Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Amazon Adventure: Oscar Dewhurst in Peru -Part 2-

On 19th February I set off from London for Peru, to spent two and a half months here. I am staying at a research station in the Amazon for two months. Part 1, on the Cusco region can be found here.

From Cusco I flew to Puerto Maldonado, and on the flight I got my first view of the Amazon rainforest - great swathes of green stretching into the distance, unfortunately interrupted by open areas - illegal mines, a huge problem in the Madre de Dios region. The next morning I was on a boat heading up the Madre de Dios river, watching macaws, tanagers and toucans. I couldn't wait to start photographing.

The next morning I was out before dawn to see what I could find. Overlooking the river from the station I could see the mist rising over the forest, and I spotted these 2 Cocoi Herons and a Capped Heron in the trees.
Herons in the mist
Behind me I heard something big landing, and I turned around to see a gorgeous Blue-throated Piping-Guan perched in one of the palm trees. I saw these fairly frequently while I was there but they always seemed skittish, so this was the only photo I ever took of one.
Blue-throated Piping-Guan
The research station I was staying at also had a canopy tower which stretched 60m up into the sky. I first went up it a week after I arrived, and despite the hard slog to get up there with heavy camera kit, it was completely worth it. The view was incredible, and on clear days I could even see the snow-capped peaks of the Andes! One of the birds I photographed was this White-throated Toucan.
White-throated Toucan
One of the primates I saw regularly around the station buildings was the Saddleback Tamarin. They would appear at least a couple of times a week in a tree just outside my room. In this photo it is eating a katydid.
Saddleback Tamarin
One evening I came across a troop of Peruvian Spider Monkeys feeding on these orange fruits. Luckily over the course of the next couple of weeks I saw them most days so was able to build up a nice range of images of them.

Peruvian Spider Monkey
This was just in my first 3 weeks of my stay. I'll have another post on the next part soon!

-Oscar Dewhurst
Oscar Dewhurst is an 19 year-old wildlife photographer and birder based in London. He is currently on a gap year, and after he's finished 3 months of unbelievably boring work, he hopes to spend it photographing wildlife as much as possible. When not photographing obscure brown herons in reedbeds he enjoys failing to find something decent on his patch. His other interests include running around on a cricket pitch during the summer.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

NGB at Gullfest 2014: the Arctic birding festival! -Part 1-

Hello Varanger in March, where the reindeer roam, where the eiders are king and where where locals take 30 minutes off their journey by cutting across frozen rivers. A place where seabirds swamp the senses, where Cod Is Great and where your eyes tire from scanning the tops of trees for owls.

It was early February when Tormod Amundsen from Biotope; a pretty unique company of architects specialising on birds and birdwatching, sent Zac Hinchcliffe and myself the email that dropped like a big, Scandinavian bombshell: "Gullfest 2014 - you in?"
There was really no question. To be in one of the coolest birding locations in the world, with some of birding's rockstars, watching the avian awesomeness of the Arctic - YES PLEASE!

So little over a month later, we found ourselves Oslo bound, seeing the weather get colder and the ground snowier as we travelled Manchester - Stockholm - Oslo. Our final destination was Kirkenes, a town 69° North and close to the Pasvik taiga forest where we were to spend our first official day of Gullfest 2014, but that was tomorrow and right now our first night of the trip was spent in the Scandic Oslo airport hotel. A spot of compulsory evening birding in the surrounding snowy forest and fields brought Yellowhammers, Blue and Great Tits and Starlings doing a good job at imitating Redwing song. Most impressive, however, were the human head-sized Moose prints in the snow, as well as mounds of Elk-crement. Scarlet Elf Caps were found as a Sparrowhawk slinked through the trees.   

