Back Chat

A quick chat with… Bel­gian stand-up co­me­dian and birder Begijn Le Bleu

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Stand-up co­me­dian Begijn Le Bleu an­swers our se­ries of bird­ingre­lated ques­tions this month

I’M FAS­CI­NATED BY SHOREBIRDS: AT TIMES EASY TO SEE, BUT ALSO HARD TO IDEN­TIFY

What first sparked your in­ter­est in bird­watch­ing, and when?

My fa­ther en­cour­aged me to watch birds when I was a child. We lived near a for­est and that made things eas­ier. Af­ter a while, I got a pair of binoc­u­lars and con­vinced the boy next door to wan­der through na­ture on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. I still re­mem­ber go­ing to the River Scheldt near An­twerp with my fa­ther on a dull Sun­day. There, I saw Avo­cets for the first time. Won­der­ful birds! It be­came the best Sun­day ever. Since then, I’m fas­ci­nated by shorebirds: at times easy to see, but also hard to iden­tify.

Who was your bird­watch­ing inspiration or men­tor?

My fa­ther brought me to a bird hide some­where in Hol­land to meet a birder, named Jo­han. He was ob­sessed with birds and even slept in the hide when­ever he could. Later he wrote down his ob­ser­va­tions in a book called ‘Av­i­fauna-guide’. He gave me a copy and that mo­ti­vated me to learn the birds’ names by heart. A few years later, I was shocked to hear he had died. They told me he was a trou­bled man. I didn’t know him well but some­times I think about him and how the birds must have com­forted him.

Do you bird alone or with a friend?

I al­ways bird alone be­cause I work dur­ing the week­ends. It makes iden­ti­fy­ing birds much more dif­fi­cult, but it’s worth­while be­cause it takes more ef­fort and you learn more.

Your dream bird to see?

White Gyr­fal­con (and any­thing else I haven’t seen, yet!)

Your favourite bird­ing spot?

The Drowned Land of Saeft­inghe, an es­tu­ary on the bor­der of Hol­land and Bel­gium. There’s al­ways some­thing hap­pen­ing there, but mostly I watch Marsh Har­ri­ers. Their flight is great, it’s like they hang on a wire. I could watch them for ages.

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

A flask of cof­fee and a lunch­box with some sand­wiches I made with a sleepy head (and choco­late. Lots of choco­late).

Lesser Black-backed Gull or Her­ring Gull

Her­ring Gull. Beau­ti­ful ‘ban­dits’. They look so in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Favourite bird song or call?

Wren. What a pow­er­ful, beau­ti­ful song for such a small bird. And, of course, the Black Kite’s quiv­er­ing voice.

The best bird you’ve seen?

A Mon­tagu’s Har­rier drifted past me on the beach in Ba­tumi, Ge­or­gia. It was sur­rounded by an­gry wag­tails. I had never seen a har­rier so close. Breath­tak­ing.

Bird­watch­ing’s big­gest myth or mis­con­cep­tion?

Not ev­ery birder wants to iden­tify birds and com­pete with other bird­ers’ knowl­edge. Some­times, they just want fresh air and if a bird comes along, then great.

Iden­ti­fy­ing gulls – night­mare or a nice day out?

De­pends on my mood and the amount of time I have spare. Gull-ex­pert and au­thor Klaus Malling Olsen gave me some great tips: Start with look­ing at the colour of the legs and the beak. But when I see ju­ve­nile gulls I of­ten give up, but it’s never a night­mare for me. You can sim­ply watch and en­joy.

Your favourite bird joke?

What do two gi­gan­tic spar­rows say when they perch next to each other? ‘CHIIIRRRRP!!’

How do we en­cour­age young peo­ple to watch birds?

Ev­ery bird has its own story, as ex­plained by Do­minic Couzens in my pod­cast Tweet! Tweet! – they adapt to their cir­cum­stances but life is a strug­gle. Get­ting to know their story is fas­ci­nat­ing.

Green­finch or Goldfinch?

Green­finch. Beau­ti­ful but also aggressive birds on the feeder. They have strong-look­ing beaks and the males have this re­mark­able green and yellow in their plumage.

A bird­ing or con­ser­va­tion is­sue you feel strongly about?

I hope farm­ers will see the need to cul­ti­vate sec­tions of land with­out the use of so many her­bi­cides and in­sec­ti­cides. Farm­land bird pop­u­la­tions across Europe are de­clin­ing rapidly. It’s a sad story in Bel­gium, where farm­ers are al­most obliged to pro­duce in­ten­sively be­cause of low prices achieved for their har­vest.

A place you’d love to go bird­ing?

I hope to visit Scot­land. I was very jeal­ous when some non-bird­ing friends vis­ited and de­scribed what could only have been a Red Grouse.

The bird that an­noys you most?

Cetti’s War­bler. Its song is so loud but still it man­ages to hide in the reeds.

Bo­gey bird that still eludes you?

Os­prey. I’ve seen it a cou­ple of times from afar but not close enough to ad­mire its fea­tures.

The bird book you’d never be with­out?

Collins. What a mas­ter­piece.

Why do you love bird­watch­ing, in three words?

Look – lis­ten – pres­ence. ‘Hurry up slowly’. By that, I mean don’t for­get to stop and ad­mire the birds.

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