It’s finally here. Welcome to Day one of National Volunteer’s week. In recognition of the event we will have a brand-new look to celebrating our volunteers webpage. National Volunteers’ week gives us the opportunity to say thank you to all of those who give their time to support the RSPB. It’s incredible to think that 85% of our workforce is made up of volunteers and it is because of them we can do the work we do. In keeping with the theme of celebrating the local groups 50th anniversary this year, our first blog is from Tom Gordon telling us how he went form birding beginner to novice and how joining a local group helped him along this journey…



 I have always taken a passing interest in bird watching and wildlife generally. I am sure like many birders the interest was sparked by relatives during childhood. My Parents would point out birds whilst walking on Sunday afternoons to burn of lunch. Great Crested Grebes on Bewl Water being being one example and I recall as a boy, considering them so elegant and exotic with their triangular heads.  My granny also had a lovely selection of garden birds visiting her well-fed bird feeder a few meters from her back door in St Leonards.

In Spring 2016, I casually started to wonder how many different birds I knew. I thought I would start to record the birds I saw.  There was no science to this, but I promised myself that I would only record birds I could positively identify. This immediately exposed my rather limited knowledge.  I knew a thrush when I saw one but was it Song or Mistle? I realised that a “seagull” did not count and as for those LBJs, not a clue! In order to record what I was seeing I would need to be much better informed.



The Challenge

It was Christmas of 2016 that I decided that through 2017 I would record more accurately the species I saw and be better informed about my observations.  I read articles and books about the importance of recording and observing details and even drawing a sketch or two. So, I started to record the birds I saw and to inform myself about the ones I could not identify. I also joined a morning bird walk at Sissinghurst Castle, where I joined my old friend and ranger Peter Dear who introduced me to Alan Pavey. Alan opened my ears to the benefit of identification through bird song. His knowledge blew me away!


I have always been a collector of things, (why a man needs 30 fountain pens is anyone's guess).  A mixture of wildlife, collecting things and being out in the fresh air caught my enthusiasm and through the year I managed to “collect” 117 different species. This, I know is a modest count by many standards. But for me it is the love of bird identification and watching birds more closely that has captured my imagination. I have learned that there is so much more to bird ID than simply spotting something.  The subtleties between gender, species and the need to consider sound, habitat, “jizz” and flight all fascinate me.


Taking the next step

To broaden my interest and to find likeminded people, the RSPB was a natural step.  I made contact with the Tonbridge local group’s, Martin Ellis and joined.  My first outing lead by Geoff Shoebridge was a great start, Dungeness in January. In a single outing the count was around 60 birds.  I did not even know what a Smew was but what a stunning duck! I’ve also been on most monthly field trips and Geoff’s quiet confidence and brilliant spotting ability is inspiring and I look forward to all the Saturday field trips. Joining some really lovely people, wonderful birding and fresh air is such a great way to spend the day, even if I do have a habit of peeling off a bit early!


Food for the soul
So with 2 years official bird watching under my belt, I revel in the fact that I have made the small self-determined step from beginner to novice.  I have also discovered that bird life pays you back for just a small amount of effort. Almost without exception I come away from a walk with a gem or experience that lifts my spirits.  Such reward is not necessarily a new or exotic sighting (although this is always a thrill), the pay back is more subtle. It might be a close encounter with a robin who sits and sings just a few feet away, a grey wagtail who appears just where you hoped she might, or hearing a bird that was until recently a stranger, who then appears to confirm your ID.  Such things are a delight to me and in a busy world they provide calm, soul food that I love.

Tom Gordon


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