Morning dawned with snow flurries over breakfast and a building sense of excitement. Before boarding the shuttle bus back to the airport for the flight to the Arctic Circle, we met Graham White and his partner Jacqui. Graham (aka The Grumpy Ecologist) is a senior wetland ecologist with the RSPB and would later show just what an incredible task the RSPB undertakes on its reserves -and beyond-! A very closely-cut sprint through security and customs was unnecessary when our plane was delayed some 40 minutes. 
The iced-cake scenery from Oslo - Kirkenes plane
Kirkenes is in a very interesting area of Norway. Further East than Istanbul and a stone's throw from the Russian border (in fact, for much of the drive to the taiga forest, the only thing separating us from Russia was a frozen river), it was occupied first by the Nazis, then by Russia's Red Army in WWII and it has a large Norwegian military presence even today, with watchtowers and cameo-clad Norwegians milling about the airport. We were met by Elin Taranger, of Biotope who filled us in on all things Varanger; the birdlife, human life and way of life (the mining side of this was evident, with large areas of scarred grey rockface in the snowy hills) as we drove to our first destination. 

It was here we had our first 'proper' Arctic birds, both causing us to lurch forward as the brakes were slammed on. Our first was sitting pretty at the top of a fir tree, like a fiery-eyed predatory Christmas angel: Hawk Owl or Haukugle (pronounced "Hurk Urgler"). The only time I've ever been stared at so terrifyingly was when I was caught cheating in a French exam. I would not like to be a lemming here. 
Hawk Owl cubism ©Jonnie Fisk
Our second Arctic special jumped abruptly in front of the car in a forested area. It could well have been a floating pair of eyes and a black beak, the Willow Grouse was Predator-like in its invisibility with the environment. It was followed by another and a few seconds later, a whole flock of 13 erupted from the birches like a barrage of fat, black-tailed white pigeons. 

We shortly arrived at the first 'base' for Gullfest 2014, the electricity and water-less Ellentjernkoia, where the toilets were outside and fires were perpetual. The first words we heard were from Jacqui who simply stated "It's birds on tap." That pretty much covered this place. I nonchalantly raised my bins to a nearby feeder and promptly had a visual assault of Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Tits and Coues's Arctic Redpolls alongside more familiar (but undoubtedly hardy) Great and Willow Tits. No words were exchanged between Zac and I, just witless grinning. 
What a feeding flock!
The cosy cabin was a very good way of getting acquainted to the other Gullfest 2014 contributors, who, for the moment, consisted of Graham and Jacqui, Tormod Amundsen and Elin (of Biotope), Norwegian birdguide and (often unintentional) comic Anders Mæland, artistic gull-god Hans Larsson from Sweden and the charismatic and characterful Richard Crossley (of Crossley ID guides), an Englishman living in the USA. Meals were hot and filling, cooked by Marit Sundt, owner of the cabin, who walked about the sub-10°C in just salopettes, thermal tshirt and a smile. 
Reindeer stew and incredible company
From introductions over food, the conversation remoulded into typical birder topics and I managed to capture snippets from subjects as diverse as modern field guides, albatrosses, thermal imaging cameras, the use of Twitter and cod. The Arctic nights fall quickly and the light fades to deep blue by 5pm, but this brought perhaps the most excitement: Aurora time! Hours of electrical-phenomenon-appreciative fun were had on a frozen lake by the cabin, as we watched the green troughs and spikes in a star-spilled sky, before breaking out the headtorches for some light-painting. 
Scandinavian sky-grafitti

©Zac Hinchliffe
The temperature had descended to -25°C, the coldest I had experienced and it showed - inhalation through the nose became painful as ice crystals formed. Our custom Gullfest hats were very welcome! After a good few nocturnal hours in the taiga, and with the aurora imprinted on our eyelids, we turned in for our first Norwegian night. 
Ellentjernkoia - magic!

The clear ringing song of Pine Grosbeak filters through the wood panels and I'm wearing 3 layers in my sleeping bag; no, yesterday was not a dream. Biting cold pre-breakfast birding gives a good chance to fully appreciate the Arctic taiga specialties. The 15-or-so Pine Grosbeaks hop about the feeders like inflated sparrows; part Bullfinch, part Crossbill, full raspberry, being the messiest eaters of any bird I've seen, dribbling sunflower husks everywhere. One female bird had no tail, looking even more like a small avian balloon than the rest of them. 

