Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Birder Profile: Richard Crossley

How did you get into birding and how long have you been birding?

I grew up on a farm so am not really sure. You might say seven, but arguably before that.  I got into birding first through collecting eggs when I was seven, then moved to a new area when I was 10. My schoolteacher, Mr Sutton, was a birder and took me and a number of other kids out birding. Life has not been the same since!

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

I never stop looking, wherever I am. My house is full of windows, with a pair of binoculars on every ledge. I’ve also found many rarities from my car. In my early 20’s, I was a birding bum and spent almost every hour birding around the world. I have a lot more obligations these days. I live in Cape May, so rarely venture more than a couple of miles from home, when I’m not traveling.

Where is your favorite place in the world to go birding?

I moved 3,000 miles leaving a lot behind to live at the greatest birding spot in the world, Cape May

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

Ah, you’re trying to get me into trouble!  British birders have often been well-known for going where they shouldn’t, so I don’t want to get anybody into trouble.  In the past, I have put a few places on the map such as ‘The Dyke’ at Cape May and Johnson’s Sod Farm in Cumberland County.

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

NJ has great birding everywhere.  All the coastal barrier islands would be great for finding rarities if they got more extensive coverage.  Sandy Hook is world-class and would also get even more notoriety if it had more visitors.

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

I’m a hard-core birder.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use 8x32 Nikon Edg Binoculars and also the Edg fieldscope.  I have multiple cameras and lenses. My primary bird lens is the Nikon 500mm F4 – the tracking on Nikon bodies is superior and this is critical for what I do.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I have many field notebooks from my early days. Sadly, I am negligent these days. Because of time constraints, I don’t keep track of all my observations, though I should be taking advantage of the great eBird tool. Guilty on that one! Thankfully, all photographs that I take today are time-stamped.

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

I have a few. Sleeping in a barn for 3 days, waiting for a big storm to come at St Ives, Cornwall I 1983. It was worth the wait and still remains the greatest seawatch in Britain (10,000 British Storm Petrels, 100 Sabine’s Gulls, tens of 1,000s of Shearwaters, 100s of Jaegers and Skuas etc). 

Finding Thailand’s first Little Stint mixed in with Red-necked Stints at long range in non-breeding plumage when they were supposedly unidentifiable (1987) is also up there as an individual bird. 

What is your favorite backyard bird?  Any good backyard birding stories or amazing backyard bird sightings you can share?

I have a brilliant backyard with my 35foot high roof deck – the best hawkwatch in Cape May. Funnily enough, although I have had many great days, I am still waiting for the Black-browed Albatross or other mega to blow me away.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

‘The Collins Guide’ is my personal favorite because of the artwork, particularly some of the distant backgrounds. Lars Jonsson’s artwork is always on a different level. I’m also a big fan of ‘The Sibley Guide’.

See Birding is Fun's Review of The Crossley ID Guide.
Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend to other birders?

I’m a little biased on that one! But other than mine, I’d recommend ‘Birding Basics’ by Dave [Sibley] because it really helps people understand how to look at birds. The most underrated books are ‘The Golden Guides’ by James Coe, fantastic for beginners and kids. His backgrounds add the depth and reality lacking in so many books.  I also have a Japanese photographic guide that, despite its old age, still blows everything else away.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

I have a BSc in Environmental Science but my true education came from fellow birders as a kid. They showed me the only way to become really observant is to take field notes. I guess you could say I’m from the school of hard knocks.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?
I consider myself mostly an independent. Nature Center of Cape May does great things with kids and I’m a big admirer of a number of organizations such as Cornell Lab of Ornithology, NWF/Ranger Rick, RSPB in UK, and Ducks Unlimited for the things they all do to improve the future.

What is your nemesis bird?

All the ones I’m struggling with for photos for the 6 books I am currently working on.

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

The lack of cooperation between organizations that are all supposed to be promoting birding. They need to come together rather than see each other as competition.

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

I have a great wife and two wonderful daughters. I am surrounded by beautiful blondes.

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

I love all sports, particularly real football (soccer).

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I’ve had a few life-threatening moments that are sort of funny looking back.  Many of the funnier ones are not family friendly!

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

Perhaps an Albatross. It seems free to travel the world.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about? I’m alive and it’s all bloody great!

Total life list?  Don’t have a clue. A few thousand.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?  Cape May.

What future birding plans do you have?

My plans spiral off into the distance on many levels. Time will only tell how far I’ll get. From now on, my life will revolve around birds and making a difference.

Your mission in life as birder?

Foremost, to change the design of all types of natural history books. Based on what we now know about teaching and because of the advances of technology, I believe it is time for books and other educational tools to move into the 21st century. We need to help people be more observant and teach them to look at birds in much the same way as we ID people – as the experts do.
The bigger picture is to help popularize the outdoors, particularly among the youth. We desperately need leaders that are highly recognizable public figures on TV/Internet. Hopefully we can help the people who care enough to really make a difference. At the moment James Currie (Birding Adventures) is my big hope. He is the real deal and hopefully, with all our support, he will make it all the way just as Steve Irwin was starting to do. Personally, I would love to produce a game-changing TV series and still hope that ‘Wild in the City’ can be the one. I believe popularization of the outdoors through TV/Internet with nationally recognized celebrities is the only way to bring birding to the masses. If we can do that then we can really change conservation and lifestyles.

Special thanks to Richard Crossley for his time in participating and sharing a little about himself with us.

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be 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. @dAwN - Thanks Dawn! I am honored that Richard would be willing to participate. He really had some great responses.