TN89 The Conference Calls 12 Feb 12


Welcome to The Conference Calls: served with conservation and bad jokes this is THE panel podcast about the British birding scene. Chaired by Charlie Moores, and inspired by a twitch to Japan for a Baer’s Pochard, Tristan Reid, Nick Moran and guest renowned BMXer, metalhead, and birder Jonny Rankin discuss twitching, carbon consumption, local birding, live and let live, and hoping that people are inherently good…

NB: All opinions and views expressed by an individual panel member and/or guest during a Conference Calls podcast are those of the individual speaker alone, and are not to be taken as being held by or representative of any other individual, organisation, or sponsor unless specifically identified as such during the recording of that podcast.



And your Panel today is…

  • Charlie Moores, a freelance writer and podcaster (and now sadly intermittent birder) who either lives in a warm little cottage in north Wiltshire with his family or in a cold ‘podding shed’ editing an endless series of podcasts that more and more people appear to now be listening to.
  • Tristan Reid, aka ‘binocularface’, a conservationist and well-known member of the Brit birding and twitching scene (to quote from Tristan’s binocularface blog “Some may call me obsessive; but I love to see rare and scarce birds and will travel anywhere within the UK and Ireland to see them!”) who lives in Cumbria.
  • Nick Moran, an expat Yorkshireman living in Norfolk, where he runs BirdTrack at the BTO. Nick spent most of the noughties birding and occasionally teaching Biology in China and the UAE; he is an OSME Council member and secretary and voting member on the Emirates Bird Records Committee which keeps him in touch with Middle East birding.


Show Notes

Jonny Rankin’s blog is at:

Jonny Rankin Video on Joey Gough:



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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores


  1. Charlie says:

    James Spencer sent the following comments through via Twitter (to @charliemoores) which he has kindly allowed to me to reproduce here:

    “Can I be brutal? Just listened to the latest #confcalls and it seemed you disappeared up carbon alley before allowing the contradiction of birding to be fully expressed. To appreciate birds you should be in awe of their beauty but you must travel to see them. Usually abroad as in general our birds are a bit brown. Also ou have to keep seeing new things to retain the interest. You have done this by exploring conservation but in birding people need a frontier. Martin Garner (@birdingfrontier) goes for the undiscovered. LGRE goes for the imaginary. The rest of us just go for what we haven’t yet experienced. As pastimes birding is wholly separate from conservation in the doing phase but completely aligned in the theory. Sorry for the spam but reflecting on the pod. Loved Jonny Rankin @Jonny09Jonny”

  2. Charlie says:

    Hi James. Thanks very much for the comment.

    First off can I say that making constructive and thoughtful comments is not being ‘brutal’ (you should see some of the emails I’ve had in the past!). It’s absolutely fair (and actually much hoped-for) that listeners tell me/us what they think about the podcasts – that way we at least know whether to continue with them or not…

    My own feeling with this particular Conference Calls was that the subject would be divisive and (as always) not everyone would a) be interested, b) agree, or c) like what we said. We’re not aiming to produce a ‘consensus’ podcast though – we’re just having a discussion about topics that interest us and that we come at from a range of perspectives and experience.

    On a personal note I would completely disagree with you that we ‘must travel to see’ birds. That doesn’t mean that I’m right or you’re wrong, just that I disagree with the word ‘must’ – the point being (which was what we wanted to look at – or more accurately I wanted to look at, and if someone else made these or another similar podcast they would likely put an entirely different spin on things) was whether we will be able to travel in the future without doing more harm to the birds we say we love.

    I would also disagree that birders have to ‘keep seeing new things to retain the interest’. To me that sounds like what you’re basically saying is that once you’ve seen something you know all about it and can find nothing of new interest in it. I did that for twenty years, seeing new birds and new places most months, and when I stopped flying realised I actually knew very little about very much at all. Learning the common stuff again has been revelatory!