Female Pine Grosbeak ©Zac Hinchliffe
Male Pine Grosbeak ©Zac Hinchliffe
Tits were well represented with the charming Siberians (or Lappmeis) and frosty Willows, which opened up a taxonomic paradox as to whether they were race borealis (Northern Europe and Arctic) or uralensis (SE European Russia and W Siberia), joined by 2 puffed-up Great Tits (Kjøttmeis). Just to further add to the party, a pair each of fat Northern Bullfinches and Arctic Redpoll plus a vocal GSWoodpecker and an icy two-toned Red Squirrel joined the massed ranks. 
Abominable Snowpoll/Arctic Roll  field sketches ©Jonnie Fisk
Siberian Tit ©Zac Hinchliffe
A jaunt across the frozen lake was halted when a stream of reindeer crossed in front of us, some sporting GPS collars, others spray-painted hides - all in the arsenal of a modern Sami herder. 
Zac and the reindeer train
A minibus pick-up later and we were on our way to Kirkenes to board the Coastal Express ferry which would take us to Vardø - the 'home' of Gullfest, via a few choice birding stops. Siberian Jays, three of them, were eventually tracked down yapping to and fro across a forest road and the first of many Richard Crossley "STOP THE BUS!" moments brought us a pale male Sparrowhawk perched in a tree - a very scarce bird in the Pasvik area. 
At Kirkenes docks we met Mark Thomas, Senior Investigator at the RSPB, a man who's had to deal with enough brutal bird persecution cases to stop a lesser birder sleeping for life. Introductions were sporadic on the Coastal Express as every hundred metres of black sea would throw up another storm of Brünnich's Guillemot or Long-tailed Duck squadron. Keeping tally of the journey's birds became death by lines of 5. 
NGB Coastal Express seflie - deckchair birding

Point to the Brünnich's Guillemot...and the other...and the other...
The sea-crossing took a turn for the phenomenal upon nearing Vardø, as we entered the realm of the 'Eider Vortex'. The name is not an exaggeration; the entire sea seemed to lift upwards as several thousand each of King and Common sprung from the water simultaneously, like a summer English river thick with mayflies. Even non-birders on deck were pointing. 
(From L to R: Tormod Amundsun, Hans Larsson, Zac Hinchliffe)
After that experience, I have to admit that our first Steller's Eider, a loly drake bobbing about Vardø harbour after docking, seemed a little tame in comparison, even when joined by 2 friends. 

Home for the night was the Vardø Hotel, right on the harbour front, complete with a stuffed Shag in the reception. After unpacking, a bit of bonding with the locals was had as I was taught the Yukidance routine, part of the Yukigassen competitive snowballing festival held in Vardø, by a group of girls. Naturally Zac filmed me dancing for future embarrassment/blackmail. 
Vardø Hotel - Zac and a skyscanning mate (he was a little inanimate)
A fantastic meal consisting of 2 different species of fish as well as Sea Urchin roe was wolfed down before skidding down the road to the Nordpol Kro (= North Pole Pub) for the first of the Gullfest Talks. The pub was stuffed to bursting with international memerobilia and locals, as well as the recreated skin of the World's last Great Auk (RIP the 5 Razorbills it took to make it). 
Tucking into Scandi scran: Sea Urchin
After a warmup by Tormod, the artist Hans Larsson took us through 'The Joy and Obstacles of Depicting Gulls'. This Swedish Viking ("even if I don't look like one") was merciless with self-criticism of his frankly perfect plates but also regaled us with his knack for finding fantastic visual cues to help identify gulls. A Glaucous Gull is a "flying pig"; a Heuglin's a "bull terrier". Caspian Gulls resemble "Blanka Vlašić" and what do juvenile Herring Gulls look like? George Constanza of course!
Hans is currently working on a new seabirds guide, illustrating the gull, terns and skua families and we were treated to viewings of a few plates - original Larssons! 
Hans Larsson and his Black-headed Gull plate (with Med and Slender-billed Gulls looming behind)
Richard Crossley was up next with a rollercoaster of a talk covering bases from growing up, the psychology of bird ID, all things Cape May and even serenading us with the first verse of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons' "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)". We were shown the meticulous process that goes into the Crossley ID guides and a taster of the birding scene in the USA, including an exciting sounding scheme called Pledge to Fledge, where a non-birder is taken birding by a friend in the hope that they will gain enthusiasm for the hobby. To finish, Richard recounted a poem that he felt reflected his favorite bird, the Sanderling, as stunning images of these clockwork-legged hydrophobics were shown behind him. 
The Nordpol Kro - with Polar Bear sign.
Our minds buzzing with euphoria for the future of birding, we made our way back to the hotel via the darkened star-shaped Vardøhus Fortress with Mark Thomas for a spot of light-painting photography with the Northern Lights, a lot fainter than in Pasvik but still (in the words of Tormod) "super amazing"!
Tormod rounding up the evening
-Jonnie Fisk and Zac Hinchliffe
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig and being distracted by bugs.

