Birdfair 2017

Alison Ingram's artwork.

Alison Ingram’s artwork.

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 19.56.18Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 19.56.08Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 19.57.18Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 10.39.11On Friday, we went to Birdfair (my 4th) at Rutland Water.  It took us, surprisingly, almost 3 hours to get their, but it should’ve only taken two and a bit.  First, we went to Lyndon Nature Reserve, where there are breeding ospreys.  There were lots of dragonflies and blue damselflies flying around, and lots of speckled wood butterflies, which I hadn’t seen for about four years.  Lots of fruit trees were in the hedges, including blackberries and redcurrant trees.  We got into the hide just before there was a thunderstorm.  We could see the ospreys on the nest, a female and a chick.  The adult male bird was to the far left on a different post.  The people in the hide said that they had had four chicks to start with, but only 2 got to the stage of fledging, and then the male chick had already begun its long, and first, trip to west Africa.  Since 2001, ospreys at Rutland Water have managed to raise 115 chicks, which is an astonishing achievement for these birds of prey.  Ospreys were once extinct in the UK, like the sea eagle, and it was a similar issue with hen harriers today; the ospreys were taking the fish, and the fisherman were poisoning and shooting the ospreys, but of course with hen harriers, they would be taking grouse chicks.  But, like the sea eagle and red kite, they were reintroduced, the first ones into Scotland, and then when they’d bred, they took a pair to Rutland.  Once the rain had stopped, I managed to get a good, but slightly wobbly film of them.  A little egret flew into a channel, and as it landed, it made a sound quite like a crow!  Egrets are related to herons, and are always nice to see.  There was also a heron in another channel, and it was frequently catching small fish. There was another relative of the heron family there as well, a great white egret, but we didn’t get quite as good a view of it.  Great whites are more rare, and only started breeding in the early 2000s.  Despite its distance away from us, I still managed to get a reasonably good film of it.  A few minutes later, I spotted a cetti’s warbler flitting into the reeds.  On the way back to the car, we saw a kestrel very close to us, hovering low over the grass and flying onto a wire, and an extremely nice dragonfly.

After we had our dinner, we went to the evening lecture, chaired by Dominic Dyer, who is the CEO of the Badger Trust, and it featured Chris Packham, Martin Hughes-Games, Mary Colwell (from Radio 4) and Mark Carwardine, who writes for the BBC Wildlife magazine we get monthly, and is also a broadcaster and photographer.  The talk was about whether wildlife film-making should be more than just stunning armchair entertainment.  Martin was the first to talk, and he talked about conservation in Asia, where filming shows wildlife-friendly corridors, but excludes the busy roads and logging stations, and he said that he didn’t think David Attenborough’s programmes express the suffering of wildlife or the reality of species’ decline. Chris and Martin both agreed that programmes like Planet Earth 2 sometimes lull people into a false sense of security that the natural world is alright because of the abundance of life, when actually it is in a right state.  Mark and Mary thought that Planet Earth 2 really opens our eyes up to the natural world, and they thought it made people think more optimistically about wildlife’s future.  I agreed with them with the fact that the programme was brilliant, and hundreds of children watched it, but I couldn’t help thinking that wildlife is in big trouble, all around the world, and most importantly in the UK.  Mary has also created a petition to create a Natural History GCSE, which I thought was a very good idea.  Before the interval, we were shown a film called Grey Future.  It was about what might happen in the future if elephants and rhinos became extinct.  It was very though-provoking, and quite a likely thing that could happen if poaching continues.  In the interval, Chris Packham was signing books, and I asked him if I could give him the book I had made (you can download it for free at the side)  after the lecture, and he said I could.  During the interval, I talked to James Millar (I occasionally read his blog, After the interval, there was a question and answer session.  I was going to ask Chris what he thought was the best way of tackling the badger cull, but I got to ask him after when I gave him the book.  His answer was mainly to do with politics and the government, who want the badger cull, and if we had a different party as government, the cull probably wouldn’t continue.  He was very pleased with the book, and particularly liked the stoat, which I’d done as a kind of blur.  The book was based of the 2016-17 series of the watches.  I thought it was one of the best evening lectures we had been to at Birdfair.

