For the love of Birding: Joel Tragen

Second in the series comes from my best birding pal and Manchester’s finest young birder, Mr Joel Tragen. I first had the pleasure of meeting Joel whilst on a RSPB Conservation Weekend at RSPB Conwy just over a year ago. I remember the other young Birders there calling Joel my minion as he was obsessed with the fact that I was from the Wirral. As soon as Joel heard that I was from the Wirral he was ecstatic as his mind just went into overload: Dee Estuary, RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, River Mersey, New Brighton, Hilbre Island and Hoylake. No one else could understand why he was so excited about the fact that I was from the Wirral, he spent the first night explaining to everyone about the wonders of Wirral. From there, along with that Joel and I were the most knowledgeable about out birds in the group and we were inseparable he quickly got given the nick name of “Elliot’s Minion”.

After the best “weekend” of my life Joel and I exchanged contacts and from there we’ve met up and gone out birding together at least once a month in a wide variety of locations from RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, to Woolston Eyes and up to RSPB Leighton Moss and has done a great job of writing up some of our days out. Joel is also a very keen and extremely capable wildlife photographer and considering he’s only got a Fujifilm FinePix he’s managed to get some unbelievable shots as you can see on his Flicker Profile.

Birds eye view of Great Northern Diver @ Salford Quays

Great Northern Diver, Joel Tragen


When – Did you start birding ?

To start off I have always had an interest in wildlife but I was more into Amphibians and Reptiles with a slight interest in birds. This was because I was always supported to go outside by my parents, even if I didn’t necessarily want to go out. My parents had always been getting me to go out for walks, camping or to watch natural history documentaries, which I was mainly interested in for the wacky frogs.

It wasn’t until I was 11 that I developed a full interest in birds, which was when I was in Cornwall. I will go into more detail about that in who got me interested. It was from there that it exploded outwards, ending up with me getting loads of bird books and eventually a camera to document the bird that I’d encounter birds.

During years 7 and 8 I was getting bullied badly to the extent where I was missing school and saying I was sick when I just had a bit of a cold. This was when I took the leap from being a back garden birder to being a “birder” who actually understood species instead of seeing a flock of 30 house sparrows and guessing that there might be one or two tree sparrows in there with them. I felt like the only reason I was going to school was just to get the grades to get into the wildlife industry.

Who – Got you into birding?

The person who got me interested into birding is a very close friend of mine that I have known since I was very young. She is not as interested into birds as she used to be now which is a real shame. We used to go on holiday, camping together in places such as Pembrokeshire and if you haven’t already guessed, Cornwall.

In Cornwall we were camping in the very corner of the field with open farmland on most sides. This meant that when we weren’t having to do chores or going down to the beach, we were sitting on the wall watching for birds in a field. The bird we frequently watched were the local Buzzards which were always going for the young rabbits about…….which it never seem to catch while we were there. We were also lucky that there were Swallows nesting just above the washing up area which was very convenient for our parents as we kept on offering to do the washing up.

While in Cornwall I bought my first bird book so I could finally identify the raptor we were seeing on the cliffs by the beach and taking the Rock Doves. Peregrines. There was a pair which was breeding on the rocks above the beach.

After that it was my geography teacher at school who helped me with a lot of identification and knowledge. From there on I was encouraged by many different people and once I was bittern 😉 by the bird bug I couldn’t get away.

golden plover joel.jpg

Golden Plover by Joel Tragen


Why – Do you go birding? What drives you?

This might sound a bit corny but I can’t help going out. I just have an uncontrollable urge to go out and look at wildlife. I love watching a bird just so I get a feel of what that bird’s characteristics are, the species and the individual bird its self, because each individual bird has different instincts and each species will react in a different way around humans.

It’s also the possibility of finding something that I wouldn’t normally see such as the Greater Scaup I found at the big Sandiway Lake (Newchurch Common), Great White Egret at Burton Mere which Elliot identified for me or the Black-Necked Grebe pair of Studland. It’s also nice, but unfortunately not as nice, to see pre-found birds such as the Stoke Red-Footed Falcon (R.I.P) or the Pennington Flash Sabine’s Gull.

