I had the pleasure of interviewing Hamza Yassin at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend about his book Be A Birder: The Joy of Birdwatching and How to get Started. You can watch our conversation on Hay Player and his passion for birds is utterly transporting.
Hamza moved to the UK from Sudan when he was eight years old. Compared to the rich wildlife of his homeland, Britain seemed barren to him at first. But he soon started noticing birds and some of them were even familiar to him. For example, when he saw skylarks, he thought he recognised them from Sudan but reasoned “it can’t be the same bird” because their behaviour was completely different. In Sudan they were running up and down the Nile, picking things up. In the UK they were singing and calling, trying to attract mates. He started learning about migration and the incredible lives of birds.
He champions “birds without borders”. Birds need to be protected everywhere. They don’t belong to one country or another, “they belong to Mother Nature”.
With most birds, you hear them before you see them. Hamza can recognise their calls, like he’d recognise the voice of a relative calling him. He sees them as kin. With skylarks, you hear them for a long time before you see them. Chris Packham gave him a top tip once: when you see a skylark, lie down. Lie on your back with your binoculars up. Eventually you’ll spot them and see that they are incredibly high up. You can just lie still, enjoying the bird. When they’re done singing, they parachute down and you can get a proper good look at them, which is so rewarding.
Listening to Hamza is an uplifting experience. We also had some great questions from the audience, including one gentleman who asked Hamza for his thoughts about raptor deaths on shooting estates and whether shooting ought to be regulated. Hamza replied in some detail, starting with:
Shooting is not a sport. If it’s a sport, give the animals a rifle back.