On Saturday, we got to the fair at about 9:30, which wasn’t too bad, and we went straight to the bird ringing demo.  As soon as we arrived, a sedge warbler was being released, so this was another bird to add onto my year list.  On the board it said that on Friday they had had 83 blue tits!  I expect by the end of the day they had a similar number, as about ten blue tits were drawn out of bags whilst we were there.  There was also a robin, and a blackcap, which I was able to release (I refused to release a blue tit, as I must have held a lot of them before; I wanted something more exotic!).  We were about to go to Chris Packham’s conservation lecture, when it was announced that there was a sparrowhawk about to be ringed, so we stayed for that!  After another 2 blue tits, the angry hawk was revealed out of its bag.  The ringers said that it was a young male.  They had to hold it in a different way to songbirds, in a way that didn’t expose its feet (it could have given him a really nasty gash!).  It was quite small, but thinking about it, these birds have to whizz through woodlands after songbirds, so its really no surprise.  They said that the heaviest blackbird they’d ever had was heavier than the largest male sparrowhawk.  I must have just had the closest encounter with a sparrowhawk that I was ever going to have (unless one comes and perches on my head in the future)!  After that, we rushed off to Chris Packham’s lecture.

We only just got into the lecture, the queue was so long!  It featured staff from Birdlife Malta, Ruth Tingay, Ruth Peacey, and people from CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter).  Ruth Peacey had been with Chris to free birds in Maltese mist nets, which, unlike what would happen in this country, where the birds would be ringed, they would be killed and eaten, which is awful!  Chris was caught in Cyprus when they were protecting song birds, and sent to court, after being taken out of hunting grounds by police.  Chris said that he thoroughly enjoyed his day in court; the hunters accused him of insulting them, when it was actually the other way round, and they had proof in the means of a video!  Someone from Birdlife Malta came on, and talked about similar things, including the turtle dove situation.  The hunting of turtle doves was banned, but they were sure they had been shot at, despite that ban.  Ruth Tingay talked about the persecution of raptors, and in particular golden eagles.  She said quite a few of them had been poisoned both on farmland and game reserves, which is unfortunate.  After that, Mark Avery came on to round up the lecture.  It was an brilliant lecture and hugely inspiring.

We had our lunch, and then we looked in the catalogue and it said that there were some elephant hawk moth caterpillars on display in one of the marquees.  We didn’t find the hawk moth caterpillars, but we did bump into Steve from the Lightwood Natural History Group (who ran the moth night we went to, and you can read more about it on my blog), and he helped us identify the a large dragonfly we saw at Lyndon, which happened to be a migrant hawker, and he said you could identify them if they have the shape of a golf tee on its thorax.  He also showed us a picture of a run over caterpillar in the car park, which a few weeks after the event I found out to be the caterpillar of a goat moth.  In the same marquee was a tank full of moths caught from a moth trap, including a poplar hawk moth, and also some gold-spots.  I did the quiz set up by Aigas and Speyside Wildlife, which was a made up bird that had parts of a lot of different birds mixed into one, and you had to write down what birds were mixed up, and I think I got all of them except one.  After this, we went over to the art tent, and went to RSWA  (Royal Society For Wildlife Artists) stand, and then we saw Carry Akroyd (who does prints for Jim Crumley’s books) and bought some cards with her artwork on, and we saw some artwork by someone called Alison Ingram (I’ve put some images  of her work at the top).

After this, we went to Simon King’s lecture, Wild Light, Through the Lens of Simon King.  He showed us some amazing pictures, and an incredible film of a great white shark hunting fur seals that he had taken for Planet Earth.  He also talked about how much animal products humans consume, and if the only meat product we ate was mealworms, we would consume a lot less, and he showed us that he ate mealworms, by producing his pot of them!

A few hours later, we went to the lecture by Simon Phelps, “What Rewilding Means For UK Conservation”.  It was extremely good, and he talked about the reintroduction plans for lynx in  Kielder forest in Northumberland (apparently they could be there by early 2018)! 

After this, we went to have dinner, and then we queued up for Steve Backshall’s lecture.  He was being interviewed by Nick Baker.  It was a brilliant lecture, and we were shown lots of films of Steve (sometimes doing dangerous and silly things).  Apparently, Nick once phoned him up to see if he wanted to go cycling, but Steve had broken his back and in hospital, but Nick just thought it was an excuse!  We think it was one of the best (and funny) lectures we had been to, and at the end, I asked him a question about what his favourite British mammal would be, and he said otters.