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!
My own garden is on a much smaller scale than that of the US Ambassador's residence but I settled down to do the annual BGBW this morning at just after 11 o'clock.
Starling and goldfinch turned up almost straight away.
I was really pleased, and a bit surprised, to see a blackcap (female - with a brown cap). Blackcaps are becoming commoner garden visitors these days in winter. They are warblers - and in the past all would have disappeared off to southern Europe and north Africa for the winter, but now German blackcaps come to our gardens in winter. This one fed on dried mealworms from our feeder and stayed for about 15 minutes to give me a good look. It has happened before on BGBW day - I never see blackcaps in the garden in the winter except when I sit down for BGBW and then they aren't that unusual.
The fourth species was blackbird, and then chaffinch and wren made brief appearances and brought the species total to six.
I almost had a new species for the garden but it was a new species from the garden - reed bunting. A male perched in our neighbours' garden for a few minutes before flying off in the 'wrong' direction! But it was interesting to see a species which is really a wetland species in this urban setting.
There were no tits, no robin or dunnock, and even more surprisingly, not a single house sparrow.
And then it was off to my mum's for lunch - and another BGBW!
Her total was 10 house sparrows (she has my share, obviously!), starling, blackbird, robin and dunnock.
I've seen a few comments on Facebook (where you can find me as Mark Ian Avery), Twitter (Mark Avery) and some emails which have the usual mixture of delight at unusual species and frustration that the 'usual' birds didn't turn up at the right time! That's part of the fun of it for an individual - and it all comes out in the wash, we assume, as far as the overal results are concerned.
And so far it looks as though participation has been high - maybe breaking previous records?
We'll be ready to tell you the initial results on Wednesday - will there be evidence of any cold weather impact on our garden birds?
My first Big Garden Birdwatch of the weekend was this morning at the residence of the American Ambassador in Regent's Park.
Ambassador Susman kindly allowed a group of us to count birds in his garden. We were a mixture of young and old, expert and learner and Brit and Yank. But the garden was plenty big enough for us to spread out and do our own counts!
The dusting of snow surprised us all but the sun was shining and the birds were active. Long-tailed tits appeared almost as if on cue, a wren sang, wood pigeons sat in the trees, great-spotted woodpeckers drummed, called and flew. Great tits sang, robins chased each other through the shrubs, a ring-necked parakeet called and flew past, magpies chattered and a fieldfare flew over, perched briefly and flew on.
We were given a very warm welcome by our American hosts and warm hot chocolate at the end of the count.
It was fun, we saw some birds, I met some nice people. A very sociable bird count.
Here, back in east Northants, there are lots of birds in my garden. I bet they'll have gone when I do my second BGBW tomorrow! But I hear from staff at The Lodge that BGBW forms are already coming to us through the internet in record numbers.
Last night in Brussels the European Landowners' Organisation and Birdlife International (of which the RSPB is the UK partner) had a very successful launch of an agreed document on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
It's worth listening to the piece on yesterday's Today programme and I was really pleased that the things that were said by the Country Land and Business Organisation could have been said by the RSPB and vice versa.
The main elements of the agreed position should not be too controversial - I paraphrase them here:
1. Appropriate land management is crucial for food production and the environment.
2. Sustainable land management needs farmers and landowners.
3. Livestock are an important part of delivering food and in land management terms.
4. Europe plays an important part in global food security.
5. European policies and budgets are justified as they will help landowners rise to the challenges of producing food and a a good environment.
6. Future CAP reform should therefore seek to deliver food and a good environment.
7. This will need measures and mechanisms rather like the current rural development and agri-environment measures rather than thefarm support measures.
The BBC seem surprised that land managers and conservationists agree. Not at all - it happens much more than people realise - and it's good when it does.
PS In my youth the ELO were something very different