To start a new year and to celebrate a year of “Elliot’s Birding Diaries” I’ve decided to have a guest post series, similar to that of Findlay Wilde’s “13 years Wilde”. In this series we’ll be exploring the magnificent world of birding and why my fellow guests and I took up birding, along with are birding highlights. The guest posts will be carried out by my closest birding and photography friends: Allan Conlin, Findlay Wilde and Joel Tragen are just a handful of some of the brilliant guests lined up. With my guests coming from a variety of backgrounds it’ll be interesting to see what material they produce. The posts which my guest shall be writing will be based around 5 questions:
When- Did you start birding?
Who- Got you into birding?
Why- Do you go birding? What drives you?
What- Your best birding moment?
The Future – What do you think the future holds for the birding world?
I’m kicking the series off tonight and posts will follow via my 10 very special guests each consecutive week. I hope that you enjoy the series as much as I will and please feel free to send your messages.
When- Did you start birding?
Even though I first encountered the wonders of the avian world when I was 5 I didn’t take up Birding till I was 13, this was because I wasn’t encouraged to go out and explore nature at that age. I was endlessly getting bullied in school and my mum was working endlessly trying to rise 3 kids single handily (2 with disabilities).
The reason why I took up birding when I was 13 was because I was going through a tough time in school, which got me very stressed out, I desperately needed somewhere I could calm down, relax and I could just be me and I found all of this at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands. On my first visit I just fell in love with the place, I’d never come across such a calm and the friendly atmosphere before. I hadn’t been anywhere like it, it was the first place where could communicate to other people about something I felt so passionate about, nature.
I remember spending 5hrs in the Marsh Covert Hide just starring out the window watching the golden reeds swaying in the wind and listening out to the sounds of Water Rails, Cetti’s Warblers, Teal and Black-tailed Godwits. All of my troubles just escaped. It’s because of what I felt when I visited RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and seeing birds such as Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Grebe, White-fronted Geese and Hobby, that drove me go get there and start Birding.
Who- Got you into birding:
Even though when I was 5 and mum took me to see breeding Black-winged Stilts up at WWT Martin Mere, yes it was that moment which inserted that spark inside of me, but for the next 6 years it just lay dormant. It was through my own exploration and wanting to see more and more avian wonders that made the little spark inside me active and transform into a fireworks. Without my own exploration I highly doubt that I would have become the avid and dedicated Birder I am today.
Why – Do you go birding? What drives you?
I go birding because I have an uncontrollable desirer for birds, it’s as simple as that. I love seeing how light can affect a birds plumage, seeing how different birds react to different situations; if a Peregrine flies over which birds shoot up and what’s their behaviour like in flight, tracking birds to their nest sites and finding a birds feeding circuit.
It’s an obsession of mine to watch the behaviour of certain bird species for hours on end: Common Terns on their nests protecting their young from hungry young, Great crested Grebes in their family units, one keeping an eye on the young while the other goes off to feed, and gigantic flocks of Black-tailed Godwits at Gilroy Nature Park cleansing themselves. With the sheer amount of time that I spend outside it increases the chance of finding something a bit rare.
I do the local twitch Laughing Gull, Red-footed Falcon, American Buff-bellied Pipit and Pied-billed Grebe. Seeing something new does give you that buzz of excitement, but it’s the same if you ask any birder, “Nothing compares to finding your own”. I absolutely love it when I find a rarity: Ring-billed Gull, Grey Phalarope, Waxwing, Icterine Warbler and “Orange-billed Tern” are just some of my best finds. The feeling when you find your own rarity is just magical, you get that sense of achievement. The fact that I found one rarity after another and another has assisted me greatly as I’m now a respected and renowned local Birder.
What- Your best birding moment?
Now this is a tricky one as there’s so many, every time I go out birding each trip has its own highlight. For this it has to be something that stands out from the crowd and I remember like it was yesterday; before I went on holiday to Spain back in December I had a pretty good idea on what it would be. But then, whilst in Spain I was doing a bit of Scuba Diving when whilst observing a shoal of fish below, a Shag took me by surprise and shot through the shoal and took one! Moments like that are just beautiful, they remind you that Mother Nature never runs out of surprises, and when you least expect then she strikes. I’ve had similar “magical” experiences, such as finding my first Waxwings in my garden on my birthday! Finding Ring-billed Gull and my 2nd Grey Phalarope, seeing my first Barn Owl and Hen Harrier, finding a Great Northern Diver in Birkenhead Docks (patch) and hand feeding a wild Water Rail! But after many pain staking hours I finally got down to my best birding moment.
It was the evening of April 17th 2015 whilst out at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands best birding pal Joel Tragen. We’d spent the morning up at WWT Martin Mere to take some snaps for a Photography Competition. Since Joel was staying at mine I took him down to my neck of the woods and after I showed him the Peregrines on patch I took him for an evening’s birding down at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands to show him the 300+strong Little Egrets roost.
