Life through an urban lens: introducing David Lindo, The Urban Birder
Posted on December 09 2018
David Lindo – also known as The Urban Birder – has been travelling the world for the past 13 years, in his own words ‘imploring urbanites to connect to urban nature through birds’. We spoke to the nature expert and photographer about his photography, his background and career, and how he came to be a fan of Billingham bags.
David Lindo (left)
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I have been interested in natural history since I was born. I spent my early years growing up in Wembley, North London surrounded by people with no interest in the natural world. So I developed my passion myself without the aid of a mentor. By the age of eight, I was a walking encyclopaedia on birds and I was well on my way. From a young age, I was told that nature was only to be found in the countryside, yet I was finding birds around me in my urban world. Thus, I became an urban birder without even realising.
I am now a broadcaster, writer, tour leader and speaker specialising in urban birds. Despite being a conservationist, I came from a commercial background with a particular grounding in sales and marketing. This probably explains why I am so interested in creative ways of engaging people with their environment – hence the creation of The Urban Birder brand.
Wood Warbler - Photo by David Lindo
Where were you born, where do you live now, and where would you like to be in the future?
I was born and raised in London. I am currently based in Mérida, Extremadura where – when I am not travelling, which is pretty frequently – I live alone enjoying the wildlife that this special part of Spain has to offer.
It is hard to say where I will be in the future but I am pretty certain it will be within Europe, not necessarily in the UK, and most probably in Spain.
White-Crowned Black Wheatear - Photo by David Lindo
Who or what inspired you to enter into the world of nature observation and birding?
This is a difficult question to answer because I think that my interest spawned from a previous life. Yes, I was a Puma in my last life and I loved hunting birds and then eventually watching them, which probably led to my demise! I was born with an innate interest that stuck with me and has grown throughout my life.
I had no pivotal moment that made me start noticing birds. I just did it naturally. In the early days, people thought that I was a little strange, but for me loving wildlife was the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, I could not understand why I was alone in my fascination.
Grey-Necked Wood Rail - Photo by David Lindo
What does ‘Urban Birding’ mean?
It is simple; watching birds within an urban environment.
David Lindo (centre)
Do you have an ‘idol’ in the wildlife world? Who and why?
Interestingly, I never really had an idol within the wildlife world although there are a few that I have the utmost respect for. David Attenborough would have to be at the top of everybody’s list. What he has done for the advancement of the appreciation for nature will never be repeated. I would also cite Gerald Durrell and the great Tony Soper as people that were big influences on me. I also have a truckload of respect for Chris Packham. He is fearless and passionate about wildlife and conservation. More power to his elbow.
If I were to have idols then it would be the 100s of largely faceless conservationists working on the ground, sleeves rolled up doing all the dirty work. They deserve more recognition and respect.
White-Rumped Sandpiper - Photo by David Lindo
Photography is a major part of the birdwatching world now. What inspired you to take up photography?
I think that capturing the birds that you watch on film or as a digital image is the next natural progression, if you are an avid birder. In the past it was a big step that involved expensive equipment and a doctorate in photography. Nowadays it is much more of an easier and convenient deal. We can now use our mobile phones with plastic connectors that can be attached to telescopes for instant detailed photographs.
Of course, you can still splash out and get expensive equipment but with the advent of the digital age, it took a lot of the guesswork and cautiousness out of the game and opened it out to practically everyone. Some people will pick up a camera and put down their binoculars to dedicate themselves as a wildlife photographer. For me, I am a birder with a camera. I shoot from the hip not worrying too much about light conditions especially if it will be capturing a one-off moment.
My inspiration for taking photos is purely for educational purposes. I want to show people the beauty of birds in urban areas as so few people take pictures like that. I also want to show people that they should take as many pictures as possible and to love their images even if they are blurred. You should never be afraid to take a picture nor worry about what others may think of it. It is your picture and you took it. So love it!
Rufescent Tiger Heron - Photo by David Lindo
Did you study photography or have formal training, or was it something that developed over time?
I have not formally studied photography and in fact, I don’t even consider myself as a photographer. I just take pictures. I think that I have a reasonable eye.
What equipment do you use for your birding photography?
My photography ranges from using my smart phone to brandishing a Leica SL.
Most photographers have a personal favourite photograph. What would you consider to be the best picture you’ve ever taken and why?
I haven’t got a personal favourite but I do have a few that I particularly like. One is this group of Common Cranes in their winter quarters in the Hula Valley, Israel. I was sitting on a purpose built seated trailer that was dragged into their roosting field pre-dawn. It was a very foggy morning but their haunting bugles penetrated the murk. Once it was light enough, I took this shot. It will forever remind me of the magic that I felt at that time.
Common Cranes - Photo by David Lindo
What was your first pair of binoculars / other nature watching equipment?
I press-ganged my mum into buying me my first pair of binoculars when I was eight. Despite being £14.99 she could not afford them and had to buy them on hire purchase. I had to wait until I was around 22 before I could afford my first telescope. I got my first proper camera was fairly recently. It was a Leica V Lux-4 bridge camera.
David Lindo travelling with the Billingham 25 Rucksack
What’s in your kitbag currently?
