Every issue, we ask well-known birders questions about their hobby. This month it’s the turn of naturalist and broadcaster
Chris Packham answers our questions and reveals what first sparked his interest in birding...
What first sparked your interest in birdwatching, and when? For my first birthday, my grandmother bought me two Collins bird books, and I can still remember every illustration – they were full of interesting things like Hobbies and Wheatears. There were also albums of Brooke Bond tea cards, and I still have them. My interest in wildlife was all about tangible things to start with, getting my hands on things, but, aged 12, I got my first binoculars.
Who was your birdwatching inspiration or mentor? I didn’t strictly have one to start with, but at the age of about 13 or 14, I got mentored by my biology teacher, John Buckley, who got me thinking more scientifically. We used to collect and analyse Barn Owl pellets once a month.
Do you bird alone or with a friend? Alone, in terms of humans, although also with friends – my poodles.
Your favourite birding spot? My home patch in the New Forest – it puts you in contact with the world. A bit further afield, Farlington Marshes is great with huge flocks of Brents, and I like places like Snettisham and the Bass Rock, where everything’s on a huge scale.
Your classic birder’s lunch, grabbed from the filling station chiller cabinet? I’m not very food orientated, but I do like cafés, for cake and hot chocolate. Leighton Moss is definitely top of the cake league.
Goshawk or Honey Buzzard? Goshawk – it’s an absolute avian Terminator. I’m lucky to have both nearby, and Goshawks do change things in terms of driving out other raptors, but I wouldn’t be without them.
Favourite bird song or call? Song Thrush. I hear them at home, and I think they’re underrated, not that far from Nightingale. They’re that bit purer and more interesting than Blackbirds.
Birdwatching’s biggest myth or misconception? I’d like to see more birders proactively involved with conservation. I think too many do take without giving much back. Think what we could do if every birder went out to Hen Harrier Day and made their voices heard.
The best bird you’ve seen? It was in 1974, at a place called Roddington Forge, near Southampton. Iwas just taking my elastic band bicycle clips oé, when a male Sparrowhawk pitched up above me. Our eyes met for about three seconds and it was just a seminal moment, such a surprise. I felt so connected to that bird at that moment.
Identifying gulls – nightmare or a nice day out? Nice dayout. I enjoy gull ID, and I like gulls as birds. Pipit ID, or American sparrow ID, are a bit diéerent, though.
How do we encourage young people to watch birds? We need to get them close to nature and get them engaged – give them the chance to have those personal moments of connection with wildlife. We also need to break down stereotypes a bit.
Stonechat or Whinchat? Whinchat
One place you’d love to go birding? Anywhere with a pink Ross’s Gull – I’ve chased them in Canada and Greenland but I would love to see one.
A birding/ conservation issue you feel strongly about? The illegal persecution of raptors in the UK – I want to help put an end to it once and for all. The people doing it are criminals, plain and simple.
The bird that annoys you the most? Not really any wild birds, but asymmetrical Muscovy Ducks and other duck hybrids.
The bogey bird that still eludes you? None in the UK, but the Cahow (or Bermuda Petrel), is one that I’ve searched for and had no luck.
Bird book you’d never be without? The Collins Bird Guide – I use it as an app now, but I always have a hard copy, too. And Birds of the Western Palearctic. I use it throughout Springwatch and Autumnwatch, and although some of it has been superseded, it’s invaluable.
Why do you love birdwatching, in three words? Connection, freedom, and aesthetics.
Advice for birders taking part in #My200birdyear? When you think you’ve seen it all, you’ve really only scratched the surface. I got my best ever view of a Bullfinch the other day, when I was watching Foxes, even though it’s a bird I’ve always seen regularly. It’s an inexhaustible well.
Your dream bird to see? Hawk Owl – globally there are other things, but I’d keep it European.
CHRIS PACKHAM Find Chris on Twitter at: @Chrisgpackham