Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Get volunteering! By Ben Moyes

I have been volunteering at RSPB Minsmere for 4 years now, and I find it’s not only a great way to connect with wildlife myself, but also to engage other people visiting the reserve with wildlife too.

My main role as a volunteer at Minsmere is being a guide out on the reserve. This entails sitting in the various hides, and talking to visitors that come in to look at the wildlife, and showing it to them. I particularly like talking to children that come into the hides and showing them Minsmere’s speciality species, as I think that if you can get the younger generation hooked into wildlife, it bodes well for the future generation. We need a greater number of young wildlife enthusiasts, so do your bit, by getting your children to a local nature reserve, and show them the wildlife that the area holds.

There are many different roles you can undertake as a volunteer however. At Minsmere for example, you can be a receptionist, caterer or shop assistant. In their own way, they all link you to the wildlife around the reserve. For example, when catering, you will overlook the bird feeders, which are usually very busy with common bird species. Or, you may be outside collecting somebody's tray of food, which overlooks the amazing Sand Martin colony in the summer, where you can obtain really close views of flyby adults as they travel back and forth from their nests.
Purple Swamphen by Ben Moyes

My main interest in the wildlife world is birding, so whilst volunteering at Minsmere, birds are the main species I look for. Of course, you cannot go around the reserve without admiring the Avocets, Marsh Harrier, Bitterns or Bearded Tits. However, I have seen a few rare birds whilst volunteering at Minsmere. These include the Purple Swamphen, and American Cliff Swallow. I was lucky enough to see the Swamphen multiple times whist guiding on the reserve, and it was great to see a lot of people that didn’t know a great deal about birds coming to see this fascinating creature.

American Cliff Swallow by Ben Moyes

Moving away from the wildlife, you cannot fault the café at Minsmere. Every day I volunteer there this has to be one of my highlights! The cake is faultless, so when you visit the reserve, do not go without getting a slice of cake!

Having volunteering hours under your belt looks fantastic on your CV, and also when applying for University courses, particularly in conservation work. So, if you are a young birder, visit your local nature reserve, and become a volunteer. You will learn so many different things about the wildlife you see every day that you would not have noticed before, and it will be a great use of your free time!

Ben Moyes, @Ben_Moyes16 

Monday, 26 June 2017

BTO Birdcamp 2016 & 2017, by Ben Moyes

Launched in 2016, the BTO hosted a Young Birders weekend at the BTO Headquarters at the Nunnery Lakes, Thetford, which was sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust in memory of Cameron Bespolka. The aim of this event was to bring Young Birders from across the UK together, and share their enthusiasm towards wildlife with other young birders they had potentially never met before. After the success of 2016, the Birdcamp was launched again in May 2017, where it was once again sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka trust, and hosted by the BTO in Thetford. 

The Friday evening was the first day of the Birdcamp, where the young birders were able to introduce themselves to each other, before being given a briefing of the weekend and moving to the campsite.

An early start was in order for Saturday, where there were multiple activities hosted on the BTO’s Nunnery Lakes reserve. These included bird ringing, nest recording, Common Bird Census (CBC) Survey and a general birding group. These were all very successful as they provided all of the young birders with some new skills, particularly from the ringing and nest recording activities. 
Bird ringing demonstration at BTO Bird Camp 2017
Bird ringing demonstration at BTO Bird Camp 2017

From my perspective, in 2016, I was a participant, whereas in 2017, I was a helper. In 2016, these activities helped me understand the different methods of conservation work and how these methods could obtain vital information about the lives of some of the UK’s bird species, whether they are residential or migrant birds. In 2017, using the knowledge I had obtained from 2016, I was able to help the young birders in gaining skills from the mornings activities, so they could become more successful at finding nests and be more independent with the bird ringing.

On both Birdcamps, the Saturday afternoon saw us arriving at Lakenheath for an afternoon of birding. On arrival, we were greeted by Dave Rodgers, the warden of the RSPB reserve, who gave us an insight to the work that had been done at Lakenheath to maintain a healthy population of some the UK’s rarest breeding birds (i.e. Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit). This introduction was given to us in both years, which I felt was really inspiring, as it gave the young birders an idea as to the amount of work that has to go in to managing a reserve in order for it to maintain its habitats, and its population of rare breeding birds. After a walk around the reserve, we headed back to base in Thetford. 
RSPB warden David Rodgers giving us an introduction to Lakenheath
RSPB warden David Rodgers giving us an introduction to Lakenheath

An addition to the Birdcamp in 2017 was that the young birders were treated to two talks; One from Amy Hall about her experience at the Cornell Bird Observatory in New York from 2016, where she was given the opportunity to visit here for a week after being selected by the BTO at the end of the 2016 Birdcamp. The other talk was given by Ben Porter, from Bardsey Island, where he shared his experiences of living on the island, and the daily activities he has to complete, including the ringing of sea birds and working in the bird observatory. Both talks were very inspirational to the other young birders, so I felt that the addition of talks from other young birders to the Birdcamp was really successful.

