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Page last updated at 09:25 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 10:25 UK
Chris Packham's Minsmere paradise
Chris Packham entertains visitors to Minsmere
Chris Packham keeps his eyes open for a Baltimore oriole

Springwatch's Chris Packham says his love of birds stems from a childhood encounter with what he thought was an exotic species.

The presenter visited Minsmere as part of Springwatch 2009 and was quizzed by Michael Skazick, a member of the RSPB's Phoenix Forum for young people.

"My parents brought me a pair of binoculars and the first bird I saw with them was a Baltimore oriole," he said.

"Actually it was a grey wagtail."

How did you first get interested in birdwatching and natural history?

"I liked animals I could keep as pets. I had lots of reptiles and we had foxes and tawny owls and lots of things that I would bring home.

"I started collecting eggs when I found the chaffinch nest, taking a single egg which I still have.

"I had a very modest egg collection of common species, no golden eagles I'm pleased to say.

"But almost immediately my biology master - I was very fortunate that he was really keen on birds - said when I told him about a green woodpecker nest I was scheming to pillage, 'what on earth are you doing that for?

"Why don't you count the number of eggs and count the number of young and then I'll come and ring them for you?

"I recall his face on a Tuesday afternoon being dragged by me to ring five half dead song thrushes.

"After that it really took off. I studied kestrels for four years then sparrowhawks briefly and then I got on to badgers.

"After that I got on to filming and photography and that's how I first got involved in television."

What is your favourite wild animal?

"I'm glad you said wild animal because if not it would have to be Itchy and Scratchy, my poodles.

"Otherwise it would probably be whatever I have just seen, or about to see if there is any planning, which is rare for me.

Chris Packham and Michael Skazick at Minsmere
Chris told interviewer Michael took look out for hagfish

"Overall I prefer feathers to fur as it is much neater and seeing birds fly is just amazing.

"My all time favourite is the sparrowhawk because they are so beautiful and tantalizing - a great British bird.

"I've seen a lot of them but never enough. I was actually lucky enough to rear an ill one back to health and release it into the wild when I was young.

"I am also a big fan of sharks, especially great whites, because they have been around for four million years and are such a top predator and can eat you if they want.

"Dolphins are too cute and for softy girls. Boys want animals that can rip things apart."

What is the best time of year for wildlife?

"It varies, down south the best time was probably the end of May. Anyway late spring when the bluebells are just finishing, the leaves are on the trees, birds are singing and the sun is shining.

"That's the best time for wildlife. I'm not a winter person - all the animals are either hibernating, migrated or dead."

What is the most extraordinary animal you have ever worked with?

"The hagfish. They live at the bottom of the sea, resemble a pink sausage with no eyes - just a mouth and a bum and when a fish dies and sinks to the bottom they eat it.

"Hundreds of them gather around this one fish and to stop them getting tied to each other or themselves they excrete tonnes of slime.

You must never think you know it all, there are no know-it-alls in natural history!
Chris Packham

"Once I had one in a bucket and I had to pick it up for the camera.

"I must have been touching it like another hagfish because it produced enough slime to fill a bucket, I don't know where it all came from.

"So that's the hagfish - a long pink sausage which produces a bucketful of slime every time you touch it."

"Just like some people I know."

What has been your best moment on Springwatch 2009?

"Very difficult. I've really enjoyed seeing the swallows and the chaffinches, all the common birds because when I was young I spent a lot of time watching them in my garden and since then I have spent a lot of time in foreign places filming exotic animals so these common birds bring back childhood memories.

"The highlight of the actual programme-making was when we recorded that otter while we were live and actually managed to get it turned around and on the show.

"That was exciting because it's a shy and elusive animal as you know."

What advice would you give to young people wanting to follow in your footsteps?

"Really easy, you just need to maintain a fervent curiosity and recognise that you know very little about a great amount, but you will continue to learn throughout the course of your life.

The view from the east hide at Minsmere
Bitterns and marsh harriers are amongst the species at Minsmere

"There are no experts in the field, there is always more to learn.

"Then you need to be enthusiastic, so enthusiastic that for years you have bored your friends and family by talking about nothing but birds and animals, and then when they've finally gone rigid with boredom you start to bore other people by talking about nothing but birds and animals.

"So that's it really - energy, enthusiasm and most importantly the curiosity to always want to know what that is.

"In fact, I was just looking at the pond-dipping trays and I saw something that I didn't recognise.

"You must never think you know it all, there are no know-it-alls in natural history!"




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