A Change, As Good As A Rest? Sunday, 12th March 2023

This is not a ringing blog, just some personal musings about different areas of my birding life, leading to an event yesterday, so be warned. One of the things I was told when I started ringing was that, whilst it wouldn’t necessarily become an obsession, normal, every day birding would take a back seat. I didn’t believe it, it was such a big part of my leisure time.

Having moved to my current rural location in 1997, alongside having some great new patches to go birding, I started doing the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I realised the limitations of that: a great snapshot of the birds coming in for the last weekend of January but saying nothing about the rest of the year. For a more rounded approach, and to give some additional purpose to looking at the birds in my garden, other than pure enjoyment, I joined the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch (GBW) scheme in 2003: recording the weekly maxima of the bird species using my garden, as well as a host of other aspects of garden wildlife. Between 2014 and 2020 I was an ambassador for the scheme, doing regular talks to Women’s Institutes, gardening clubs, the U3A and, indeed, anybody who wanted me to, drumming up members and donations for the scheme. When I stepped down in 2020, I was surprised and delighted to be given a life membership by this part of the BTO, as a thank you for the work I had done over the years.

What got me into ringing was taking part in the BTO Bird Atlas project between 2007 and 2011. I wanted to expand my activities into a more focused approach and I covered 15 of their survey squares, covering my village and what is now my ringing territories in the Braydon Forest, together with the four squares that covered the Coate Water complex on the outskirts of Swindon. That was a total of 60 surveys of those squares at different times of the year. After completing that, I wanted to do something that could provide me with a more scientific approach to my birding, having done nothing with my degree in Zoology for the previous 27 years.

I started ringing in 2009, and it did take up most of my leisure time: usually with two sessions on each day of the weekend. Leisure birding became increasingly restricted to what I could see out of my kitchen window, outside of ringing sessions. Ever since, patch birding has taken a back seat to my ringing activities, apart from time away on holiday, when I always manage to get some birding in. As readers of the blog know, I do a lot of my ringing on Wiltshire Wildlife Trust sites so when a member of the Trust team was looking for someone to give a talk to their River Guardian volunteers on the birds they might encounter whilst carrying out their activities, and then to lead them on a birding session, I volunteered.

It was fun putting a talk together, choosing appropriate photos for the slideshow (thanks to my friend, Barry “Beaker Baz” Woodhouse, for allowing me to use his fabulous Grey Wagtail photos – check out his work, it is truly excellent) and selecting a few bird calls to test their knowledge. The talk took place at the Kingfisher Café meeting room at the Wildlife Trust’s Langford Lakes reserve. It meant that we would have a good opportunity to see some of the birds discussed. We had a rather inauspicious start: as the attendees were assembling, a Song Thrush decided to fly into the window next to the door at such a speed that there was blood on the window and a dead bird on the floor. This was despite the fact that all of the windows are adorned with bird of prey silhouettes to prevent such an accident. After a quick clean up, the attendees got their teas, coffees and biscuits and we could make a start.

The audience had quite a wide range of birding experience, from completely unskilled to a couple of experienced birders. I am pleased to say that the talk went well across the board. After an hour of the presentation and discussions we went for a walk.

I loved it: on the lake immediately outside of the visitor centre / café complex was a large flock of Tufted Duck, together with the obligatory Mallard and multiple Black-headed Gull. The appearance of two drake and one duck Gadwall excited the entire group. We saw a lot of birds from a decent number of species. The species that elicited the most excitement were, firstly, Lapwing: there was a small flock flying around the site. Several of the group had not seen them before, and certainly not the raggedy winged flappy flight they do. Secondly was the burst of sound that heralded the appearance, brief and fleeting as usual, of a Cetti’s Warbler. There were two of them singing in adjacent trees / bushes. Finally, I was excited (and I know, it was probably an escape, so I shouldn’t be) to see a drake Ruddy Shelduck. It gave excellent views and was a first for everyone, except me.

Along the walk we saw the following: Cormorant: the males in full breeding condition and looking magnificent, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Black-headed Gull, Red Kite, Buzzard, Rook, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Cetti’s Warbler. We finished at about 12:30 after a great fun morning, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who came along (at least, that’s what they all told me).

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