We’re lucky enough to have another SWARA Magazine contributor on the blog this week; Brian Finch. He has written about Africa’s birdlife regularly for the magazine, and is also the author of the sounds component of the recent Birds of East Africa Application available on the iTunes Library.
SWARA Magazine has championed environmental and wildlife conservation for over 60 years. The publication has helped shape legislation and policy designed to protect natural resources, galvanised discussion on how best to solve conservation problems and connect networks for advocacy.
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1. What inspired you to get into writing as a career?
My career isn’t writing, writing is a by-product of my interests in the natural world. It is an eagerness to share what interesting things I have discovered and only through the written word can the
information be permanently available and shared for use by upcoming generations of like-minded people.
Writing stimulates a discussion and leads to an exchange of ideas, and is provocative, encouraging others to think about the subject whether they agree with the content or not.
It can also arouse new interests and concerns in people that until then lacked a curiosity in the subject matter, sowing the seeds for a future generation. Everyone came into the world ignorant of such issues and only through association, exploration and reading have they developed the interests to follow a certain path.
2) Where are your favourite places that you have visited throughout your career?
My first love was New Guinea where I lived for nine years as an expatriate, and co-authored the first ever Field-Guide to the Birds of the region. Jared Diamond, who wrote several best sellers following on from the very non-ornithological “Guns, Germs and Steel,” was another co-author. The late Dale Zimmermann was our artist, and with typical “it’s a small world” coincidences came to be the artist for the first ever Kenyan field-guide! With all five authors pledging all of their royalties to Conservation and Ornithological research in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the surprising success of 6,000 copies sold through Princeton Publications ensured that there were sufficient funds for many worthwhile projects, especially those partaken by budding indigenous naturalists.
Apart from being President of the then very active Papua New Guinea Bird Society for two terms, I was also the long-term editor of their monthly newsletter, but there was so much new material, that the modestly named “Newsletter” that started as a single roneoed sheet on inception, ran to forty sides per month, prepared on the original Apple/Mac desktop during the 1980’s up to my leaving. Before this, because we were receiving so much content, I laid the foundations for a printed Journal and called it Muruk, which is New Guinea pidgin for Cassowary, to follow on from leading Ornithological Journals named after flightless birds such as Emu (Australia) and Ostrich (South Africa).
But my true love is East Africa and the constant interest its fauna continues to arouse in me.
SWARA, though it originates in Kenya has a global reach, and is the perfect medium for reaching interested parties worldwide. Encouraging them to take notice of issues relevant to the natural history of the East African region be it concerning conservation, political intrusion or discovery.
I lived at Kichwa Tembo in the Maasai Mara for nine glorious years, sharing a house with Jonathan Scott (who has produced many renowned works on the local wildlife both written and on television), I finally moved back to Nairobi where I currently reside alongside Nairobi National Park. With its 550 species of birds recorded in the current century alone, it is one of the richest localities on this continent for both birds and mammals. Yet last year it managed to produce six bird species never before recorded, in just a six week period, so there is still much more great potential.
3) What is the most important message about wildlife conservation you want to share?
Any place deserving future conservation efforts today, should already have commenced yesterday! There is not a day to lose.
4) What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing an article?
I find myself so engrossed in the subject I am writing about, and eager to share what I have learnt, that the biggest challenge is in reducing the amount of text ready for publication as I will have too
5) What has been your favourite contribution to SWARA Magazine?
That’s a hard one, I think it is the on-going reports in the articles I call “Paddock Diaries.” This shows that there is so much to learn just from your own back yard, and it is this concept that I am trying to push. That is, that there is so much to learn on your doorstep as well as in the remotest of forests.
There is also a continuity, it is not a published story that is directed at a subject, and ends after the report made, but shows the dramatic changes and challenges affecting our immediate natural world even though the study area is diminished to just several acres. Probably the most heart warming article is the one about “Blinky” the male Great Spotted Eagle with one eye, who has been returning to Nairobi National Park for the past eight years, (presumably from Central Europe), and has now become a local celebrity. With his loyalty to the same patch of bushland coupled with his infirmity that he has obviously bested, he deserves the accolade!
6) Do you have any work coming up that you want to tell our readers about?
I am currently in the final stages of working with a co-author on a new field-guide to the Birds of East Africa based on the new technology of using image over art. The full text and imagery is now
with the publishers, once again Princeton.
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Thanks for taking the time to participate, Brian — your passion for birdlife and the natural world shines through.
Digital-only subscriptions to SWARA Magazine, which feature unlimited & fully-searchable access to the modern archive dating back to 2019, are available for individuals and institutions in the Exact Editions online shops.