Folk singer and musician Sam Lee answers a series of birding questions
What first sparked your interest in birdwatching?
I’ve never thought of myself as a birder. I grew up close and deeply connected to nature and spent my youth and early 20s studying and teaching outdoor work / nature bushcraft skills until folk song stole me from the forests. Bird language was always part of the ‘practice’.
Who was your birdwatching inspiration or mentor?
I’m not sure I ever had one, I’ve had many nature teachers who have brought birds into the practice, Ray Mears being my first and greatest teacher, but it’s the time I’ve spent with indigenous communities that have taught me the most on how to appreciate and relate to birds.
Do you bird alone or with a friend?
My most serious birding experience is my annual ‘Singing With Nightingales’, where I invite guests into the Blackthorn thicket in Sussex in spring after dark to listen to Nightingales. Myself and other musical guests sing and play along with the male courtship song.
Your dream bird to see?
The Snipe in its courtship dive when it creates the incredible sonic effects with its tail feathers.
Your favourite birding spot?
Where I take an audiences to hear Nightingales near Lewes. When the moon is full, the Blackthorn is in full white blossom, Glowworm sparkle in the bushes, Marsh Frogs sing and Nightingales go for it – it’s like being in a dream.
Your classic birder’s lunch, grabbed from the filling station chiller cabinet?
I’m an ardent forager, so prefer picking as I go. I’ve eaten lots of insects in my time, but also more stands of nettles than I can count. In spring, you can eat many fresh shoots.
Blackbird or Blackcap?
That’s such a hard one. The Blackcap is such an underrated songster but, at 4am when I’m cycling home after a night out in London, a Blackbird starts up, it floors me every time.
Favourite bird song or call?
I devote six weeks of my life listening to, and bringing people to hear, the Nightingale but that feeling when the first Swift arrives back on my street is one that sends me into ecstasy and calms me on summer evenings.
Birdwatching’s biggest myth or misconception?
Er, that it’s all about watching birds? I’ve found that being taught a bit of bird language – song and movement – can bring the whole landscape to life.
The best bird you’ve seen?
I once gave a concert attended by an owl rescue team,. They were releasing two Tawnies and a Tengmalm’s Owl and I was allowed to let the Tengmalm’s free, holding it for a few moments, and then let it glide off into the dark!
Identifying gulls – nightmare or a nice day out?
No idea, but I do love swimming in the Hampstead Ponds where a Common Tern likes to dance around you.
How do we encourage young people to watch birds?
One can’t make young people love nature, but allowing them the freedom to explore and open their curiosity up to it is vital, and should be done from an early age.
Moorhen or Coot?
‘Two hoots to a Coot’ I always say!
The one place you’d love to go birdwatching?
Always wanted to see the Scandinavian taiga.
A birding/conservation issue you feel strongly about?
Destruction of hedgerows and conifer plantations. Where biodiverse margins are destroyed and mono crops planted.
The bird that annoys you most?
Woodpigeon, although I love their song.
The bogey bird that still eludes you?
I don’t go looking for particular birds.
The bird book you’d never be without?
Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure is a dear read for me.
Why do you love birdwatching, in three words?
Earth’s greatest music.
Singer: North London-born Sam Lee is a Mercury Prize nominated folk artist Sam Lee on Twitter: @samleesong