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A quick chat with… James Walsh, aka The Man­cu­nian Birder

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‘The Man­cu­nian Birder’ James Walsh an­swers our bird­ing-re­lated ques­tions

What first sparked your in­ter­est in bird­watch­ing and when?

I be­gan keep­ing notes on birds at a very early age, and won the Young Or­nithol­o­gist of the Year ti­tle in 1985 when I was eight. This started a life-long pas­sion for bird­watch­ing.

Who was your bird­watch­ing in­spi­ra­tion or men­tor?

My Grandma, Elsie, got me a sub­scrip­tion to the Young Or­nithol­o­gists’ Club (YOC) and my par­ents, He­len and Wil­liam, both en­cour­aged my in­ter­est in bird­watch­ing, es­pe­cially on fam­ily trips. Molly Moss was my first YOC leader and our lo­cal group was a very tight knit flock of just four bird­ers.

Do you bird alone or with a friend?

Both, I en­joy bird­ing alone some­times, and also bird­ing with my book edi­tor, Shaun Har­g­reaves, or with a group, in­clud­ing big twitches!

Your dream bird to see?

Blue Jay in the UK, prefer­ably one I have found my­self.

Your favourite bird­ing spot?

I have many. How­ever, I have writ­ten my first two books on Sal­ford Quays (Fruit­ful Fu­tures: Imag­in­ing Pomona and The Birds Of Sal­ford Dock­lands) and also took Ur­ban Birder David Lindo around this lo­cal patch on a boat for a BBC pro­gramme Ur­ban Jun­gle; I have a lot of love for this site.

Your clas­sic birder’s lunch, grabbed from the petrol sta­tion shop?

My lo­cal ser­vice sta­tion does great vegetable samosas. And I would also, as a North­erner, have to say Ec­cles Cakes!

Rough-legged Buz­zard or Pal­lid Har­rier?

I’ve seen just one of each in the UK, and I was lucky to see the orig­i­nal sum­mer­ing Orkney male Pal­lid Har­rier ‘sky­danc­ing’! How­ever, Rough-legged Buz­zard just edges it in my book, as this species re­ally gives you a feel of North­ern climes.

Favourite bird song or call?

Singing Gar­den War­bler – a quin­tes­sen­tial sound of the English coun­try­side in spring.

Bird­watch­ing’s big­gest myth or mis­con­cep­tion?

That all rare wild­fowl seen in the UK are ‘plas­tic fan­tas­tic’; some are wild, we just need to be sci­en­tific and sen­si­ble when look­ing at th­ese sit­u­a­tions!

The best bird you’ve seen?

Buff-breasted Par­adise-king­fisher, Mount Whit­field on the Blue Ar­row cir­cuit, Cairns, trop­i­cal north Queens­land, Aus­tralia, an ab­so­lute mega bird, in a beau­ti­ful place.

Iden­ti­fy­ing gulls – night­mare or a nice day out?

A nice day out! In my for­ma­tive bird­ing years, I ap­pre­ci­ated my time on the Seaforth Na­ture Re­serve, Liver­pool, and also watch­ing gulls on Rich­mond Bank, Cheshire, with Jeff Clarke and Chris Done, our best find was Kum­lien’s Gull! I’m not a hard­core larophile but I have got love for lar­ids. I es­pe­cially en­joyed the Dol­phin and Kelp Gulls I saw in Chile, Steppe and Heuglin’s Gull in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Grey-headed Gull in Botswana, Africa, and Der­byshire (!), and Au­douin’s Gull in Spain. Also, Laugh­ing Gull is one of my favourite gulls, pro­vok­ing mem­o­ries of the beach in Cape May, New Jersey, USA, and, more re­cently, the River Mersey!

Your favourite bird joke?

What kind of maths do birds like? Owl­ge­bra

How do we en­cour­age young peo­ple to watch birds?

I think through con­ser­va­tion-themed com­puter games. I’ve got some thoughts on this if any­one from Rock­star Games hap­pens to be read­ing!

Curlew or Whim­brel?

I’ve had many amaz­ing Whim­brel ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing the Cor­nish Hud­so­nian Whim­brel and Lit­tle Whim­brel in Aus­tralia. How­ever, I have to say (Eurasian) Curlew based on my child­hood mem­o­ries of th­ese birds and their call in the York­shire Dales; it is so im­por­tant that we con­serve this species!

One bird­ing or con­ser­va­tion is­sue you feel strongly about?

There are so many con­ser­va­tion is­sues th­ese days; on a global level, a new UN Re­port says hu­man­ity has to move on from cap­i­tal­ism to save the planet – quite a big is­sue! On a lo­cal level, bird­ers re­ally need to re­search what is hap­pen­ing right here, right now on their own doorstep, and stop think­ing that it is just places like Malta or Africa or Ja­pan that have con­ser­va­tion is­sues. There are so many sit­u­a­tions that need turn­ing around here in the UK, such as species de­cline, habi­tat loss and new threats, such as frack­ing. Hope­fully Chris Pack­ham’s Bioblitz and the Peo­ple’s Walk For Wildlife should high­light th­ese is­sues.

The one place you’d love to go bird­ing?

Costa Rica.

The bird that an­noys you most?

It was Savi’s War­bler. I wasn’t tall enough to see one at Leighton Moss RSPB Re­serve, Lan­cashire, in May 1991, that I could hear singing. I had to wait un­til May 2014 to see this species, a su­perb singing male on the glo­ri­ous New­port Wet­lands RSPB Re­serve in South Wales.

The bo­gey bird that still eludes you?

I man­aged to dip the ex­cep­tion­ally con­fid­ing Nutcracker in the Pot­ter­ies, Novem­ber 1991.

The bird book that you would never be with­out?

Keith Brockie’s One Man’s Is­land, with Tun­ni­cliffe’s Shore­lands Sum­mer Di­ary also in the mix.

Why do you love bird­watch­ing in three words?

Con­nec­tion with na­ture.

One piece of ad­vice for bird­ers tak­ing part in our #My200birdyear chal­lenge ?

Keep The Faith. It can get dif­fi­cult when you do a year-list, es­pe­cially if you are in­land, but be­lieve that (al­most) any­thing can turn up any­where, stay fo­cused and be in it to win it!

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