    And for me now birding is not separate from conservation at any stage: I have reached a point where I just can’t NOT see the links between seeing a bird and thinking about its habitat, the migration routes it may have taken, the threats it faces (I have to say I really regret not thinking that way earlier, going to Uni and doing what for example Nick now does!). That’s just the path I’ve taken. Am I right? It’s not as much fun as just ‘birding’ without thinking but it’s where I am and that’s how it is…we all use birding in different ways.

    James, sorry if any of this sounds like I’m ‘having a go’ – I’m really not. Like I say I don’t think there is a right or wrong here just a difference in opinions and perspectives. The regulars on the Conference Calls don’t agree with each other and that’s how it should be, and I’ve never for a second thought that we are speaking for anyone or attempting to say that we’re right and anyone that thinks differently is wrong . We’re just having a chat about the issues of the day, looking to bring in different voices to discuss them with, and produce something that doesn’t feel like a waste of 45 minutes of your life. If we do that, we’re doing okay frankly…

    Oh, and yes, agreed – Jonny was excellent. Hopefully we’ll get hm on again soon.

  3. Nick Moran says:

    Hi James

    One thing I didn’t really expand on in this Conference Call is something that I believe can address your point that some/many(?) birders feel they “have to keep seeing new things to retain the interest”. That is to find ways of making birds you’ve already seen ‘new’.

    Everyone who works a patch and/or year-lists already does this. The sorts of things I’ve been doing to satisfy my own “seeing new things” needs -without hiking up my carbon footprint – include the TEAL Cup ( ), a bit of non-motorised day listing ( – OK so I had to drive to the coast, but next time… ) and this year’s madcap scheme, a non-motorised year list within a 15km radius of home.

    You suggest LGRE goes for the imaginary. I reckon a bit more imagination in birding would be great, as long as that imagination is specifically applied to what constitutes a new experience!

    Thanks for commenting – as Charlie says, very welcome!

    ps Here’s one of our less brown birds that did it for me!:

  4. Tim Allwood says:

    Totally agree Charlie.

    Like Nick I used to teach abroad in order to see more birds and some interesting places, and also did my fair share of travelling the globe – last trips were NE India 2007 for Bugun Liocichla and Ward’s (sorry Nick!) and an extravagant and immensely enjoyable 2006 Steller’s twitch with Jos Stratford. I now bird locally, often by bike or on foot and hardly ever go out of my immediate area. Yes it helps having a fantastic local patch where self-finding rarities is expected but that wasn’t an accident – I made that decision to move to the east Norfolk coast and change my lifestyle to one of hopefully lower impact and growing a lot of our family’s food etc. If I were so minded, I’d have a nice warm glow inside and a smug feeling of superiority but I’m not and I don’t. I do it primarily cos I enjoy it – not to ‘save the planet’ – and of course, that’s the rationale I suspect most live their birding lives by. I suspect many would like to move to the coast etc but their current lives are not conducive to it for many reasons and lots simply wouldn’t want to anyway.

    I guess the problem is that while I can walk down the road to my seawatch spot, see a Yellow-browed while digging my veggies up or a Radde’s Warbler or Greenish five mins walk away, many birders have to make do with a crappy inland patch that produces very little and always will. So they feel the need to travel much further at the weekend and twitch whatever’s available. Expecting them to stay local is a bit much, but the extent of driving to see stuff is getting faintly ridiculous with some ‘patchers’ spending more time on the road than on their patch.

    Human beings are famous for rationalising their actions; from thinking that they drive better after a pint, to really believing that the jews were subhuman. Driving a couple of hundred miles to Norfolk for a Lesser-whitefront and thinking that your actions have no influence on the big picture – so you are justified in doing so – is just very low down on that scale on things. And compared to what goes on around the world a weekend trip for a goose is extremely small beer. I think it would be more honest and certainly more dignified to pursue the life that we wish to pursue but to be open-eyed and clear about what that means, accepting the damage we do rather than rationalising it away by whatever reason. It’s hard to argue, however, that as birders, we shouldn’t experience a Fire-tailed Myzornis first hand or not stand on Macchu Picchu listening to Inca Wrens for the good of the planet when all around is non-stop rampant consumerism and habitat loss etc. Mind you, not driving up and down the UK for another yearlist or across your home county for a Smew or Black Redstart or Ring Ousel is perhaps a good starting point…

    Anyway Charlie, do you remember crawling several hundred metres around Snettisham with some buddhist monks to raise the profile of Saemangeum? My knees up have never been the same since and the buggers still screwed the place up!