When Zac's not counting birds on patch, he's usually ringing birds on his regular Bangor site or is depressed that he does't have the money or time to twitch the latest big thing. Zac is 22 and currently studying a Research Masters at Bangor University and investigating Welsh Twite; adding a touch of science to his birding.
(links to Zac's take on Gullfest 2014 can be found here, here, here, here aaand here)

Saturday, 26 April 2014

This week in birding: 19th - 25th April

A prat, a lark and two special Sylvias

To see previous week's editions, visit
"2013 in Birding" A3 poster is available to buy here
-Jonnie Fisk

Sunday, 20 April 2014

PatchChat: Amy Robjohns on Titchfield Haven, Hampshire

3rd in the series, Hampshire birder Amy Robjohns describes how her patch has shaped her birding:

My patch is Titchfield Haven, a nature reserve in Southern Hampshire relatively close to the city of Southampton. Although this is the first year I've had a patch, I have been visiting the main part of the reserve for many years – about 10, I think.  Ok, so I haven’t been a birder for 10 years but my family (and I) do rather like the café there!

It’s safe to say, however, that Titchfield Haven is definitely one of the reasons I am now a birder so it seemed like the perfect place to call my patch. My patch also include most of the canal path (nearly all part of the Haven anyway and a bit owned by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust), which starts in Titchfield and follows the river Meon and Titchfield canal to Hill Head (the coast), and finally part of Hill Head as well, which looks out onto the Solent and the Isle of Wight.  Whats more, not only is my home close to my patch, but my university halls of residence aren't too far away either so I can visit whenever I have the time!

Titchfield Haven is an area of wetland so there is a good variety of wading birds and wildfowl, especially in the winter. On a good winter’s day, you can easily see Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Shelduck, Canada Geese, Barnacle Geese and numerous waders including Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes see Bar-tailed Godwit too. In Hill Head the Turnstone, Sanderling, Knot and Dunlin shelter by the Sailing Club. Occasionally they’re joined by Ringed Plover which is always a nice sight to see.

You always know it’s the beginning of spring when the first Avocets and Mediterranean Gulls return to Titchfield Haven, and the Black-headed Gulls take over the scrapes - all three species usually breed on the reserve. Many summer migrants come here as well - Common Terns, Swallows, Sand Martins, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Grasshopper Warblers among others. The resident birds breed here too, including Cetti’s Warblers, Lapwing amd Oystercatchers as well as the common garden birds.

Much of the canal path is admittedly unexplored by me so far, but throughout the rest of the year I vow to explore it more as it is proving to be an excellent area and a good substitute for the days when visiting the main reserve is not possible.
My patch list for 2014 is a respectable 75 species so far, including some summer migrants and the wintering waders. That said, I have missed several notable species while away on field trips at Uni. My recent field course in Devon happened to be the week a Nightingale, Osprey, Iceland Gull and Spoonbill chose that week to make a brief appearance, but with a bit of luck I’ll find some even better species in the future. And I have to admit, the field course was brilliant (especially the Glaucous Gull), so perhaps missing a few key species wasn't quite so bad after all…

Wryneck being ringed!

The best bird for 2014, however, has to be a tie between the Little Ringed Plover or the Little Gulls, although I was also very pleased to find a Green Sandpiper a few days ago and the 5 Brent Geese on 31st March! It seems strange to see Brent Geese as uncommon when only 10 miles away you can find c3000 at Farlington Marshes.

Osprey - honest!

