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