  5. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Tim
    Wow, Great to hear from you. How are you?
    Ah the priests the samboilbae, Snettisham, and saemangeum – and the rain! What a day egh…
    I agree with everything you say but I wish ‘it weren’t so’ – which is what makes the whole topic so interesting I reckon.
    Sorry this is such a short comment – we need to get you on a Conference Calls I reckon and develop this a bit more!
    All the best and good to be in contact again

  6. Hi chaps,

    thanks for being (relatively) gentle. My initial comment was a string of tweets so that is why there isnt a particular depth to the argument presented but I stand by the sentiment whilst I acknowledge that some extremely fair points have been raised.

    Firstly lets look at the elephant in the room (which you acknowledged during the podcast) – the commentators on this thread with the exception of myself have travelled widely and seen many very exciting birds (I havent done bad but largely WP). The unamity of opinion may well be divorced from this BUT it may not be. It is easy to say that travelling for birds is bad and shouldnt be allowed when you have seen a fair few. How can a birder become enthused by Fire-tailed Myzornis or Inca Wren without at least entertaining the thought of seeing/hearing them? I want to go to Asia birding but have no appreciation of what it may be like because I havent done it. I also havent done a big year – have you guys seen 300sp in the UK in a year? I bet you have gone close at some point in your careers. It makes it easy to say its bad when you are able to look back at your memories. Personally I have an area I will twitch which is largely the yorkshire coast south of the moors but this is a fluid zone related to the species and my previous experience of it. I bet that holds true for many (although varying size of zones).

    Justification is difficult and it is in the planning part of my birding where conservation and birding collide and there is defintely a guilt factor along with a finanancial factor with twitching or travelling a long way. I am lucky in that I get to travel widely in the UK for work and the nature of my work means I see plenty of good birds whilst I am at it. I count myself lucky and this reduces the level of guilt felt with regard my recreastion as I dont need to twitch Caper or Eagles or go seawatching for year ticks.

    Playing devil’s advocate – the conviction that climate change is real and tangibly affecting us is seems a bit odd as the evidence is limited and we are currently going through a 5 year period of lower global temperatures (dont crucify me if I have got this a bit wrong). I do believe in climate change but feel that the evidence is a little thin at present when looking at mulitvariate factors (ice cores, air temp, sea temp and land temperatures etc) but this may be due to the short time scale. The total conviction that carbon emissions are the cause of much of the worlds evils seems a little blinkered and a constant appreciation of climate research must be embraced to effectively guide conservation thinking.

    What is the most effective way of engaging people about a species? Seeing it surely? Take the recent White-headed Duck/Ruddy Duck debate. May of the people suggesting that culling Ruddy Duck was wrong had little knowledge or experience of White-headed Duck, its plight and the reasons behind the conservation measures. Often they spoke of evolution or of the doomed nature of the WH Duck or the fact that it is Spanish (out of site out of mind). These people were misguided because they had nothing invested in WH Duck. It was just a spanish duck that they havent seen. As an undergraduate I had to write an essay about the conservation of White-headed Ducks and reviewed the literature and made arguements but I still felt deeply uncomfortable about killing Ruddy Ducks. Then on a trip to Spain I saw many White-headed Ducks and I was engaged. I cared. Perhaps being a world lister isnt a great idea but surely having an educated and experienced birding movement would engender greater engagement with conservation issues. I may not pay money to conserve Baer’s Pochard after seeing them but I cant pay money if I dont know what they are (as prior to Alan Lewis’s twitch). I now care about a species I didnt know about. How much financial investment I am prepared to make only I know but it has a 100% better chance of seeing any silver if I have heard of it. Fortunately we can virtual twitch these days – I love the idea of the Yellowthroat but I have seen the photos and dont feel the need to go. I went to see the LWFG but then I felt as many others did that this may be the last chance to see this species in a wild state in the UK. A bad thing?

