The TV presenter and birdwatcher recalls rough sea crossings, an epic thunderstorm and a very close encounter with a hippo
I never went anywhere as a child
But the one piece of travel I can recall is an excursion to the Isle of Man. There’s a picture of me sitting on the pebbles in little shorts and a Fair Isle top. Years later I went on a trip with a rugby team from Cambridge to Barcelona. We beat Barcelona and had three or four matches in a country I’d never visited before, so that was an experience.
I am very much a creature of habit
If I find a nice place, I tend to go back there. The places I have most affection for are our British islands. As a teenager, and later with some friends, I used to go to stay on Fair Isle, up in Shetland, where there is a bird observatory. We also went right out to the St Kilda archipelago in the Outer Hebrides.
The Isles of Scilly are my favourite spot in Britain
I first visited in the Sixties when there were just a few bird people who had set up an observatory to track migration. I then began taking my family. It’s like a tropical island, with gorgeous beaches and clear sea. I’ve probably had my best holidays there.
I first went to India in the early Eighties
It was hugely memorable. I overheard colleagues at an RSPB meeting saying they were going, so I said I’d like to join them. I’ll never forget getting up first thing in what was pretty much a little mud hut attached to a posh hotel in Bharatpur, and being astonished by the cacophony of bird calls.
I’ve had some rather tricky boat trips
It is thanks to my desire to visit islands around the British coast. I remember going across to Lundy on the MS Oldenburg and experiencing the roughest crossing with our little daughter, who was two. She was throwing up all over us but seemed to be fine apart from that. I had another very rough crossing to St Kilda. I stayed downstairs and strapped myself in. At one point there was a great shout of “Whale!” but by the time I had staggered up to look, it had vanished.
I once took part in a bird race in Kenya
The idea being to see how many birds you can spot in a specified time. We found ourselves in a small plane in the middle of the night, just as a thunderstorm began. We were hoping to spot a particular bird of prey and were chugging over the jungle when the skies were lit up by the lightning. Remarkably, there was that very bird, an eagle, flapping its way to the nearest bit of cover.
New York is my favourite city on Earth
I worked there with my fellow Cambridge performers in the Sixties, literally on Broadway and doing The Ed Sullivan Show. That was the glamorous bit, and then we went on tour around America in a bus. There were enormous crowds at some places, and hardly anyone at others. I heard a lot of great music.
I don’t like posh hotels
I can’t stand people in button suits coming to grab my bags. That doesn’t do much for me, and I really don’t need it.
I’ve had some extraordinary wildlife encounters
On a family holiday in Kenya with my wife and daughter, Rosie, then aged one, we woke up in the night after hearing a strange noise. There was a lot of banging, and I opened the curtains of the chalet we were staying in to see a hippo. It wasn’t quite standing in the room, but it might as well have been. It had its nose pressed against the window.
My wife Laura and I are pretty much addicted to Portugal
We love to hire a villa in Luz de Tavira, close to Tavira but quieter. Apart from going back there, I’d love to go to China with a group of naturalists some time. That is very much on my travel wishlist.
Animal migrations are amazing spectacles
I’ve seen some in the oddest places. When I was working in New York in the Sixties, we spotted all these little dots one evening, swirling around the Empire State Building. I thought they were moths at first, but when I got my binoculars out I saw that they were birds. So we went to the top of the building and were surrounded by migrating species, many of which I could identify. You can’t really plan for that kind of thing. It was amazing.
I did some filming on the Valdez peninsula in Argentine Patagonia a few years ago
We filmed elephant seals and, as we were packing up, someone pointed over my shoulder and in the distance we spotted a little fin. It was one of several killer whales. Some came right down to the beach and one swam rapidly under the water and then burst out and grabbed a seal, played with it and maybe got a bit careless and let it go. That was an unforgettable moment.
Bill Oddie is one of the presenters of Wild Animal Rescue, which will air on Channel 5 at 11.15am daily from Mon until Thurs, with repeats at 7pm daily and also on catch-up.
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