"Talking Naturally" about Birds & Conservation
Birding is full of good people who pour their heart and soul into what they believe. Charlie Moores is one of them. Charlie honed his world birding skills while he served as a senior crewmember for a British airline. You may have read his worldwide birding adventures while he wrote at 10,000 Birds.
Charlie went his own way a few years ago to focus on producing Talking Naturally, a series of podcasts that cover birding and topics of global conservation concern. He lives in Wiltshire, England, which is a wee bit out of the ABA area, but because Charlie recently interviewed ABA president Jeff Gordon, I decided to turn the interviewer’s table around on Charlie and introduce you to his conservation podcasts. [Note: Charlie’s responses retain their English spelling].
Charlie, as a well-traveled birder and former airline crewmember, I assume the ‘travel’ part was easy. Tell us the nature of your birding experiences back then. What did you have to sacrifice in order to squeeze world-class birding in between flights?
My ‘sacrifice’ was sleep! In locations I especially loved – Cape Town, Sydney, Nairobi, Dubai, Mexico City – I would start birding after a very long flight. I was perpetually jet-lagged but it was an amazing 20 years, going to extraordinary places like the Karoo in South Africa, Itatiaia near Sao Paulo, Sydney’s Royal National Park. Who could sleep when those places were in reach!
And some of the birds I saw I will probably never see again: Tawny-browed Owl in Brazil, Orange-bellied Parrot in Melbourne, Sharpe’s Longclaw in Kenya, Pink Pigeon and Echo Parakeet in Mauritius, Hooded Pitta in Singapore come to mind.
In most years I saw as many American Robins as I did Blackbirds, Rufous Turtle Doves as Eurasian Collared Doves, and I usually saw far more Little Swifts than Common Swifts. That familiarity, seeing the same amazing species year after year, was incredible. I’ll bet few people beyond top-tier tour leaders can say they’ve seen Long-tailed Widow, Pink-necked Pigeon, Heerman’s Gull, Little Bee-eater, and Superb Fairy-wren every year for 20 years.
Pink Pigeon, Mauritius © Charlie Moores
2) In 2010, you threw in the "warm, moist towel" on the airline industry and decided to forge your own destiny. You now produce "Talking Naturally," which promotes bird & wildlife conservation awareness. Explain the lead-up to that decision.
After 20 years I was fed-up of being away from home so much of the year and ready for a change. Plus, it became hard to justify a massive carbon footprint while at the same time banging on about climate change. When the airline 'asked' all employees to support a third runway at Heathrow, I - as you so beautifully put it - threw in the warm, moist towel. It was a difficult decision to leave all that birding behind, but the right one, I think.
I started conservation podcasting at the suggestion of a friend. And now, here I am...going round the world and talking to conservationists and eco-activists without ever leaving home. I sleep better at night.
Golden Whistler, Sydney, Australia © Charlie Moores
3) Describe the essence of Talking Naturally--what topics does it cover?
‘Talking Naturally’ best sums it up. I very much wanted to create an informative podcast about the natural world while engaging in a comfortable, natural exchange of ideas with guests. I invite conservationists, birders, authors, birding “celebrities,” etc., particularly related to birding and the conservation of birds, but as the number of podcasts mounts and their reputation starts to spread I’m covering a wider range of topics.
Talking Naturally was deliberately named to allow for a much wider remit, and I think 2012 will see a broader range of subjects. While most of the episodes are structured around a single theme, it’s not set in stone. I want my guests to take their time in explaining the issues they’re passionate about, or conversely to wander off on a tangent. I‘ve had some great chats by not rigorously ‘sticking to the plan.’ Anyone is welcome to get in touch with me about being on TN.
Sharpe's Longclaw, Kenya © Charlie Moores
4) "Conference Calls" is a subset of your Talking Naturally podcasts that you describe as "informed but irreverent debate about the British birding scene." Would you say that Conference Calls is the House of Commons of the birding world? What's the most enjoyable part of producing them?
We’re far less rowdy than the British House of Commons – and we interrupt each other far less! Actually, when we started the Conference Calls I likened them to a group of mates driving overnight on a twitch, just chatting about birds and the issues they were interested in. Sometimes that worked really well, sometimes there were awkward pauses and we ‘drove’ down dead-ends, but I tell you I’ve not laughed so much in years. I enjoy everything about them to be honest – even if the editing can be hard work (the secrets I’ve had to edit out!).
