Yesterday was the date of the A Focus On Nature Christmas meet-up – the first AFON event I’ve attended – so 30 future conservationists, young birders and naturalists all decended on WWT Slimbridge for a fun day of birding. I was fortunate to be able to get a lift with a fellow Hampshire member, Peter Cooper. While waiting to be picked up on campus, I listened to wrens, robins and dunnocks all singing their hearts out under the street lights, while two blackbirds chased each other around in the road. I was then rather pleased when I realised that some house sparrows had joined in the chorus, chirping away. This brings the number of species seen on campus in 2014/15 to 31*!
The event started with a talk by Martin McGill, the senior warden at Slimbridge. He spoke to us about their conservation work on spoon-billed sandpipers – an endangered wading bird. They breed in Russia, winter in Bangladesh and pass through China but are under threat due to hunting and habitat loss. An all too familiar story, sadly. While we learnt about the breeding programmes and how they’re helping the local people and teaching them not to hunt waders, and providing fishing equipment, we watched the spoon-billed sandpipers being fed live via a camera. It was great fun watching them running around, searching for the crickets!
The second talk of the day was by Mya-Rose Craig, a 12 year old with a passion for world birding and conservation. She spoke to us about her birding trips, future planned trips (including Antarctica before it’s too late) and also what conservation means to her. It’s great to see young people, including people much younger than myself, so dedicated and keen.
One topic Mya-Rose covered was an oil spill in Sundarbans, Bangladesh. Heard about it? Probably not, as the media don’t seem interested so it was interesting to hear her speak about it based on the few pieces of information out there. The oil spill has taken place in an UNESCO World Heritage site, home to rare species and the world’s largest mangrove forest. The impact will, and probably already has had, a terrible environmental impact. It’s such a shame that little information has made the news. It’s also worrying little has been done to clean up the oil spill, and that as of yet there hadn’t been much international aid. You can read more about it here on Mya’s blog.
After the talks it was time to be let loose around the reserve and park to do some birding. To begin with Martin showed us around, pointing out key birds, before leaving us to it. One of the birds I was excited to see was a Bewick’s swan. There were around 100 on the reserve which is lower than usual. He reckoned the milder weather might have something to do with it.
Another species I’d been hoping to see was a white-fronted goose and I was in luck. Regular Slimbridge birders were able to point out a group of them mixed with greylag geese in a field in the distance. They were far away, but even at that distance the white around the beak was noticeable. I also hadn’t realised they were so small, or perhaps that greylag geese were so big… either way, the size difference was another clue. Perhaps one day I’ll manage to see the few individuals that briefly stop off in Hampshire during their migration.
One thing that struck me in almost all of the hides, was the sheer number of birds. There must of been hundreds if not thousands of most of the species including shoveler pochard, tufted duck, pintail, wigeon, teal, lapwing, golden plover and dunlin.
I’m sure I’d get used to seeing so many birds, but compared to the Solent the numbers seem extremely impressive! I definitely don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pochard before. (Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen that many of any species before).
It was lunch time by the time Martin left us, so half of the group went off to a local pub for lunch and others went to the café while a few of us stayed in the hides. As the last picture suggests, in the Zeiss hide, we also got lovely views of a young male marsh harrier as it seemed to systematically flush the birds in its sight several times, hoping to spot a weak individual. Not lucky while we were present, although it put on a good display and even started chasing the corvids.
The day ended with us congregating to see the wild bird feed at 4pm. Myself, Sean Foote, Amy Schwartz, Olly Frampton and a few others arrived early to watch the birds come into roost as the sun set while chatting about the great day and comparing notes at to what we’d all seen during the afternoon. An impressive number of ducks, geese and Bewick’s swans were all ready to get fed by Martin at dusk. A whooper swan even made an appearance. It made me realise how much smaller Bewick’s are!
I had a fantastic day and really enjoyed meeting more young, likeminded people. Thanks to A Focus on Nature, especially Matt Collis, and WWT for organising such a wonderful day.
*Make that 32 after Ian Watt had a grey heron fly by today.
Update: Now that other AFON members have written their version of events, I thought I’d put a link to them below so you can read about other young conservationists and naturalists.
Megan Shersby – https://mshersby.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/in-good-company/