I look forward to seeing what other species I’ll see this year on my patch. Last year was a tough act to follow what with an Osprey, Honey Buzzard, Wood Sandpiper, Garganey, Wryneck, Radde’s Warbler*… But they say nothings impossible so you never know!
(*ok, ok, so I didn’t actually see that warbler… maybe my luck will change this year.)

-Amy Robjohns
Amy is a 20 year old Environmental Science student at the University of Southampton who's lived in South Hampshire all her life. She's been birding for about 7 years but has only really started getting into it properly last year when she had more free time. She recently started patch birding and is also a trainee ringer. She would really like to go birding in Scotland, the Farne Islands and Jersey!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

This week in birding: 12th - 18th April

Stacks of Stilts, dozens of  Dotterel and scarce few Swifts.

To see previous week's editions, visit
"2013 in Birding" A3 poster is available to buy here
-Jonnie Fisk

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Amazon Adventure: Oscar Dewhurst in Peru -Part 1-

On 19th February I set off from London for Peru, to spent two and a half months here. The first 11 days were in the Cusco region, before travelling on to stay at a research station in the Amazon for two months. In this blog I'll be talking about those first 11 days.

This part of my trip was by no means for birding. I only spent one morning dedicated to birding, at Huacarpay lakes, just outside Cusco, but I always had my binoculars (and usually my camera) with me. My first full day was spent at some of the ruins in and around the city of Cusco. Although I didn't see that many birds I did hear a hummingbird in the gardens of a temple just 5 minutes walk from my hotel, so came back in the afternoon armed with a camera to try and find it. Luckily it was still calling so I was able to find it fairly quickly, and I spent the next couple of hours photographing it.

Sparkling Violetear
The following day, due to a change of plans caused by the approaching transport strike in Cusco, I travelled through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo, the town from which you take the train to Machu Picchu. The ruins here were magnificent, made all the better by a pair of American Kestrels which were hunting on the cliffs. One flew over my head with a snake in its talons! The hotel down in the town was a great spot for hummingbirds, but unfortunately I wasn't able to take advantage of it as I had done something to my camera causing the viewfinder to go very dark. I did manage to photograph this White-bellied Hummingbird feeding.

White-bellied Hummingbird
Next morning at 7.30 I was on a train bound for Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. It's a slow journey (it takes nearly an hour and a half to travel 27 miles!), and a large portion of it is along the river Urubamba. I was very keen to see Torrent Ducks along here, and sure enough soon spotted  pair perched on the rocks as the water hurtled past them. I was up at Machu Picchu in the afternoon and although I didn't do much birding here, I did spend a bit of time photographing these Viscachas which were sitting on the rocks near the path. One of the guys I met while I was there happened to have worked as a mechanic, so when I told him about my camera asked to have a look. Within a minute he gave it back to me and said "your camera's fixed now." It was just a simple matter of bending something back into place! I was so relieved as I'd bought that camera specifically for this trip, and was gutted that it was broken no more than a week in.

I had been told that one of the hotels in Aguas Calientes had some gardens which were great for birding, so at 5am the next morning set off on a before breakfast visit. They had some hummingbird and fruit feeders set up which attracted various hummingbirds and tanagers, including this Blue-Grey Tanager. 

Blue-grey Tanager
I was also delighted when I caught sight of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. It's Peru's national bird, and here was the only place I would have a chance to see them as for the next two months I would be in the lowlands rather than the cloud forest. It really is unmistakable with its vivid colours and absurd head. I did go back up to Machu Picchu later that day but the rain was very heavy so came back to the town fairly soon and spent a couple of hours walking along the train tracks. Here I saw this Roadside Hawk perched in a tree as well as two White-capped Dippers and Highland Motmots.

On my last morning in Cusco I booked a taxi to take me to Huacarpay Lakes, about 30 minutes' drive southeast of Cusco. Here I added quite a few species including several Andean wildfowl and waders, but the best bird I saw here was the Giant Hummingbird. It really lives up to its name, and a couple of times I thought it was a swift as it came past me.

Giant Hummingbird
I was also able to photograph this Puna Teal as it flew past me.

Puna Teal
The next morning I was on a plane for Puerto Maldonado, and from there would be taking a 5-hour boat journey to my destination for the next 2 months. I'd seen 95 bird species, but had I spent more time looking (and had my trip to Lake Titicaca not been cancelled due to the strike) it could have been much higher). 
Check back here soon for a blog on the first part of my stay in the Amazon...