It is a bit sad, but my kitbag and its contents were stolen recently in Northern Spain. But now I have the Billingham Rucksack 25. It has been a godsend. My first proper camera bag, it really has been a great addition to my urban birding armour. Contained within it is:
- Leica SL with 90/180mm mirrorless lens, charger and two batteries
- Spare SanDisk 8GB memory card
- Leica 10 x 42 Noctivid binoculars
- Galbin 10 binoculars case
- WD Elements hard drive
- Apple 13” Macbook Pro and power cable
- Notebook and pen
- Waterproof cover for the camera
- International plug adapters x 2
- Charger cables for smartphones
- Smartphone Powerpack
- Small plastic bag for retrieving specimens
- A field guide to the region/country that I am visiting
- Credit/bank cards
If you could take one piece of equipment with you to an important event or trip, what would it be?
I would never leave home with out my binoculars. Period!
Antarctic Tern - Photo by David Lindo
What’s your favourite / most cherished piece of equipment? Tell us more.
As I mentioned previously, no self-respecting Urban Birder can be seen without a pair of binoculars. My pride and joy is my Leica Noctivid 10 x 42. The optical quality that these binoculars possess is beyond belief.
Which is your favourite Billingham product and why?
Up until now, Billingham had not produced anything that I used on a regular basis. That was until the Galbin 10 was brought into the market. It looks pretty cool and my Noctivids nestle within it very nicely!
What’s more, it can be used as a fashionable ‘manbag’ too for the busy man about town!
I’m also using the Rucksack 25, as mentioned above.
Chilean Pelican - Photo by David Lindo
What exciting developments do you expect to see in the world of birding and nature observation in the future?
My excitement for the future does not necessarily involve new innovations. Moreover, it is more of an attitudinal thing. I hope that birding becomes more popular as people realise that we need to protect our environments starting in our urban centres. I wish for urban birding to become a bigger global phenomenon than what it is already.
All those factors would mean more effort would be put into the conservation of species and habitats. I guess this is more of a desire than an expectation.
Photo by Northern Wheatear - Photo by David Lindo
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in wildlife observation / nature / conservation today?
The first piece of advice would be to be prepared to work hard for what you want to achieve. Nothing comes easy so hard work is a must.
There are not many jobs out there and there certainly isn’t much money around. Be prepared for that.
Try to be original and don’t be afraid of trying new things. Even consider doing your own thing but that will take a certain kind of nerve and persistence.
Talk to as many people within the industry as possible. Wherever you can and if you afford it financially, offer yourself up for voluntary work.
Take on board constructive criticism and learn to control your ego. Learn also to disregard negative reactions to your work. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into energy draining conflicts – especially online.
Don’t expect to be an overnight success.
Choose a career path and stick with it. It will not be plain sailing and you will encounter obstacles. You will learn more from overcoming the obstacles than anything else so don’t give up at the first sign of difficulty.
Be humble and respectful to those who help you.
Always help others, regardless of where you are in your career progression.
Common Cranes - Photo by David Lindo
Tell us about your recent projects, including your new book.
I’ve been working quite hard recently culminating in two new books this year: #Urban Birding (Kosmos) which is in the German language and How To Be An Urban Birder (Princeton/WILDGuides). Currently, I am engaged in a nationwide book tour.
Otherwise, it is business as usual – promoting my tours and courses plus, generally spreading the urban birder ethos.
More details about the books can be found here – you can also purchase them at this link: https://theurbanbirderworld.com/tours/how-to-be-an-urban-birder-book/
What is the project or piece of work you’re proudest of?
One of the high points of my career so far was the Vote For Britain’s National Bird Campaign that I founded and conducted during 2014/15. The campaign garnered some £5-6m worth of coverage in the media and I managed to get over 250,000 people to cast their votes. Over 60% of these people were not members of any wildlife NGO – therefore, ordinary members of the public.
What’s next for David Lindo? What are your next big projects?
I have two new books in the pipeline. One will be a guide to urban birding sites within the European continent and the other book will be about urban birding in the US. I am also co-curating a wildlife festival in London during 2019. Stay tuned!
Black-Headed Gull - Photo by David Lindo
Where can readers follow you on social media? What can they expect to find?
Across all these platforms you will find news and views concerning urban birds and other wildlife. There will be no pictures of friends, lovers, babies or pets!
Alpine Chough - Photo by David Lindo
What was the subject of your last tweet or Instagram post?
My last post on both Facebook and Twitter was about the lack of diversity within Britain’s wildlife scene. On Instagram you will find images relating to urban birds with the occasional landscape shot thrown in.
Where can people come and see your work / meet you? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, book signings, tours, talks or appearances?
The best way to see what I am up to is to visit my website www.theurbanbirderworld.com. I look forward to meeting lots of new people at these events!
Black-Winged Stilt - Photo by David Lindo
What do you get up to when you’re not out in the field watching wildlife and taking photographs? What’s your biggest passion outside these areas?
Outside of birding I think that I am a frustrated musician! I can’t play an instrument but I am a DJ and I can’t live a day without music.
David Lindo can be found online at:
Web site: https://theurbanbirderworld.com/
David Lindo is a speaker at this year's Virtual Birdfair. Find more info here: https://virtual.birdfair.org.uk/index.php/session/birding-in-extramadura-by-david-lindo/
David Lindo - Photo by Russell Spencer