Your guide to your guide – Steve Dudley
Hi, I’m Steve Dudley, your guide for your Lesvos day trips, proprietor of Lesvos Birding, author of A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos and the person behind LesvosBirding.com.
I’m increasingly known as ‘Mr Lesvos’ after visiting the island annually since 200, have led over 30 birding holidays, spring and autumn, to the island, and in recent years run day trips each spring during the three main birding weeks.
For more about the man behind the bins, read on . . .
Born in Lancashire I’m one of those loud northern types (but very likeable none-the-less!). Even though I left Lancashire aged 18, I still have a decidedly Lancastrian twang to my accent which to be truthful I’m immensely proud of. I always say I’m proud of being Lancastrian but would never want to live there! Well, the weather’s crap and eastern England birding and wildlife watching is infinitely better!
Right: My first birding love is Lesvos, but when there I’m no happier when birding the west of the island. Sigri, Faneromeni, Ipsilou and Meladia Valley – all migrant hot spots, and I just love ’em!
Although I largely grew up in the country, I took up birding late at the age of 17. My Uncle Paul was a huge influence being the nature-lover of the family. I soon realised that this is ‘what I wanted to do’, so at 18 I left home to go and live as a full-time volunteer at the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings reserve where, in 1986, I was appointed as Summer Assistant Warden (then the RSPB’s youngest warden) and my first ever boss in birding was Geoff Welch (who is still with the RSPB as their International Management Plans Adviser). I did a couple of years of contracts with the RSPB working in interesting places such as Nene Washes, Gwenffrwd & Dinas and Ynys Ferig (Ynys Mon).
In 1987 I arrived at the BTO. I did my now usual trick of sticking around as a volunteer, and in 1988 I was appointed to the staff in the Ringing Unit processing ringed bird recoveries and working alongside the great, but sadly late, Chris Mead. In 1991 I was appointed as the BTO’s Membership Development Officer working with Paul Green running the BTO’s Regional Network, the Bird Clubs Partnership, organising conferences, and all things to do with members. At the BTO I worked and birded with some great people (a couple mentioned above) including John Marchant whose Shorebirds book I had long-treasured. Also working in the same building with the likes of Rob Fuller whose Bird Habitats book was my first proper ornithological rather than birding book.
Right: I rarely feel at home anywhere other than when at home. The real exceptions are Lesvos, and as here, in The Gambia.
By this time I lived in Norfolk and was a national birder and twitcher. I sort of leapt to twitching fame in 1990 when I, some would say recklessly, hired the MS Oldenburg to twitch the Ancient Murrelet on isle of Lundy (Devon). It was a £10,000 gamble which thankfully paid off! In 1991 I ran the BTO’s Leica-list competition – a year-long listing competition. I undertook the year-list challenge myself and clocked up over 300 species (this was pre-pagers, pre-internet and pre-satuaration bird news, so this was more than good at the time) and the whole thing raised c.£50,000 for the BTO.
In 1995 I went to work for Leica as their UK National Optics Manager. I had already been involved in product development since 1991 and although I left their staff in 1997, I remained a member of their Optical Innovation Team until 2010 and helped to design all their observation products since the early 90s (Televid scopes, Ultravid binoculars, etc). I’ve long been obsessed with birding kit, optics in particular. Being involved with one of the greatest optical companies in the world, and they listening to this upstart from Lancashire in developing some of the greatest birding optics we’ve ever seen, is one of my proudest achievements.
In 1997 I moved back into ornithology when I left Leica to run the British Ornithologists’ Union. When I started my career in birds as a young RSPB warden, I never thought for a minute that I would end up being a charity administrator! The BOU might be small, but it’s diverse and allows me to express myself. I’m a publisher, conference organiser, accountant, designer – I’m the jack of all trades that a small charity such as the BOU needs to get by. I get to work from home in the fens for a great employer who allows me great flexibility in what else I can do.
Right: I was an early digiscoper but since I rarely carry a scope in anger in the UK anymore, the chances are few. Digiscoping is now mainly something I do on trips.
The other things the BOU allow me to do help to keep me sane! Over the last 20 or so years I’ve had my fingers in many pies including helping Leica to develop new products, as both a contributor and consultant for Bird Watching magazine, and I am or have been consultant for many other birding-related companies such as Vine House Farm Bird Foods and Newpro UK. In recent years I have been acting publisher for Subbuteo Natural History Books/Arlequin Press, publishing works as diverse as All the birds of Brazil and the second edition of The Red Kite monograph (as well as my own A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos). I’ve recently teamed up with old optical friends who run Minox. They sponsored my Lesvos book and are now involved with Lesvos Birding and me involved with them.