The evening saw us out looking for Nightjars, with the possibility of being able to ring one. This was led by Greg Conway, where the young birders we given some interesting information about the behaviour of Nightjars, including feeding habits and their migration routes. This part of the Birdcamp weekend is always one of the best, especially as on both years we have been able to see a Nightjar being ringed!
A Nightjar being ringed, photo by Ben Porter
A Nightjar being ringed, photo by Ben Porter
Sunday morning gave the young birders the opportunity to visit a Bird Observatory. This happened to be Landguard Bird Observatory, on the Suffolk coast. One of the main interests here on both years has been the moth trapping, which has been very successful both years, with all of the young birders showing major interest. As a helper in 2017, it was great to see how enthusiastic the young birders were in the moth trapping, and this theme carried on throughout the weekend with the introduction of a moth trap at the campsite. 
Young birders at Landguard Bird Observatory by Ben Porter
Young birders at Landguard Bird Observatory by Ben Porter
The final part of the Birdcamp weekend was some birding on the Suffolk coast. On both years, as I come from Suffolk, I had to ‘lead’ this part, as I was aware as to where to find some of the target birds we were looking for. On both years, we managed to see Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Stonechat, with Redstart in 2016, rounding off a fantastic weekend.

Being a helper in 2017, I was able to use the knowledge I had obtained from being a participant in 2016 to help the young birders gain the best out of the weekend. Whether this was the birds they saw, or how successful they were in the nest recording activity, or even how many new friends they made over the weekend, I feel like every young birder from the Birdcamp had an amazing time, and would happily apply for Birdcamp 2018 in a heartbeat.

Ben Moyes, @Ben_Moyes16

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Urban birding in Cardiff by Ethan Hall, Cardiff University Ornithological Society

Cardiff, capital city of Wales. Home of die-hard rugby fans, thousands of students, and a surprisingly large range of some truly remarkable birds. Whether thats the winter thrushes that visit the splendid Bute Park, the Peregrine Falcons nesting on the city hall clock tower, or the spectacular Starling murmurations over the bay, it is difficult to escape our feathered neighbours. But then again, why would you want to? The bird life in Cardiff is something to marvel at, and hopefully you can check out some of these key spots and find out just what Im talking about.

Bute Park
Bute Park alone is home to some of the most charming and quintessentially British birds. A gentle stroll amongst some champion trees during winter may lead you to see what I believe to be the funkiest bird that visits our shores. With a distinctive hairstyle, the Waxwing is most certainly a bird worth waiting for, and if you find one youre sure to see more. Often seen flocking together and gorging on berries, the Waxwing are truly a sight to behold.

Push further into Bute Park and find yourself along the Taff trail to catch a glimpse of dazzling blue, or if youre lucky enough, a full sighting of the glorious Kingfisher. Unmistakable in their azure and golden colours these birds make their home along the Taff and provide that jump of joy as they lighten up the day with a simple passing sight. Even those who arent keen birders cant help a note of excitement when a Kingfisher flies past, a sure-fire sign that this is a bird no one wants to miss. 

Goosander by Jill Pakenham
Goosander by Jill Pakenham
Also making an appearance on the Taff is the Goosander. Not as colourful as the aforementioned Kingfisher, but a great bird in its own right, the Goosander is one of the larger birds to be seen along the river and makes a pleasant change from the never-ending stream of Black-headed gulls.

Outside of the park, it is always worth visiting the clock tower at city hall to get a view of the fastest animal on the planet. It is wonderful that such an amazing predator is right on our doorstep. I am of course talking about the Peregrine Falcons. The best time to see these magnificent animals is probably when they have their young during spring. The additional food they must supply means they can be seen out and about more readily and some cracking views can be seen, especially when the RSPB have their scope set up.

Also within the city, the trees of Queen Street come alive at dusk with hundreds of Pied wagtails coming to roost in them. Drawn by the warmth of the streets, these charismatic birds fill the trees and so many people walk along, oblivious to the hordes above them. It is definitely worth having a perch on one of the benches as it grows dark and just watching them roll in to settle down for the night.

