James Lidster was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, in 1976. At the age of four, James moved with his family to a new house set on more than four acres of fields, orchards and the River Idle at the bottom of the garden; the family took their holidays in Dorset every year. James’s older brother was the first to get the bird-watching bug, and of course whatever “big brother” does must be cool, so James soon joined the YOC (junior branch of the RSPB) and became hooked on their articles, quizzes, and stories. His brother would often head out on birdwatching walks with his friends, but for some reason, wherever they said they were going, they were never there when James arrived!
With so much habitat at home, and not many similarly aged children around, James spent most of his time birding his garden or playing soccer (on his own!). The headmaster of the local school (as well as his math teacher and next-door neighbor) was very keen on birds, and lessons included a natural history walk once a week. These trips soon led farther afield, and memorable sightings in those early years included Whooper Swans on a nearby gravel pit and Hobbys chasing hirundinids at an evening roost. The garden list continued to grow as well, and James learned for the first time how birding bridged all gaps of age and respect. One day when he was home sick from school, he found a Hawfinch being mobbed by the local breeding Tree Sparrows (all seen from his bed!). Deliberating for all of 30 seconds, James phoned the headmaster, and after a couple of quick questions to confirm the ID was told to call back if the bird reappeared. Sadly, it never did, but the fact that the headmaster never even queried why James was birding while he was home sick still makes him smile to this day.
James’s brother eventually gave up birding but soon took up fly-fishing. This meant that weekends were spent with their grandparents, and while brother and granddad fished, James and his Nana would go birding. Once his brother was away at boarding school, these trips became more and more bird-oriented, and weekends were then spent visiting the East Coast. Biannual trips were made to Mallorca with his parents.
In 1989, James too went away to boarding school, and with the added pressures of school, new friends, girls, etc., he felt his birding might suffer. It didn’t, and every day for five years he recorded every species seen or heard while walking between lessons. In his final year, preparing for his A levels, James spent most of his time watching the soccer world cup (staying up late and sitting two inches from the TV so as not to alert the housemaster)—and planning twitches to birds such as Bufflehead and Black-faced Bunting. On his final evening at school, his housemaster and assistant discussed what they saw him doing in the future. The former said he could see him living in his car and just going birding, the latter said he thought he would be a lavatory cleaner! “One step up from a music teacher!” James replied, and then went out to prove them wrong.
After this James spent two years at Bishop Burton College studying Countryside Management. Here he met several like-minded birders, and was given the opportunity to learn from others as well as continuing to teach himself. Trips were made all over the UK, and anniversaries with girlfriends were remembered by which bird he had seen the day before (if they ever got that far!). On one occasion he was asked by his lecturer “What’s more important, the Killdeer or my lecture?” Silly question!
After college James headed to the south coast to live in Dorset with his mum. He soon met a few local birders and was invited down the pub to meet some of the other Dorset birders. Here he met Mark Constantine, a local birder, who offered him a job in his cosmetics factory (come back, lavatory cleaner, all is forgiven!). In his first year, he pushed the limits with the boss and managed to spend five springtime weeks banding at Long Point Bird Observatory. From then on it was a continuous countdown to the next birding trip, and on Mark’s recommendation, James and his best friend joined the Sunbirder tour to Israel with Killian Mullarney, then booked on the Sunbirder to Beidaihe with Paul Holt. Unfortunately for us (and for him), Paul was unable to lead the tour, but that didn’t stop us from having a superb trip with more than 100 lifers including such dreamed-of birds as Siberian Rubythroat, Needletail, and Eastern Crowned Warbler.
Having maintained a friendship with Killian, James made it known that tour leading was what he wanted to do, and in early 2001 Steve Rooke asked whether he would be able to co-lead the Beidaihe tour with Paul. Silly question! After getting over the initial worries—“Was I there just to carry Paul’s luggage?”—of James obviously did something right, and he joined Paul again the following year, going on then to design his own tours to Sweden, Spain, and Mongolia.
James’s additional new tours have included Japan and spring in Morocco, and he also regularly leads the ever-popular Mallorca tour. His main interests are in those species that are vagrants to the Western Palearctic, and he still believes that there is nothing more exciting anywhere than seeing migration first-hand at sites such as Gibraltar, Falsterbo, Beidaihe, or Eilat, and sharing those experiences with other birders.
With his recent move to Arnhem, The Netherlands, James has relinquished his responsibilities as county bird recorder for Dorset and chairman of the Dorset records panel. He is now hard at work developing new tours showing off birds and birding in the Low Countries, a pursuit chronicled in James’s new blog.
Updated: January 2009