Steve Howell (2)

What inspired you to leave Britain for Mexico?

Have you ever been to Britain? Probably not if you ask this question! That’s a little unfair, but Britain is an overpopulated, rainy, polluted, and biologically depauperate island – even if lots of people like it and call it home. There was also up to 20% unemployment in the area I lived, and I had no idea what sort of job I wanted to do, so why not travel and let things figure themselves out? It likely didn’t hurt that I had two older brothers who had done the same, and one of them then lived in the U.S. (now Egypt) and the other in Australia (now Vietnam). So I saved money to travel and planned a year in the U.S. and a year in Australia, and then back to Britain to settle down. And I still haven’t made it to Australia…

Why Mexico? That was complete serendipity and can be traced to my unsuccessful twitch of a Lesser Kestrel in Cornwall, in the southwest of England. I hitch-hiked to the spot, several hours from my home, and failed to see the bird along with many other hopefuls. I then caught a ride part-way home with some birders who’d just been to Mexico and they raved about it. I’d never thought about it before, but it sounded great and obviously it was easy to reach from the U.S., so I added it to my plans. The rest, as they say, is history.

How many of the world’s tubenose species have you seen? Are you planning to see them all?

Nobody really knows how many extant tubenose species there are in the world, and a lot of that comes down to taxonomic philosophy and the need for more study. In reality, there are probably 160+ species of tubenoses out there, and I bet there are 15+ I haven’t seen. But “officially” there are about 130 and I’ve seen all but seven.

If I had unlimited money and time I might consider trying to see them all. However, seeing representatives of all of the main types, learning how to identify them at sea, and developing an understanding of their biogeography and behavior (at sea) are of more interest to me than filling in every box on a checklist. Birding on land is so easy compared to birding at sea, and the joy of birding for me includes challenges and the associated learning.