Bob Swann biography

Bob Swann is the BTO Regional Representive for the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck). He also helps to allocate survey work to volunteers in Sutherland. Bob acted as Scottish Atlas Organiser during the 2007-2011 Atlas.

I have had an interest in birds since I was a schoolboy in the 1960s in Edinburgh, when like many of my generation I was into collecting eggs. On joining the school natural history society I was encouraged to put my nest finding activities to better use by filling in BTO Nest Record Cards. My first introduction to BTO bird surveys! 

At university in Aberdeen, where I studied geography, I met many keen birdwatchers, was a founder member of the University Bird Club, was trained as a bird ringer and got involved with the first breeding bird atlas. Summer birding expeditions took me from Crete in the south to Svalbard in the far north, but most influentially to a small Scottish island called Canna.
In 1975 I took on the role of sole teacher of geography in the small secondary school in Drumnadrochit, on Loch Nessside. I quickly established a school bird club, which was very popular, particularly, but not exclusively with the boys, many of whom were egg collectors. I soon converted them to nest recorders and got them interested in ringing.
I joined the Highland Ringing Group and obtained a cannon net licence. This led to the start of ongoing long term wader and wildfowl studies on and around the Moray Firth. Summers were devoted to nest recording, raptor studies (particularly Buzzards) and visits to Canna. Three to four visits a season were required to monitor the island’s important seabird populations. The first always involved the bird club members, many of who still regard these visits as the highlight of their school years. The final one was a ‘family holiday’ always enjoyed particularly by my daughter, son and their respective friends that accompanied us.

In 1990 I moved to Tain, following appointment as Principal teacher of Geography at the academy. Another bird club was established and ongoing bird surveys continued. A massive nest box scheme was established in which the pupils built and then helped monitor the boxes.

Seabird monitoring at North Sutor became a lot easier, the colony being just 20minutes from my house. Involvement with BTO surveys such as WeBS and BBS continued.

Following retirement from teaching in 2005, after an enjoyable 30 year career, I began a new career as a part time professional ornithologist - a fairly significant change!

First I was employed as project administrator for the successful EU Life funded rat eradication project on Canna, then as Scottish organiser for 2007-11 Bird Atlas. This was a fantastic job, working with keen volunteers and undertaking fieldwork in many superb areas of the north of Scotland, particularly in the uplands. At the end of the project we had achieved 99.9% coverage of Scotland – a massive achievement by all involved.

I also, surprisingly, have a bit more time to continue my own bird studies, plus BTO ones, and thanks to visiting a large number of countries from Iceland to Georgia and Finland to Cape Verde over the last 20 years have built up quite an impressive Western Palearctic bird list.
Despite this apparent obsession with birding my wife still puts up with me and we are now proud grandparents to four wonderful granddaughters who keep us on our toes on all occasions. 
Throughout my birding I have been involved in many very long term studies of birds. Much of this was highly influenced by my early BTO involvement. I think getting involved in BTO surveys is a rewarding way of putting something back into birding.
Bob Swann - April 2013

Related content