They will be asked whatever the hobby, wherever the discussion takes place - when you are speaking of your interests (obsessions in my case) the other party will ask "Why did you get into (trains, boats, planes, stamps, cars, birds, moths, fish or whatever else you care to think of) your hobby?" Then it will be followed up by the second enquiry "What is the best/rarest/most exciting thing you have seen/found?" I've touched upon this subject in the past, when one of the lads, at work, was looking at a micro moth that I'd just potted in the canteen area and asked "Why moths?" Having spent some while looking back through my lost treasure trove, there is more than enough material for me to be able to cobble together a couple of posts using this theme; one on birds, the other on fish (which might prove a little more challenging?) - here goes!
Why birds? My earliest recollections are of a Barn Owl sitting on our garden fence, No. 27 Coles Hill, Gadebridge, Hemel Hempstead - circa 1963 - and being in awe of the flashing white rumps of two male Bullfinches, as they flew along a country lane, whilst I was out walking with my parents, again in the 1960's I was still at Junior School. Birds were always there, a family friend had given me a copy of The Collins Field Guide and I was smitten. As a young boy, growing up in the New Town of Hemel Hempstead, the surrounding countryside was my playground. I was at liberty to wander wherever I fancied - it was a far cry from today's sad reflection on society, kids were safe and parents not vilified for allowing them to explore, the world, unaccompanied. I neither carried or owned a set of binoculars, yet the birds I saw were vivid in my consciousness - so were either very close or my eyesight was much sharper than it is today? With no concept of rarity, it didn't matter if I was looking at a Tufted Duck on Pixie's Mere or a Dunnock in the garden, the enjoyment came from being in the company of birds; and, I suppose, it still is!
As for those secondary questions, my answers are obviously a very personal choice, from an individual perspective, thus in no way representative of any "official status" as applied by outside influences and neither are they restricted to the UK.
What's the best bird I've ever seen? I have given this much thought and come to the, uneasy, conclusion that it has to be the Wainfleet Marsh, Lincolnshire, Snowy Owl (23rd February 1991)
I think that timing, and the stage I was at on this particular aspect of my birding adventure, meant that it made the biggest impression. It was an awesome sight - viewed through my Opticron HR60 scope with 20 - 60x zoom eyepiece.
I have been looking at my old diary field sketches - never likely to win any awards, but fantastic memories all the same.
What's the best bird I've ever found? My extraordinary subjective answer is Cretzschmar's Bunting, near Icmeler, Turkey. It is a species which held almost mystical appeal, talked about in hushed tones, the first time I'd heard of it was when I still lived in Hertfordshire and one turned up on a Scottish island. Much later, chatting with Paul A. Brown (of Sandwich Bay Obs fame) the bird became elevated to "Holy Grail-like" status - it was on everyone's most wanted list. My first holiday in Turkey allowed me to explore habitat which held the species. When I finally set eyes upon the bird, I knew why they were held in such high esteem. Quite simply a stunning bird and everything I wanted it to be. Fortunately I had a camera with me - I'm not so sure that my artistic abilities would have done justice to the encounter(s).
What's the rarest bird I've ever seen? This was quite an easy one, strangely enough, although I'm not too sure what species they were? I was on Madeira - fishing for Atlantic Blue Marlin - and saw two Soft-plumaged Petrels (Fea's or Zino's ?) which followed the boat, attracted by the lure pattern, coming within twenty feet at times. This was in 1993 and the two species hadn't been split! No camera, but binoculars in hand, they were spectacular and completely outside of my knowledge zone at that point in time.
What's the rarest bird I've ever found? This'll be controversial? I've been extraordinarily fortunate to have found some fantastic birds, particularly since moving to Kent, but one stands head and shoulders above all others. Pale phase juvenile Booted Eagle - Hope Point/ Bockhill, St. Margaret's Bay, Kent - 28th September 1999. (It should have been a 1st for Britain - instead another example of political fence sitting - wouldn't want to upset a deluded Irishman?)
I've said all I need to say about the piss poor treatment this sighting received, at the time - I couldn't give a fuck now! If they came begging, the BOURC can stick it up their combined arses!
I saw it, they didn't - shame! It sits comfortably on my list - much more so than the dodgy Hooded Merg of 2005! (and they accepted that)
What's the most exciting bird you've seen? Because excitement in an, unquantifiable, emotion, it will be a very individual memory that promotes any bird to this status. I have delved, long and hard, back into my memories for a bird that has created such feelings - I think it has to be my first Audouin's Gull? The fact that it was Bev and my first ever holiday together, we were on Menorca for a family holiday, that first sighting of this species lifted gulls from the dreary to the elite - it was a magical moment.
What's the most exciting bird you've ever found? Easy! Well easy-ish? It was a toss up between two birds. My Alpine Swift at North Foreland or the Great Grey Shrike at Newland's - funnily enough, the shrike took it! As an adrenaline moment there is very little which can come close - the realisation that such a fabulous bird was present on my patch cannot be purchased with any amount of money. It still makes me smile when I look at this image - an exciting time indeed.
Birds have provided me with innumerable memories - my life much the richer because of them. Singling out individual moments is in no way meant as a detraction from the many other enjoyable encounters I have experienced along the way.