I grew up in Bristol and went to Bristol Grammar School where a couple of masters (Derek Lucas and Tony Warren) were instrumental in fueling my interest in birds. I was in the Young Ornithologists' Club.
In the school holidays I practically lived at Chew Valley Lake - a bicycle and a pair of binoculars were all I needed.
My parents liked nice scenery and walks in the countryside and that gave me plenty of opportunities for birding.
I spent a few years when rare birds were very important to me but aside from the very occasional lapse they aren't any more!
I did a Ph.D. on pipistrelle bats but most of my research before joining the RSPB was on bee-eaters in the south of France (nice eh?) and great tits and marsh tits around Oxford. However, the first scientific paper I wote was about the lekking behaviour of great snipe.
I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 as a researcher, became Head of Conservation Science in 1992 and Conservation Director in 1998 - all have been great jobs!
Yesterday's papers - at least the Independent and Times (and BBC online) - report Elizabeth Boakes of Imperial College , London University, calling on people to go out and monitor the wildlife around them. What a good idea!
In just a few days' time you can take part in 'making your nature count' by counting wildlife in your garden - I'll be doing it, and thousands of others will too - why not give it a go?
And then next January you can take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch - along with about half a million others.
But there are other opportunities too. Volunteer with the RSPB and you might find yourself counting birds, or bugs, or beautiful plants on one of our nature reserves. And it is National Volunteers' Week!
But there is also the admirable Birdtrack - a joint project by the BTO and the RSPB - where your observations are welcome. The deal is that you can access your bird records any time (far easier than thumbing through notebooks) but the data contribute to the common good too. Have a look and add your records of kingfishers, barn owls and buzzards. They will all help to paint a fuller picture of our bird populations. When you go out, keep a birdlist for your visit and that's particularly valuable. But careful - you may get hooked! I am!