We were hoping that evening to see a Barn Owl which had been reported the past few days, we may of not seen the Barn Owl but what we did see, which we weren’t expecting as there hadn’t been one reported recently was a Great White Egret. Joel spotted it and asked me “Elliot…….is that just a Little Egret?” I could tell by the way it was flying with its deep powerful wing beats that it certainly wasn’t! I remember the excitement on his face when I told him it was Great White Egret, he was ecstatic to say the least! A lifer for him. Next I said “I know where it’s heading, it’s worth running for!” Joel and I pegged it as fast as we could over the boardwalk to the Meres. So fast both are hats came off! We caught it in the nick of time. It was brilliant.
I loved the fact that I was with someone who was just as passionate about birds as I was and even though I’d already seen 15+ Great White Egrets this was the best one, as this bird had an epic story to go with it. For me it’s all about the moment, because it’s not about how are rare a bird is, it’s about how a bird makes you feel. With our bodies full of excitement we walked to the pickup point where on the way we made a little jingle with the birds we’d seen that day, “5 Whooper Swans, 4 Med Gulls, 3 Kestrels, 2 Tawny Owls and a Great White Egret in a sycamore tree.”
The Future – What do you think the future holds of the world of birding?
I believe that world of birding is going to have its dark and light days. As some species of birds will flourish others will demise; for example as global temperatures are rising the UK will be blessed with sighting of more southern birds such as Red-Rumped Swallow, Hoopoe, Roller, Alpine Swift, Bonelli’s Warbler and Storks.
But as they rise and start to populate the UK, the rising temperatures will cause fish stocks, especially Sand Eels and along with anything with a Calcium Carbonate structure to plummet. The results of this will have a cataclysmic effect on our sea birds: Common Terns, Puffins, Eiders, Shags, Kittiwakes, Arctic Skuas and Guillemots will all have their populations slashed. This means that there all going to be a lot rarer than what they used to be, that means future generations of birders will have to travel far and wide to stand a chance of ever seeing the jaw dropping rainbow bill of a Puffin, the swag of a shag or the brilliant resurrection of Kenneth Williams in the form of the Eider.
It’s not just climate change that’ll see the demise of some of our most beloved birdlife, man’s primary actions and influence on environments such as farmland and moorlands means that birds such as Hen Harriers and Turtle Doves could both become extinct in England within my generations life time, and to be seen as just a pictures or a specimen in a museum.
In the Moorlands Hen Harriers along with other magnificent birds of prey such as Peregrines, Red Kites, Goshawks and Golden Eagles are being shot, trapped and poisoned on a weekly basis. Game Keepers fail on an unbelievable scale to manage the land in the correct manner; the heather isn’t in the state it should be for Hen Harriers to breed in and by burning away extensive areas of moorland in order for Red Grouse to feed, it means that other breeding birds such as Whinchat, Meadow Pipit, Ring Ouzel and Curlew will have no cover to breed and any nests or semi-fledged young will be incinerated in the blaze. By their selfish actions there obliterating an environment which be full of graceful ghosts and heart-warming melodies, but instead Moorlands are full of death, despair, and the heart-breaking calls of fallen angels.
As our farmlands have become more industrialised over the last 100 years it means that today there’s now extremely little room for nature. Traditional farming methods have been set aside so that more intense and efficient farming can take place. Birds such as the Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting, Lapwing and Grey Partridge have had their populations cut, cut and cut. Turtle Doves have declined by over 85%, Corn Bunting by over 80% and are now extinct in Ireland, Lapwing 50% and Grey Partridge 80% and only just hanging on by a thread in Ireland.
It appears that the birding world isn’t looking like a bright one. But with the pain staking work of devoted and committed organisations such as the RSPB, Birdlife International, BTO, SOC, Raptor Politics, BAWC, The Wildlife Trust and the Waterfowl and Wetlands Trust, has meant that we can give Mother Nature a fighting chance; White-tailed Eagles used to extinct in Scotland, now there’s over 30 breeding pairs of this beast. Goshawks, they were once extinct to, now over 400 breeding pairs, after following a population crash in the 20th Century the Peregrine has now raised once again and to date over 1,500 pairs in the UK, from 10 pairs in 1962/63 Dartford Warblers have increased dramatically to over 3,000 territories, the Crane, once extinct in the UK is now once again a familiar site over parts of southern of England and has even bred in Scotland! Not forgetting the iconic stories of both the Red Kite and Osprey.
If we can get future generations into birding or any other activity that involves them interacting with the natural world, then we can inspire them, we can get them to cherish it and get them to ensure its protection.
With the new generation of Birders and Conservationists consisting of Findlay Wilde, Toby Carter, Dawood Qureshi, Mya Bambrick, Billy Stockwell, Georgia Locke, Joel Tragen, Ben Moyes, Ellis Lucas, Ryan Clarke, Sorrel Lyall, Lucy McRobert, Josie Hewitt, Zach Hayne, Peter Copper, Jacob Spinks, Ben Porter, Sophie Bagshaw, James Common, myself and so many more, we can safely ensure the protection of our natural world for generations to come.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”