Now we usually feature a guest and have a theme. We decide on topics to discuss beforehand but the ‘Calls’ are still irreverent and mostly unscripted. We’re aware that we’re not REALLY having a private conversation, and we’re certainly not about ad hominem attacks on any individual, so I prefer to think that – as active and committed birders – we’re representative of birders across the UK and have the same concerns as everyone else: we just have the opportunity to let others know what we think. They’re listened to by a wide cross-section of the birding community now, including some North American birders who’ve said that while it may take awhile to understand the conversation, they laugh out loud when they do.
I’m sure similar conversations are taking place there in the U.S. every day wherever birders congregate – it’s just that no one is recording them…yet.
Blue-winged Pitta, Singapore © Charlie Moores
6) I understand some of your podcasts have been commissioned by organizations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the World Parrot Trust. Tell us how commissioned podcasts help serve these organizations.
In simple terms, commissioned podcasts are advertisements for the organisations concerned. But they run thirty minutes, allow an organisation to explain their viewpoints in depth, and are dynamic in that I get to ask interesting questions. In a commissioned podcast, my role is to allow a guest or an organisation time to expand on a topic and to stand in for the person that the organisation is trying to reach, and challenge some of the things being said. If at the end of 30 minutes the organisation has a new member or listeners have renewed appreciation of the work that is being done then I think the organisation has been well served.
7) You live in a cottage in on a meandering National Trust estate in Wiltshire, so many of your podcasts have an Old World spin. For example, you cover issues such as the illegal hunting of songbirds in Italy, the Maltese government stance on thrush trapping, and threats to White-headed Ducks in Turkey. What else can North American listeners find in your podcasts?
I do indeed live in a magical place, full of wildlife from birds and butterflies to scarce plants and dragonflies; it’s hard to imagine why I’m not walking around with a goofy grin all the time, eh? At first glance the podcasts may seem to be based in the Old World, especially the Conference Calls, but on the whole the podcasts discuss issues of global concern, such as critically endangered bird species, habitat loss, and the work of conservationists in a general sense. I think this appeals to anyone who’s committed to birds and conservation.
I cover New World players and themes, too. As you know, I just completed a fantastic discussion with Jeff Gordon of the American Birding Association. I also interviewed conservationists Mike Parr and Dr Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy, did a program on National Bird Day, interviewed Dr. Glyn Young about the Floreana Mockingbird, and recently chatted with James Currie about the unusual hummingbird in Colombia. I talked through field guides with Richard Crossley and highlighted the fundraising bird race in El Salvador in one of my early podcasts.
10) What role do you think Talking Naturally can play in the birding world?
I think a positive one. These messages – of conservation, of the threats that wildlife (not just birds) face, of what people are doing to help solve the problems – need to be aired and talked through so that people normally on the outside of those discussions can be brought in and so that solutions can be passed around.
I don’t see why TN can’t eventually become a major hub for activism, discussion, fundraising, awareness-raising etc. It could all collapse tomorrow, of course, but the feedback I’ve had from conservationists and listeners suggests that TN occupies a unique niche and it will hopefully succeed.
11) What do you think of the role of podcasts as a digital medium today?
I think podcasts neatly complement the work of more traditional media like magazines and major broadcasts. Podcasts lack the visual sweep of a great television programme and don’t normally carry the pin-sharp illustrations of a magazine, but they can provide a different and more personal experience by allowing a listener to get to know the individuals being interviewed. Plus they are convenient to download and listen to. People tell me they listen to them while driving or doing the washing-up; some even fall asleep to them (which I hope means they’re good for relaxation, not just boring…).
12) What are three reasons readers should drop what they are doing and download a Talking Naturally podcast now!?
Ha. Much as I would love every reader of this esteemed blog to drop what they’re doing and head on over to TN, there is no rush: the podcasts are freely accessible when people want them.
However, if I had to give three reasons I would say that the people I talk with are worth listening to, the work they do or the experiences they’re describing are worth hearing about, and I’m willing to bet that every listener comes away with at least one new piece of information or one new idea that they will be thinking about long after the podcast has finished.
13) What can bird conservation-minded individuals do to help spread the important messages covered in Talking Naturally?
If someone listens to a TN podcast and is moved to learn more, go to an organisation’s website, follow that person on Twitter, or donate to a cause – that’s an amazing and wonderful thing.
If we do all we can to get the message out there, we – and, more importantly, wildlife – all stand to gain, don’t you think?
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