    With regard Nick’s idea of seeing things with different eyes – I agree, a friend recently showed me a series of photos of pair bonding Bullfinch with a sky pointing dominance displey from the female – I had never seen it before and was really sold but many people would dismiss it as just a Bullfinch. Perhaps I wouldnt have noticed. Trying to glean more from your day to day birding is commendable but I still feel to stay engaged variety is important ,easy if you have Tim’s coastal patch but as he said less so if you are inland. Making the most of your locale is important and will reduce extra travelling but for me travelling 10-15 miles to go birding transforms the chances of finding a scarce migrant exponentially.

    So to conclude after my epic ramble. Travelling probably bad but easy to besmirch when already seen lots of stuff. Trying to stay enthused with your local stuff good but seeing new stuff is important to stay interested and invest emotionally in conservation plights. Climate change science is young and not rock solid so hyperbole is perhaps inappropriate.



  7. Charlie says:

    Hi James
    Not sure how to answer you really (or if you want an answer?).
    Anyway, as dialogue is good, the point really is that 1) the CCalls are a discussion, not a legislative body – we talk about stuff, nothing more, nothing less, 2) on the panel that night were a small group of people with a huge amount of experience – all we were asking (based on that knowledge) was whether today’s birders can carry on in the same way that us older birders did, 3) 97 percent of scientific experts agree that climate change is “very likely” caused mainly by human activity – I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve read I see no reason to doubt them, 4) can you do a Year List if you want to? That’s not my call (you asked if I’ve done one in the UK: yes, but I wouldn’t waste my time doing one again and at today’s fuel prices I couldn’t even consider it now anyway), 5) have you seen an albatross? Is drowning them on fishing-hooks wrong? Do you really need to see a bird to understand the issue or can you read expert opinion and make your own mind up? Same goes for Ruddy Ducks vs White-headed Ducks, 6) I am enthused about a whole heap of birds I will never see, know barely nothing about, but still want to protect. Am I ‘right’? Who cares, it’s how I am. If you need to see a Myzornis, Harpy Eagle, Emperor Penguin, Shoebill, Inca Tern, or Puerto Rican Nightjar (none of which I’ve seen) to care about them that’s your prerogative, 7) travelling is not easy to besmirch just because I’ve done a lot, travelling is easier to besmirch because I’ve seen its effects (new airports, the enormous waste created by the airline industry, the noise disturbance) and am realistic enough to admit that the world is changing and there will come a point when we simply won’t be able to travel so frequently or as cheaply as we do now and still ignore the environmental cost.
    I appreciate that by raising my head above the proverbial parapet I’m asking to get shot the way birding is today, but the above is how I think. Nothing more, nothing less – thanks for taking such time to construct your arguments, and thanks for considering my response.

  8. Tim Allwood says:

    Again, whilst being able to appreciate James’ well-explained point of view, I pretty much concur with the sentiments expressed by Charlie. Although as you say Charlie, there’s very little appetite for them to be discussed anywhere, certainly when the most important thing in the universe currently is travelling to Wales to see a small yellow passerine from the Americas. It’s such a difficult thing to address as it makes us look at ourselves and the motives for our actions in ways that we might not usually do and to perhaps hold two conflicting viewpoints at the same time – something that young children do unthinkingly, funnily enough. I did begin to feel that I really shouldn’t be travelling so much several years ago and was well aware of what my jet travel was doing on trips to Tibet and Arunachal – I had almost subconsciously decided that these would probably be my last ‘real’ trips as they were places I’d always dreamed of going to for birds I’d grown up thinking were almost mythical creatures, seeing as for so long those places were practically inaccessible and still are without a fair amount of effort.