But it’s not just about seeing a bird that’s unusual for that area for me, I also love seeing birds in their natural habitat such as a lovely Common Whitethroat rattling from the middle of its bramble patch. It’s also about possibly getting a nice photo of a bird such as nice Dipper or seeing a lovely Male Redstart singing at dawn.

What – Your best birding moment?

So my best birding moment was when I spent a weekend with Elliot, but since “someone” has already done about that I’ve had to do about my second best experience. This is less about a day but more about half a week that I spent at Poole Harbour last year.

It all started on the Thursday 29th October, 2 days before Halloween. After driving through the night to get to Swanage seeing, 4 Foxes, 1 Bat (SP), 1 Tawny Owl and my first ever Badger! I decided to go for a walk up to Old Harry’s Rocks from Studland Bay. Old Harry’s Rocks are well know if you see a photo of them but the name is a bit odd for people to recognise. After arriving at Studland Bay were given a lovely view of the white chalk cliff, and with a bit of focus to the sea were we saw 20-30 Dark-Bellied Brent Geese and 1 pair of Great Crested Grebe. We walked along the coastal path which went through a small wooded area where we were lucky enough to witness a massive flock of 100+ Goldcrest and I managed to pick out 7 Coal Tits and 9 Chiffchaffs with this flock and what sounded like a Yellow Browed Warbler, which I was unable to locate amongst the sheer numbers of Goldcrest constantly on the move. After we were back out in the open I was back on the search for divers on the sea, here I noticed another pair of grebes on the sea and it turned out they were Black-Necked Grebes in winter plumage! That’s not the end if it! Because with them was a winter plumage Mediterranean Gull! After getting to Old Harry’s Rocks we had: a flock of 50+ Linnets, 6 Shags, a party of 8 Chiffchaffs and lots of single Goldcrest and Robins. When the tide had gone out from where the grebes were we walked onto the beach to find another 6 Mediterranean Gulls.

Day 2:

I went on my first trip to Brownsea Island where my younger brother found his first Great White Egret flying in, I then found the only Spoonbill there that day which soon after flew off. Also we had: 1000+ Avocets, 20+ Spotted Redshank, 500+ Black Tailed Godwits, 1 Peregrine, 250+ Cormorants, 67 Curlew, 3 Bar Tailed Godwits, 6 Grey Plovers, 3 Turnstone, 9 Dunlin, 9 Dark-Bellied Brent Geese, a red squirrel and Male sika deer. I was then dropped off at the Swanage youth hostel for the start of the RSPB phoenix conservation weekend.

Day 3:

Me and the others who were on the conservation went to do some conservation work at RSPB Arne, during the day we had 3 Black Redstarts, 100+ Curlews, 1 Whimbrel, 26 Spoonbills, 1 Dartford Warbler, Sika Deer and even Raft Spiders!

Day 4:

Everyone from the conservation weekend went birding in Poole Harbour, shell bay to be exact, where we had, 19 Turnstones, 9 Red-breasted Mergansers, 20+ Great Crested Grebes and even 4 Pale Bellied Brent Geese, which are unusual for that area.

The thing which made this weekend special was that me, my friends and family found so many lovely birds which were unexpected and really nice to see such as the Black Redstarts and the Black-necked Grebes, along with the excitement of finding them, unfortunately it wasn’t as exciting as that amazing day with Elliot. Another thing about seeing all the brilliant birds on the Arne was that there were many people there who weren’t used to seeing Black Restarts or Whimbrel, and their reactions, the pure excitement and joy on their face is enough to make the experience a lot more enjoyable for you.


turtle dove joel.jpg

Turtle Dove by Joel Tragen

The future – What do you think the future holds for the world of birding?

I think that I would be repeating Elliot if I wrote my views in full; so what I believe is that future might be dark for British birds, meaning  our beloved Sandwich Terns will become rarer and rare and we might even loss our iconic Turtle Dove and Corn Bunting. However with losing our birds we might get all the continental bird breeding such as the Hoopoe and Woodchat Shrike. Also as the Sahara expands we might experience a lot of our summer visitors becoming residents like our Wheatears and Swallows and that a lot of our winter visitors will become scarcer due to warmer climate where they’re from. So I predict less waxwings but more Hoopoes and resident Whitethroats.

So if we don’t take immediate action and stop putting off conservation and environmental options as a political agenda, we will start losing some of our amazing wildlife.


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