Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Working as a Ornithologist

Please excuse this slightly self indulgent posting. I was thinking today what makes a decent ornithologist, how I came to enter the field and the bearing of being a good birder. Many of my birding peers would suggest that I am not the greatest birder and that would be fair. I am an inexperienced birder - I restarted as an adult aged 22 in 2004 so I have only been birding 6 1/2 years but almost immediately as I started I realised that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a professional bird watcher and I guess to some extent thats what I do - very much a practical job. I got lots of birding experience very quickly and put effort into learning how to be a decent birder but time was needed. I quickly started my ornithology degree and whilst on that really pushed my experience as well as twitching and developed my love of migration.

Not sure it suits me but I worked damned hard for it.
In addition to my birding I pushed really hard at my degree, learning avidly on a number of subjects including marine ecology which has become my lesser speciality. Despite getting married in my first year (just after exams), moving in my second year (the day of an exam) plus having a baby on the way through the finals of my third year I was extremely chuffed with my degree, 69.4% (missed a 1st by 6 marks across the whole thing). As I finished my degree I gained experience doing seabird surveys and volunteering at my local nature reserve. At the end of my degree I started to feel able as a scientist and had a paper published and in synchronicity to this my skills as a birder were starting to leave beginnerdom and get to one of moderate skill. I don't claim to be an expert but I have worked VERY hard at improving.

Not me but you get the idea!

When I got my job at the University they needed a birder/scientist and I was the only one they knew who was ready made to come in and survey for them - seabird surveys. For me it was right place, right time. I made sure that the right people knew me. In the year since I started full time my seabird ID has improved massively, ageing, sexing etc the common birds we come across and enjoying the learning experience. I am an expert in my field now - running offshore bird surveys and writing them up. Every day at work I strive for new opportunities and I now do some terrestrial bits and pieces as can be seen from my various blog pieces. Every day I am grateful that my junior school teacher was right when she suggested that I would be a marine biologist or ornithologist. I am both - only a beginner. Very much a beginner but I get to do this full time. I have some goals that in the short and medium term I need to start chasing to fulfill my long-term goals. The aim of this post isn't to say 'haven't I done well'. I know I have but I wanted to highlight to other birders, not just the experts, that if you have a science bent and love birding plus enjoy really pushing yourself, it IS possible to be a professional birder in a different sense to the conventional tour leader/photographer type that is typical. Take a risk, make a plan, chase hard, execute. I love it.

Any takers?
P.S. I challenge anyone to a no optics seperating Guillemots & Razorbills in flight - off. I am the daddy. I'm ready for my Brunnich's.


Alan Tilmouth said...

Four Guillemots including a bridled and 3 Razorbills, where & when ;)

James said...

Any time, any place. Name it ;)

P.S. I need about 6 weeks notice to arrange childcare and placate my wife. I can see her being under-whelmed by an ego-challenge. Tsk tsk.

Tim Jones said...

Seems like whilst I was off trying to find this article the author already posted!
Just incase you missed it James

James said...

Bizarrely I read that article earlier in the week and my colleagues and I were certain we had a 'northern' Guillemot in the southern North Sea recently. Almost Razorbill dark and seen alongside other albionis birds. Didnt notice flank streaking and all the birds in the above photo should be northern birds - it's the moray firth last summer.

Ps Alan I finally got round to adding your blog to my links.

Pps just re-read my post. Writing style is 'Interesting'. Seemed I pushed very hard for several years. Good job the laxatives work now. I'm blaming a lymphatic system drowned in adrenalin after the football. Have I ever mentioned I'm a Spurs fan.

Robyn Kadis said...

Hi there, found your blog via someone elses... and I know just how you feel! I am currently studying (at the lovely old age of 43) for my degree in Nature Conservation. My ultimate goal is bird research but due to my advanced years (?) I was turned down for studying zoology (specialising in Ornithology)as I was deemed too old to learn the new maths! So, I am doing it this way round. It is great fun and very hard work and I can't wait to finish and start doing what you're doing, birding all day and getting paid for it!

James said...

Keep at it Robyn - its all worth it in the end

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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