As a mentioned right at the beginning, Cardiff Bay also holds many wonderful birds, but I think we will leave that for another post! Dont forget to follow us on twitter @CUBirds to see what we are up to!

Monday, 9 January 2017

BTO Annual Conference 2016 by Gethin Jenkins-Jones

The BTO’s Annual Conference at Swanwick in Derbyshire is, for many, a very special and much anticipated weekend. As the year draws to a close it is a brilliant chance to bump into old friends, meet new people who share similar interests and to learn more about birds and conservation through lectures given by top experts and amateur citizen scientists. As a teenage birder I rarely get to talk about nature to others, and so this conference is has been very important to me over the last two years and is a weekend I never want to miss.
The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick
This year the conference kicked off on the Friday evening with a fascinating talk on “25 years of ringing Choughs in Wales”, given by Tony Cross and Adrienne Stratford. The amount of data they have gathered over the last quarter-century is truly incredible. I was inspired by all the info on movements, population trends, mortality rates and life expectancy they shared with us about this beautiful corvid. I also learned that monitoring this species is by no means an easy task. Seeing photos of their death-defying use of 20 foot ladders on unstable cliffs to visit these nests, I know I’m not going to complain about using the step ladder to monitor my Blue Tit boxes any time soon!

Tony Cross with colour-ringed Choughs
At Swanwick, the first night is always rounded off by something that really gets my adrenaline going: the Quiz. This is the time where knowing the colour of a Purple Sandpiper’s legs or the weight of a Wren really pays off! Among my team mates were Hampshire ringer, Josie Hewitt, and 13 year old Louis Driver who was making his Swanwick debut (and probably reducing the average age of the room by about 20 years!). After being tested on everything from bird trends to calls we had to settle for third place, with only a point between us and the joint-winning teams. So close!
The next day was packed with inspiring talks, with ‘Birds and their Habitats’ being the theme of the Conference. A session on seabirds got the morning to cracking start, and this was followed by a session on woodland birds in the afternoon and urban birds in the evening. As I’m from Wales and very keen on seabirds I particularly liked the two opening talks which came from two young conservationists and their work on the island of Skomer: Elspeth Kenny, who gave a brilliant insight into the social interaction of Guillemots, and Emma-Louise Cole, who, under the title ‘Aukward landings’ (surely the winner of ‘best talk title’ at the Conference?!), gave a fascinating talk on the challenge that auks face as they come in to land on cliff faces and its potential impact on breeding success. It was great seeing Emma again at this year’s conference and with her plans for a PhD taking shape I think she’ll definitely be a name for the future and will become a well-known individual at this conference.

For me, interacting with others is one of my favourite parts of these Conferences. Between talks there was plenty of time to socialise with Emma, Josie and Louis. We had a great time taking walks, relaxing in the lounge and playing pool and ping-pong in the games room. It was also great catching up with fellow young birder Toby Carter (who saw his 300th bird species the previous week, well done him!), as well as PhD student and ringer Hugh Hanmer from Reading University and Sorrel Lyall. Sorrell is a very gifted 18 year old wildlife artist and I recommend you visit her website.

Grabbing a bite with other young birders
The final day of the conference saw talks on the challenges that face some of our birds as a result of our increasingly intensive agriculture, and also how studying and tracking birds has changed over the years due to a huge advancement in technology. I was immensely impressed by Nicholas Watts’ talk on ‘Wildlife friendly farming’. Nicholas farms in The Fens and owns Vine House Farm Bird Food. In the talk he explained why farmlands birds are in decline and how he has changed his own farm to ensure that wildlife can still thrive. The numbers of Tree Sparrow he sustains on his land are really incredible. Chris Hewson’s talk on ‘Tracking Migrant Birds’ showed how new technology used by the BTO is giving us an unique insight into bird migration, especially Cuckoos. Surely Chris has got the best job in the world!

The Tree Sparrow feeders on Nicholas Watts’ farm
After the talks had ended the conference was rounded off with the raffle draw, and who won a splendid new webcam was none other than Louis Driver himself! I think it’s safe to say I’ll be seeing him again next year!

Louis’ raffle prize – a nest box camera
I really enjoyed this year’s conference at Swanwick and I would recommend attending this annual event to any young birder out there who is interested in conservation and learning more about birds. There is a special discount for young birders, but you’ll still have to find about £125. This price includes the talks, accommodation, all your meals and plenty of tea/coffee and cake. Not cheap for a young person, but it’s seriously worth saving the pounds throughout the year as there is no other conference quite like it, and no better chance to explore your interests. Here's a storify of the conference tweets to give you even more reason to attend, I hope I’ll see you there in December 2017!