Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Fieldwork-base in Cambs., office-base in Wallingford, Oxon (since CEH Monks Wood closed in 2008); home-base in Cambs. and South Wales, UK
Most likely to be found…
…lurking, and running, in the woods.
Involved with the BOU as:
Council member (vice president)
Previously member of the Ornithological Affairs Committee and Ordinary Member of Council before achieving the dizzy heights of VP.
BOU member since: Somewhere in the 1980s
Why are you a member of the BOU?
To support British ornithology and ornithologists, and to meet other birdy folks from all over the world – and these days, to meet younger birdy folks to remind myself to retain energy, enthusiasm and optimism, and thereby resist the descent into miserable old gitdom.
What do you enjoy most about your involvement with the BOU?
It keeps me connected with a broad range of ornithological topics well beyond my day to day woodland and farmland bird work, and provides the opportunity to be encouraged (and frequently impressed) by the quality of so much new and upcoming ornithological work. BOU conferences are a highlight of the year, themes outside of my particular field can be especially enjoyable and informative, and meeting fellow delegates gives me hope for the future of birds in an ever-more-crowded world. I would also hope that what I contribute to the BOU might help a little in this respect.
What would you say to anyone who is considering joining (or leaving!) the BOU?
Anyone with any interest in birds should join the BOU – check out the web site, read Ibis, come to a conference, contribute at a conference, meet like-minded birdy folks from all over the world, apply for a grant or a bursary, get involved, and be impressed by the range, quality and ingenuity of current ornithology, ornithologists and the birds they study.
When did your interest in ornithology begin?
In the summer of 1978 I spent a six month student placement in the Camargue in the company of excellent birders who were generous in sharing their knowledge, and where stunning birds (Flamingos, Bee-eaters, Short-toed Eagles etc.) came as standard. It also provided a hands-on example of a simple food-web: Hobbys eating dragonflies, eating mosquitoes, eating me.
What is your most memorable bird-y experience?
Well, it could be extracting my first (and only) Wryneck from a mist net on Caldy Island, or when Chris Mead handed me (a trainee ringer mostly used to handling Great and Blue Tits), a large, hissing, flapping and very pissed-off mute swan with the immortal words ‘just fold him up would you while I catch the female’, but I guess the prize goes to the Willow Warbler caught in Zambia. A 9 g scrap of flesh and feathers that had flown all the way there under its own steam – no buses, trains and planes. Summer migrants in Britain hadn’t had the same impact because they were so familiar as ‘British’ breeding birds, but seeing a ‘British’ bird in Africa made the connection. And, oh yes, humming birds (!)
What would you say to anyone considering research in ornithology?
Go for it. Ornithology includes a huge range of topics from the molecular to the global so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a niche for your own interests. Pragmatically, birds have a high public profile, people care about them more than many other taxa, so funding potential is probably better than in many other fields. The downside of that popularity might be that you will be competing with some of the brightest and best, but use that to your advantage and be the best in what you decide to do. It has the potential to take you to all sorts of habitats all over the world and to meet a lot of good people. If you intend to work in the field, resistance to the weather, the ability to drag yourself out of bed at filthy hours of the morning (or night), the ability to improvise and, sometimes, downright pig-headed stubbornness won’t go amiss. There’s a great deal of helpful technology available these days, but you can still go a long way with an open mind, a pair of binoculars and a note book (and wellies). And, be a bird watcher as well as a scientist, your science will be better if you can relate to, and have a feel for ‘your’ birds as real animals living in the real world.