My second wildlife love has always been dragonflies. I was introduced to them when I was at Fairburn Ings by warden Geoff Welch. I’ve enjoyed them just as much as birds over the years, and one of the reasons I moved in to the fens in 2002 – I wanted to be closer to both birds and dragonflies and the fens is great for both. Whenever I want, I grab my bins and walk out of the door on to the open fen and breathe. Birds and dragonflies are my lungs – without them I can’t breathe. In 2007 I wrote Watching British Dragonflies – a site and identification guide for British dragonflies.
The drive in all my work is ‘sharing knowledge’. I like to share my knowledge and help to develop products for birdwatchers and wildlife lovers. I get a real kick when I see someone using a product I helped develop, reading a book I wrote, edited or published, or just to overhear someone talking about something I have written or been involved in.
Right: One of life’s great feelings – being utterly, but pleasantly, exhausted from a great days birding in somewhere like The Gambia.
I’ve been leading bird and wildlife trips for 25 years. I started organising private trips, mainly to Scotland for birds and increasingly invertebrates. I started guiding for Speyside Wildlife in 2000, taking groups around various parts of England and Scotland, Shetland, Orkney (inc. covering the fantastic Neolithic archaeology), The Gambia, Botswana, and of course Lesvos. I lead a trip to Spitsbergen in summer 2008. Leading wildlife trips is the ultimate sharing of knowledge for me. Its my ultimate buzz. Seeing the joy in someone’s eyes as they see something new for the first time, or get their best ever view of something. I just love sharing wildlife with people.
One of my ambitions was to write a book. So far I have achieved three and am in the process of penning two more! Rare Birds Day by Day (Dudley, Benton, Fraser & Ryan, Poyser, 1996) was the inspiration of my best mate Tim Benton and I was thrilled for both of us to see it in print. Watching British Dragonflies (Dudley, Dudley & Mackay, Subbuteo, 2007) was the culmination of a 10-year project with my first wife Caroline (now assistant editor of British Birds) and birding friend Andy Mackay. And my real pride, A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos (Arlequin Press, 2009), saw me deliver a much-needed new ‘where to watch’ guide for my real birding love – Lesvos.
And Lesvos is where I spend as much of my annual leave as possible – currently four weeks a year (it would be more if I could!). The longer I’ve been visiting this Aegean jewel of an island, the more at home I have felt. Its one of only a few places where I truly relax (relax mode usually kicks in just after I have navigated my way through Mytiline from the airport to the hotel!). My love for the island has manifested in LesvosBirding.com, an online resource for birders visiting the island (started in 2007), and in 2009 my book, A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos.
In 2006 I married Liz. We met on one of my trips to Shetland and Orkney so she knew exactly what she was taking on! We had a fabulous wedding in Liz’s home county of Sussex (she’s a Sussex pig, I’m a northern tosser) with our families and (most of) our closest friends. We honeymooned on the magical island of Bryher, Isles of Scilly (at the fantastically named Hell Bay Hotel!). We live in the Huntingdonshire fens south of Peterborough and are still in the seemingly endless process of renovating and converting two old farm-workers cottages as our home.
In November 2009 we got Jax, a Spanish Water Dog pup. He’s been a central part of our lives ever since!
Right: Bryher on the Isles of Scilly is one of the other places I feel at home – especially at the Hell Bay Hotel! Well, I am on my honeymoon. Note the orange juice – I’m one of the few tea-total birding types!
Things I love:
my wife Liz (my life)
Lesvos (where I feel at home)
Birds (without them I can’t breathe)
The Gambia (where I relax)
Man Utd (the lad side of me)
my Mum and siblings (my family)
sharing my knowledge of birds (a passion)
dragonflies (my second wildlife love)
poetry (for expression)
watching footie (more lad side)
all different sorts of music (but I’m a punk at heart!)
The POSH (real life and local footie – a season ticket holder since 2000)
Leica optics (because I’m so proud to have been involved in their development)
butterflies (because of their beauty)
all things natural (from where we came)
specs – I love being a four eyes and am known for always wearing shades
the fens (for its flatness, freedom and skies)
swifts (my favourite bird family)
Stiff Little Fingers (my youth)
being at sea, watching seabirds and cetaceans (total freedom)
my garden (a joy to look over)
Claire West (her art just makes me so happy)
the smells of Africa and India (it calms me)
Carry Akroyd artwork (for the soul)
contemporary design and architecture (flare)
stripy things by Paul Smith and Ted Baker (they make me feel happy)
the sense of freedom (for freedom’s sake)
stroking Liz’s hair (because she enjoys it and I love making her smile)
bird song (nature’s orchestra)
Neolithic man (our ancestors before we advanced and began to destroy the planet we inhabit)
birding only with bins (‘au naturale’ as I like to say!)
Right: Another place I felt instantly at home – the Peruvian Amazon. Just great, relaxed birding. Liz and I travelled from the Andes down the Manu road to near sea level exploring the different environs through the jungle over two weeks
Below: in 2016, after over 25 years associated with Leica, I switched to Swarovski Optik, partners of Lesvos Birding, clearly #1 in birding optics these days