement with birds and wildlife in general but I am definitely not a “chaser” or a “lister”.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Zeiss 10x40 bins, a Leica scope and a Canon 500D + Canon 400mm, but as a mobile birder with all that weight I tend to dump the scope in favour of the camera/lens combination.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I use a page-a-day diary for everyday birding and transfer most sightings to the BTO BirdTrack database when I remember. For obvious reasons all my ringing data must be entered without fail into the BTO IPMR (Integrated Population Management and Reporting) system. Each year in the UK over 1 million birds are ringed and processed, a feat which amasses a huge amount of data used for scientific study purposes. I hope my efforts and contribution add something to this immensely valuable database.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

That is a very difficult question because over the years birds have given me such simple but also diverse pleasures and insights into the natural world that it is perhaps slightly unfair to the birds themselves to single out favourites. If pushed I might mention finding a first for Lancashire UK, a Whiskered Tern, catching and ringing Redwings and Fieldfares each autumn, or maybe photographing common birds like Meadow Pipit and Wheatear on my local patch.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I tend to follow blogs and sightings web sites based near to my home as they have bang up to date information. This isn’t so that I can go after other birder’s sightings, more to give me a flavour of what birds other people are seeing and when they see them. I also follow blogs and web sites from places in the world I have been.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

The Collins Bird Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, because as the authors themselves claim, it is the most complete guide of its type.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

1) The one above 2) The Snow Geese by William Fiennes 3) Birds of The Western Palearctic by Cramp and Simmons (out of print)

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

None, I don’t think it is necessary to enjoy or participate in the world of birds.

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I’d hate to be considered or called an expert. I may have some particular expertise because of my involvement with bird ringing and the fact that I am a Ringing Trainer, but show me a birder that doesn’t make the odd mistake with identification of a strange or distant bird or a ringer that doesn’t occasionally age or even sex a bird incorrectly.

What future birding plans do you have?

I am looking forward to going to Egypt in 2011, a new destination, and whilst it isn’t strictly a birding holiday I am packing bins and camera gear because I have already done some Internet research on what I may see. Also I hope to get to Menorca again in May, but otherwise it is continue as before with local birding and ringing.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

In the UK I am a member of the BTO, an organisation that does uniquely valuable work, one that every birder should support in both monetary and participatory ways; unfortunately many don’t. Strangely I think the BTO itself does not insist for instance that every ringer should be a member.

What is your nemesis bird?

I don’t have one, if I miss a bird it doesn’t bother me because there will be another one along sooner or later and birding is just a fun hobby, not life or death.

Any birding related pet-peeves you’d like to vent about here?

There is too much emphasis on listing, ticking and chasing birds while all around us bird populations fall and species disappear. Remember, Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

I am immensely proud of my children and grandchildren but only one of them is a birder – so far.

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

Keeping as fit as possible by swimming. Also as a means of keeping as fit as possible, I try to walk a good deal in the course of birding adventures. Blogging - about birds of course. Holidaying with my darling wife. Family. Reading when I have time.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Lots -usually involving the personalities encountered and the related antics I have witnessed whilst involved with the birding scene -but it would be very indiscreet to relate those stories here. Often watching the birders is as entertaining as watching the birds.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

A long distance migrant that gets two summers, no winters, and enjoys exotic places but is also long lived. What about an Arctic Tern?

Total life list?

I haven’t a clue; I don’t keep a list but as I have done some birding in India, Sri Lanka, Canada, Mexico, West Indies, Spain, Menorca, Majorca, Gambia, Tunisia, Malaysia, Greece, Kenya, Cyprus, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England I guess it must be several hundred.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Five times in India, a wonderful country. I highly recommend it.

Your mission in life as birder?

To contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of birds while at the same time making it fun and enjoyable.

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you are interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome!!! I so enjoyed every word. Tough questions...but you gave so much insight of what birding is to you, that now I think I know you a whole lot better. Thanks, Phil, for sharing. I consider you an expert. And if you and your wife ever find yourselves in the coastal area of Texas....let's go birding!!