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!
You may have noticed - there is the most stupendous influx of painted lady butterflies happening right now. Once you realise - you'll see them everywhere!
I saw my first of the year on Sunday (two at Stanwick Lakes in Northamptonshire) and have seen lots every day since. On Monday afternoon I was at Salcey Forest (again in Northamptonshire) and visited the tree-top walkway - and there were painted ladies flying rapidly northeast at tree-top height at the rate of about one a minute. Yesterday in London I saw two flying along Victoria Street. There are lots in the gardens of The Lodge here in Bedfordshire and they were the main topic of conversation amongst RSPB staff at lunch time.
These are migrants - they've come from north Africa - and this year is one of those exceptional years when painted ladies are everywhere. Butterfly Conservation is tracking the migration closely and would like your help in recording the sightings http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/article/9/100/butterfly_migration_is_biggest_for_years.html .