In these enforced times of absence from Minsmere, I promised that I'd share a mix of alternative stories, including a look back through the archives. With that in mind, I'll begin by recalling some of my own earliest birdwatching memories.

My own birdwatching memories go back more than 40 years to Christmas 1977 when I was given membership of the YOC - the predecessor of RSPB Wildlife Explorers - and my first set of binoculars. And so began a lifelong interest in birds.

Around the same time I can vividly remember a trip to London Zoo with my family. After walking all round the zoo, my brother and I bought I-spy books in the shop and insisted on heading back round to tick all the relevant species - a lot of walking for two boys of out eight and six. Last year, when looking around a local antiques emporium, I was taken on a trip down memory lane when I found an almost pristine copy of the same edition of this book. I simply had to buy it!

I was hooked, and avidly read Birdlife, the YOC magazine, as well as my collection of bird books. I set up a nature club at school, and in 1979 I took part in the first ever YOC Garden Birdwatch - this survey continued to grow in popularity and still takes place on the last weekend in January, but it is now open to everyone, not just children, and I still part in the Big Garden Birdwatch with my own family. A couple of years later I saw a beautiful male reed bunting in my garden during this survey - and last weekend I photographed this one during a visit to a local birdwatching site before restrictions were tightened further.

My parents and grandparents were great at encouraging this interest, taking me on regular trips to nature reserves at weekends or as family holidays. Unfortunately, school holidays are not always the best time to visit some of these reserves, so some of these trips were less fruitful than others: visits to seabird breeding colonies in August, after most of the birds had left the cliffs, meant that it was many years later before I finally saw my first puffin, for example.

I do, however, remember spotting my first ever turtle dove on my grandad's allotment in Worcestershire and hearing a nightingale in my Shropshire garden. Both would be extremely rare sightings these days as these two species have sadly declined considerably in both range and numbers. Similarly, I would hear corn bunting and yellowhammer on my daily dog walks, but both are long gone from the same fields now. In contrast, buzzards and red kites were rare in Shropshire in those days, but much more common nowadays.

Other early birdwatching memories that stand out include seeing my first avocets on the popular Avocet Cruises on the River Exe, watching pied flycatchers at a very wet and windy RSPB Lake Vyrnwy, searching for dippers along peak District rivers, missing an osprey by a few hours at RSPB Loch Garten, and many trips to WWT Slimbridge, where years later I began my conservation career as a volunteer.

Eventually, in the late 1980s we made our first visit to Minsmere, and a few years later I spent two weeks here as a volunteer during my university summer break. Durting those two weeks I saw my first bittern, spoonbill and marsh harriers. What a treat! At the time, I dreamed of one day working here, and many years later, in January 2003, that dream came true. Which is why, ever since then, you've been subjected to my regular ramblings in these blogs.

What are your earliest birdwatching memories? were you inspired by someone special?

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