    Still, I did travel to see wonderful birds and wonderful places in full knowledge of what my actions were doing so I’m certainly not going to moralise and wouldn’t dream of even suggesting how others should behave – it’s just something that you have to deal with internally and do what you think is the right thing at that moment. The dilemma is encapsulated for me in an experience I had over 10 years ago: I visited a mate who was doing a PhD in Peru and we ended up independently taking a boat up a river seldom travelled, for 250km, until we were only a few hours from where the indigenous forest community had attacked people on the river with bows and arrows. I have to admit I got a real frisson of excitement while at the same time feeling that I really ought not to be doing this – to be almost intruding in a landscape that had seen very few people ever and then going home and saying how wonderful it was an encouraging others to do the same. The excitement won out pretty quickly and playing football on a sandbar in Manu 200 clicks from the nearest town surrounding by roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjars still seems a very vivid memory – see I’m shallow and I’m doing it again!

    Since then, and maybe also as a result of becoming a father, I have changed my behaviour markedly and as I mentioned above I hardly travel anywhere beyond a small area of east Norfolk. I find it hard to talk about the effects of climate change on our planet if I’m knowingly contributing to that self same problem when I don’t really need to be. When I did travel it was often for long periods with little contribution to my carbon footprint, through extended stays in third world countries including a couple of years in Indonesia when I had a much lower carbon footprint that it had been before or has been since. I also think that this was the kind of travel taken by the more intrepid birders of the 80s and 90s that spawned long ground-breaking trip reports and produced so many birders that became conservationists, field guide authors and tour leaders etc. Even if people would like to, I suspect very few could stay (or would even wish to stay) in a third world country for a few months at a time and live a ‘local’ ish sort of lifestyle.

    So short duration trips may become evermore popular with the advent of cheap air travel and budget airlines, and the opportunity for breaks to go birding across Europe, the middle east and North Africa etc. I mean just look at the BirdFair now – it seems to be a massive advert for foreign travel and over consumption of things you don’t really need.

    I do find it a horribly thorny issue and count several commited travellers as good friends and many like Jos Stratford and James at BirdTour Asia are among the most dedicated birders and likeable people you could ever meet, both having gone out of their way to make my experiences of the planet considerably richer.

    To lighten the mood and answer your questions James:
    Never done a yearlist – not really me. The only lists I’ve ever kept are my local patch (TG42 square) list and the historic TG42 list (350 species). I can’t see the point in a yearlist and given the state of things, it seems almost wilfully wasteful. Then again, I live in a great spot for birds.
    Climate Change: I see no reason to disagree with the ideas held by the vast majority of mainstream climate scientists, and what I’ve studied seems to make sense – whatever we posit is causing it, something is making the mercury rise.
    I don’t think you have to see a bird to be concerned about it and its future. If that’s the case then we’re in trouble as most people will never see most birds consigning them to an out of sight, out of mind dwindle to extinction. I certainly put in a lot of time helping to raise the profile of birds and places I wouldn’t see while I was involved with OBC.

    Blimey, that’s the most serious I’ve been for a long time, or at least since my daughter ripped up my tax disc and fed several two pence pieces to the car CD player. Anyway to sum up pithily: if you feel it’s something you need to do, you probably need to do it until it’s out of your system, and maybe it never will be, but do you really, really have to do another British yearlist?. Whatever, as my old dad used to say to my worried mum whenever I had a daft idea: “let him go, if he dies, he’ll die doing something he loves doing” and none of us can hope for much more than that from life on this mixed up planet. Apart from not dying at all, obviously.

  9. Well I’d quite like to know why there hasn’t been a Conference Calls since this one. Money reasons? Legal reason?

  10. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Richard.
    Not legal reasons, no – I simply ran out of money and couldn’t justify turning down paid work to always keep Tuesdays open to record the next CCalls and at least a whole day in the week to edit the podcast. Hopefully one day we (or more specifically to be honest I) will be in a better financial position and we’ll start them again.

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  1. Here’s Jonny – and here is his Big Bird Race story…..

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