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Folk singer and mu­si­cian Sam Lee an­swers a se­ries of birding ques­tions

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

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

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