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Cuban tody (Todus multicolor). Endemic to Cuba. Humboldt National Park, 2019Cuban tody (Todus multicolor). Endemic to Cuba. Humboldt National Park, 2019Cuban tody (Todus multicolor). Endemic to Cuba. Humboldt National Park, 2019

5 questions for “casual birder” Penny Robinson

Always birding

Birdwatching is a passion that unites people worldwide. Although Penny Robinson would not officially call herself “a birder” per se, birding has profoundly changed her life. Propelled by her partnership with Tim Appleton, she has been dedicated to raising awareness and promoting bird conservation for more than a decade. We asked her about how she got into birding, what birding meant to her and what her greatest (birding) wish was.
Penny is looking forward to Global Big Day 2024. Are you ready too? Don’t forget to join in and count birds on May 11, 2024. Let’s break records together again!

1. How did you get into birding?

I have always had an interest in nature and birds – growing up in the countryside and always preferring to be outside. Birds provided the main animation in nature. Lucky enough to have complete freedom in childhood so being able to explore and enjoy the countryside by horse riding, dog walking and walking meant observations across what I guess you might call a “patch”. My grandparents farmed so relationships with the country were close – guardianship and stewardship of nature were important to them. Birds were naturally a part of everyday life.

My biology teacher in the first year of senior school (age 11) ran a Young Ornithologists Club which I joined. We had one outing a year and learnt about birds in the club at school. One would hope that nature awareness might be high on the list of subjects to help inspire young people to protect our planet. It shows that just one teacher or person who shows interest and enthusiasm can encourage others to grow their own curiosity and achievements throughout life.

Later in life, I took my own children on a safari holiday to South Africa. Our amazing guide Bert Palthe was someone was a brilliant inspiration and encouraged me to take my binoculars out more once back at home.

Since that time, living in the same village as Rutland Water Nature Reserve lead me to knowing my greatest mentor, Tim Appleton, who has achieved so much in birding and conservation throughout his life, whilst encouraging others to follow his lead.

Rutland water Oakham July 28th 2018: Mixed weather condistion for bird watchers at the nature reserve blue sky reflections wind damage to nesting platforms and a mix of birds. Clifford Norton Alamy Live NewsView of Rutland Water Nature Reserve, RAMSAR site, Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest, Egleton, Rutland, England

2. What does birding mean to you?

I’m looking at birds as I go about my everyday life so if you like I’m always birding. I go birding out of curiosity to see what’s about. I find birding is fun and a challenge. It’s also just part of my life – as someone going to the gym has that as part of their routine. I enjoy seeing birds on the same local patch – probably going back to childhood days of the local “patch” being the favourite, familiar area. Seasonal change is something I really enjoy observing. Birding very early in the morning means experiences and encounters with nature when out alone at these times are incredibly rewarding. I also enjoy birding by ear – occasionally challenging Merlin!

Birding for me means getting comfort from the familiar as well as being challenged by the unfamiliar. I can very quickly lose confidence birding away from home. Finding and correctly identifying a new bird is still completely rewarding for me. Being able to share the area local to me and inspire others is equally satisfying.

It has changed my life completely. 10 years ago, Birdfair was just an event which happened to take place where I lived and I enjoyed visiting. Since going birding more frequently and becoming Tim Appleton’s partner, little did I know I would be co-organising Global Birdfair these days. As well as that, with Global Birding events, getting to “know” so many amazing people around the world through their love of birding is a sign of the power of technology – and persistence! The fact that so many people want to be part of these events is still, to me, an incredibly humbling experience.

I am now lucky enough to have travelled to some incredible birding destinations and met so many wonderful people involved in conservation, guiding and the birding industry in general. I still don’t actually classify myself as “a birder”, despite all this. At a push, I would call myself a casual birder – although I am not someone who feels labels are usually appropriate. For me, we are all just out, enjoying birds and nature, however we chose to do that.

A wild adult male bee hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae, Zapata National Park, Cuba

I see birds as a flagship for nature

3. What would be your greatest wish concerning birding?

Educating more people about birds, giving them a chance to experience birding and encouraging them to appreciate and respect nature in general would be my greatest wish. I see birding as something which should be egalitarian. Birds are, after all visible or audible across most of the world: from an urban environment to the most remote areas of the world. I see birds as a flagship for nature and indicator of the state of natural environments.

The bird I would most like to see is the Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor) which just looks like such an amazing little bird – and while I’m there, it would be great to see the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae).

4. Can you share any inspiring success stories of conservation?

It has to be the Rutland Osprey project. Tim Appleton was behind the process enabling this to happen. Translocating Ospreys to re-instate a breeding population in England after an absence of 150 years and now having those birds as a potential for further translocation projects has to be a winner. The commitment and determination to start such a project and follow through with an incredible success is something people should use as encouragement to “just get on with it”.



5. Where will you be birding on Global Big Day 2024?

From the kitchen! I spend Global Big Day (May 11, 2024) in the kitchen trying to keep up with everyone around the world online. My “day” is 48 hours long as it starts with messages coming through from Vanuatu on the Friday lunchtime (just after midnight their time when they are listening for owls or waders). We had the pleasure of meeting their team leader on his recent trip to Europe – another amazing aspect of the event. A new nation joining in October 2023 for Global Bird Weekend was Kiribati so I always watch for messages from anyone new who might have questions about submitting lists. Tim’s team, the Rutland Lockdowners, come and go throughout the day and go birding within England’s smallest county, spending some of the day in the garden.

K24 mauritius images M9EE4E - Mandarin Duck pair at Rutland Water Nature Reserve
CL Companion Colorado B (3)
Global Big Days – May and October

The Global Big Days are worldwide bird counting events promoting the importance of citizen science and bird conservation. They take place each year in May and October. Tens of thousands of people go birding on the same day and enter their records into eBird. Check out the results of past rallies: globalbigday

Join birders around the world in putting together the puzzle of birdlife – everyone may submit a piece of information that makes the picture more complete. Plus, you can participate from anywhere in the world – alone or as a team. What are you waiting for? Join in! Let’s #gobirding.

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