Sunday 25 August 2013

Next Generation Birders

A frequent talking point amongst those of us of a certain age is the lack of young birders these days. When I was in my 20s there were loads of us; now I only know one proper birder under 30 in Leicestershire, and not many more under 40, although there are no doubt some I haven’t met.

So it was pleasing to learn recently that there is a group calling themselves Next Generation Birders. They have a Facebook group with 85 members and a blog, although that doesn’t seem to have been updated recently!

They describe themselves as “a group of young people aged 13-25 who have been brought together by a passion for all things nature, particularly birdwatching. Originally starting as a Facebook group we are now branching out in order to share our birdwatching experiences, and passing our knowledge (what little we have!).”

I’m not sure what happens when you get to 25 – maybe you get kicked out and take to moaning about how things aren’t as good as they were in your day?

Anyway, I was asked by the group recently if I could design a logo for them, which of course I was delighted to do. After coming up with a few different ideas, they unanimously chose this design as their new logo:

Monday 12 August 2013

Autumn Wishlist

This worked well last year when I posted a list of spring birds I’d like to see in Leicestershire, and several of them duly turned up, so let’s try it again for the autumn. In view of the fall of a few blockers recently, the emphasis is very much on birds that other people have seen and I haven’t!

Long-tailed Skua – Richard Fray and I missed the first of the two modern county records (Rutland Water north arm, September 1997) by a whisker, as we sat in the car and had a leisurely lunch before strolling down to see if the assembled birders there were actually watching anything. They weren’t – it had flown through a few minutes earlier.

Roseate Tern – only one semi-twitchable record, in August 2004, which I missed because it was Mrs Llama’s birthday. Not blaming her for that, just thinking that I should have accumulated some cosmic Brownie points by not buggering off to see it!

Richard’s Pipit – I was on Shetland when the only twitchable county record occurred, on Bardon Hill in October 2006. I’m not going to Shetland this year...

Lapland Bunting – everyone’s seen one of these apart from me, again, because I’m usually not here when they turn up.

And a few other miscellaneous things that are ’due’ in Leics & Rutland that would be county ticks for most people:

Pallid Harrier

Any pratincole

Least Sand and/or SemiP

Bonaparte’s Gull

A twitchable Shore Lark

A rare Phyllosc

And maybe we should now add Two-barred Crossbill to that list?

Monday 5 August 2013

Living in The Past

They say in sport that ‘records are there to be broken’, and it’s the same with birding blockers – they’re there to fall. It's amazing that it’s taken so long for another Night Heron to turn up in Leics, as it's not that rare a bird nationally, but incredibly it’s over 28 years since the last one. And, old fart that I am, I saw that bird, at Rutland Water on 17th February 1985.

The recent appearance of one at Thornton Res prompted me to dig out my ‘big notebook’ from that time, which is actually a ring binder in which I used to write up my field notes and add photos, drawings etc in true Bill Oddie style. I’ve long since stopped doing this, but it’s always amusing to look back at these relics and relive past birding days.
So, according to my notes from that day... “As we [Jeff Higgott and I] were walking back to the car, we heard news of a Night Heron that had been seen yesterday at Whitwell Creek, in the North Arm. We drove there and waited for about 2½ hours with a few other birders. The bird flew in at 2.51pm, by which time the crowd had grown to about 50 or 60. We watched the bird, an immature, for about 1½ hours.”

There then follows a lengthy description of the bird, which I won’t bore you with here, but suffice to say that it was a genuine field description, not made up later from photos, which would have been difficult anyway, since my best effort, with a film camera and a crappy old telephoto lens that cost about £15, was this:

Sadly, the bird was found dead the next day, presumably having starved in the freezing weather of that particularly cold winter. I don’t know where the stuffed specimen is now, but I seem to remember seeing it in the basement of the New Walk Museum in Leicester years ago.

Looking back at old notebooks like this inevitably gets you thinking about how much things have changed in the intervening time. 28 years may be a long time in birding, but it’s a gnat’s fart in terms of human history. It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1985 there were of course no mobile phones, no digital cameras, no Internet, and no home computers to speak of. And no information services other than your personal contacts, Nancy’s Cafe and Ceefax. If we hadn’t happened to bump into whoever told us about it that day (I have a feeling it was Chris Hubbard, but I could be wrong), we probably wouldn’t have heard about it until it was too late, and I would have been celebrating county-ticking the Thornton bird instead of lamenting the fall of a blocker.

There’s obviously only one piece of music that can go with this post: