This week’s post comes from no other than Hen Harrier hero Findlay Wilde. I cannot even start to begin to talk about all the vital work that Findlay has done over the years to help raise awareness of the devastating persecution that Hen Harriers are undergoing in the UK: ranging from speech’s, raising money and building 2m high Hen Harrier models. Considering Findlay’s age it’s just simply astounding the sheer amount and variety of conservation work he’s done along with writing multiple guest posts, giving life changing speech’s and maintaining his outstanding blog Wilde About Birds which is teeming with inspiration which has inspired so many people across the world including myself.
After chatting over Twitter for a few weeks I first had the honour of meeting Findlay last September at Parkgate for “Skydancers on the Dee”, a series of events set up by the RSPB to help raise public awareness of Hen Harriers and the problems that they face. Even though we haven’t known each other long it’s amazing how close friends we’ve become and it’s a privilege to call Findlay Wilde a friend. I know that you’ll be utterly captivated and inspired by his post and if you’ve got the chance show it to a young person you know and let the magic do its work.
When did I start Birding?
Now that I’m 14 (yesterday), I can look back on 8 years of my own birding experiences and see how I feel that I have progressed as an ornithologist. I can’t really say exactly when I first started, or if I actually class myself as a birder, because I have always had an interest in the natural world from as long as I can remember. However, I do remember the first time I went the extra mile to visit an actual nature reserve, therefore I suppose my fascination with birds started from that point, at the age of 6. The reserve was Anderton Nature Park in Northwich. I was amazed by the amount of wildlife that surrounded me; it was one of those first impressions which really inspire you to do more.
Of course I couldn’t really identify many of the species around me as I hadn’t had much experience in the field. I was more used to garden birds such as the Robin, Blue Tit, Dunnock, all of those species we’d class as common that many of us also take for granted now. I wasn’t used to some of the birds I saw, for example Ringed Plover, Green and Common Sandpiper. Birds I might have considered as “alien”. This was a different world for me and it showed how much was on offer if I followed this natural path.
Who got me into Birding?
Funnily enough my interest in birding was sparked by my own likes and dislikes; I have always loved being outside connecting with the natural world and just appreciating what the great outdoors has to offer. Since that first ever time I visited a nature reserve I have never looked back. Now, it’s easy to say that you care loads about the natural world and have a huge interest in birding, however the most important thing is to get other people interested, because, firstly it increases the number of people wanting to protect the natural world, and secondly for your own benefits, you develop a wider network of friends with the same interests as you.
I think my first challenge if you like was to get my family members involved and interested, as birding is a really nice thing to do as a family, but I also needed my parents to take me to undiscovered places. I didn’t just want a lift though, I wanted them enjoy it with me and understand what they were seeing and be able to share some amazing sights and experiences.
Why do you go birding? What drives you?
I think the great aspect about birding is that you never know what you’re going to see, there is such a huge variety of species which suit different habitats. And there are those species that you never get bored of watching, for example, the endless rafts of Common Scoter you can see off Hoylake (with a potential chance of Velvet and Surf in there with them if you’re lucky), the most mind blowing spectacle of a Starling murmuration, no matter if it’s pouring with rain and freezing cold, or even a beautiful, mild evening, the experience of witnessing Starlings murmurate lifts your spirits instantly. I’m only 14 and I’ve already viewed some of the most breath taking performances, yet there is still so much out there to explore and see.
I’m not really a twitcher, however if an unusual bird turns up which is in a suitable range from my home, it is always nice to go to see it since it gives you an element of intrigue of a rare bird on your local area.
I have a massive interest in species protection, which is why I participate/volunteer in as many projects and surveys as possible with various NGOs. I don’t just want to enjoy watching birds, I want to understand everything about them and the eco-systems they depend on, so that I can help to protect them. So many species are in decline, they need all the help they can get. I want to make sure that they’re safe and that drives me to keep on observing these species.
What is your best birding moment?
I’ve got to say that I really have witnessed some incredible birding moments, however I think the spectacle that topped them all is the first time I saw the Hen Harriers perform their most majestic Skydance. It was back when I was 13 enjoying a fantastic holiday in Wales last year with good weather too, which made a change. I was birding at one of my most favourite sights in Wales, Lyn Brennig reservoir and the surrounding moorland. After already seeing Great Grey Shrike and having amazing views of Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, I thought the day couldn’t get any better; that was until on the way back through the everlasting moorland, the evening sun caught the male Hen Harrier in a superb light. I watched in wonder only to be absolutely blown away when it joined the female bird and suddenly started to perform this breath taking dance; the skydance.
The male bird rose almost vertically in the air and within seconds was plummeting back down towards the ground. By this point I think we were illegally parked on the side of a busy main road however the sheer beauty of what the Hen Harriers had performed was truly spectacular, none of us could move. I was speechless. It felt even better because I have spent so much time increasing my knowledge of the plight of this species and raising awareness to help protect it, so to witness it perform a spectacle I had only heard of, it really was something special.
What does the future hold for the world of birding?
I’ve been asked this question many times before, and I have written a lot about connecting other young people with the natural world. I think the important thing to remember is that all of the older mentors that we really look up to won’t be around forever, so as young birders already with a passion, it is important to make more and more people interested and feel as passionate as us, as collectively we are the next generation of birders and conservationists, armed with the newest technologies.
It is really important that all generations get to have a say, including my generation. I feel that organisations like the BTO, RSPB and Wildlife Trust already understand this and are doing more and more to help younger people to have their say. This must be continued at an even greater lever in the future. I’d like to see all volunteers from all the NGOs going into all schools (across all ages) and supporting the teachers in getting this message across.
I worry about what will happen to the laws that protect wildlife if we come out of the EU. Will it be seen as an opportunity by the government to weaken them, I really hope not, but the current government do not have the natural world very high up on their agenda. We need to maintain strong directives. The more watered down they get, the more difficult they are to enforce.
The biggest impact on bird species across the world will be from us. We can already see this in the way climate change is impacting the natural world. Breeding seasons will be impacted and we will see changes to the migration patterns of birds across the world. Population growth, pollution, urban spread, intensive food production, disease and wars will all have a catastrophic impact on nature.
My biggest hope for the future though is that more and more people understand just how important it is to protect the natural world. You can’t teach people to have a passion for birds and other wildlife, but you can teach them to understand the important role each eco-system has. I wonder how much further the natural world will need to decline, before everyone realises that they cannot exist without it and therefore they have to look after it.
Twitter – @WildeAboutBirds
Blog – Wilde About Birds
Flicker – Findlay Wilde