My grandfather Johnnie Simpson got me hooked on bird watching at
pre school age. He would cover paintings of common birds, perhaps
leaving part of a wing sticking out for me to identify. He would
regularly take me out migrant hunting in his mini, this is one of my
favourite childhood memories and very exciting for the budding birder.
Migrants were unlikely to be missed as we crawled around, probably
holding up the rest of the traffic. If the speedometer reached 30 mph
this meant there was a rare bird somewhere! Patience was his style, we
would sit motionless in a likely spot waiting sometimes for ages for a
good bird to appear. As a hyper child this was about the only chance of
me sitting still for any length of time. Although not a ringer he had a
licence to mist net, and for any child this would be highly exciting.
Trapping migrants in his garden was commonplace and as there was a
Cotoneaster bush below the sitting room window, trapping Waxwings in
early winter was wonderful.
Johnnie was one of only a small
band of birdwatchers in the 60s and 70s, (he had become interested
through his uncle Sammy Bruce) and found many rare birds including
Britain's fourth Dusky Thrush and perhaps most notably Europe (and
Shetlands) second Thick Billed Warbler.
As a younger man he was like most, a fisherman. Also in his youth
he was a talented athlete and I have heard of him vaulting all the
fences on his way to a local football match. Tragically tuberculosis
struck and after 7 YEARS! in a sanatorium Johnnie was left with only
part function in one lung. In later years he would tell people I
was "his legs" and I was a very willing foot soldier in the pursuit of
Due to his ill health Johnnie died in 1976 at only 59 years of
age. Although I had only reached 11 years the birding gene had
been passed on to the next generation.