-Oscar Dewhurst
Oscar Dewhurst is an 19 year-old wildlife photographer and birder based in London. He is currently on a gap year, and after he's finished 3 months of unbelievably boring work, he hopes to spend it photographing wildlife as much as possible. When not photographing obscure brown herons in reedbeds he enjoys failing to find something decent on his patch. His other interests include running around on a cricket pitch during the summer.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Oliver Metcalfe in response to "Where is the UK's Youth Nature Conservation Movement" by Danny Heptinstall

This is a response to Danny Heptinstall's guest blog on Mark Avery's blog 'Standing up for Nature'  and on his own website 'naturewarblings' .
(Oliver's article reflects his own views and not necessarily the views of all NGB members.)

Every so often, an article appears haranguing 'today's youth' for their lack of engagement with nature. We sit on our Playstations all day, with an iPhone on our laps so we can flick between screens every second to absorb a constant stream of meaningless celebrity gossip whilst mutilating zombies, never having seen so much as a blade of grass in the flesh. As a young birder growing up reading this sort of article (or the endless, tedious Birdforum comments on the issue), I can only say that they are counter-productive and dispiriting for the very people they aim to encourage. To hear that there are no young birders around, that you are isolated and different, creates a barrier that is difficult to overcome. Why would you put effort in trying to find other people your age who share your passion when you have already been told there is none?

Danny's argument differs slightly from this familiar narrative, but I fear with the same negative, off-putting outcome. In this reading, there are plenty of 'interested' youths, signing up for conservation courses and over-subscribing any available jobs, but they are not of a high enough calibre to properly support the work of the current conservation NGOs, and they do not constitute a coherent (yet undefined) movement. The blame for this, rather than being the fault of the youth, is a lack of engagement from the large conservation NGOs, particularly within the 18-25 age bracket. Essentially there are too few engaged 18-25 year-olds with the ability to make a difference, and it is the responsibility of large conservation NGOs to resolve this problem.

From my point of view, this reading of the situation is wrong in several ways, and is even harmful in the way the older, more clichéd articles were. Whilst I don't wish to comment too much on an overarching 'conservation' movement, I do know a bit about the birding scene, and I suspect that it is reasonably reflective of any larger nature or conservation movement. Within birding, whilst it may have been true a few years back that there was no coherent, appealing youth groups within birding, it no longer is. Both Next Generation Birders and A Focus on Nature (for more general naturalists) provide a fantastic forum- one of the recommendations for action in Danny's blog- from which young birders can meet, share ideas and generally evolve a sense of community. To characterise today's young enthusiasts as naïve, un-knowledgeable people prepared to drop £30,000 on a university course they know very little about, is not only to ignore all the people on NGB and AFON who are the very opposite of this, but it will also actively discourage the less engaged and knowledgeable from looking for these communities by denying their existence.

It's not even clear that attempting to engage with this age group in the way advocated by Danny's article would be positive for the larger NGOs. It only takes a brief look through the annals of Twitter marketing failures to see just how hard it is to appeal to this age group, and it is often huge corporations with massive marketing budgets that are making this cock-ups. Do we really want our environmental NGOs diverting vital resources away from conservation in order to work out a strategy to appeal to an audience that is notoriously difficult to connect to? A large part of the problem is that those in this age bracket (including myself) often want to create our own identities, to differentiate ourselves from what went before, hence the advantages of groups like AFON and NGB. The RSPB have been remarkably and commendably quick in recognising this, offering assistance to NGB to grow support for conservation in a way that wouldn't work if operated through official channels like RSPB Phoenix. It may be in the nature of these newer 'un-official' groups to be somewhat ephemeral, with each new generation wishing to create new identities and doing things their own way, but surely it is better for NGOs to offer a dynamic, supportive response to these groups as a strategy, than to risk diverting £1000s of pounds of funding finding strategies that are always likely to prove unappealing to its' target audience.

That's not to say I disagree with all Danny had to say – or even the main thrust of his argument, that environmental NGOs are failing the 18-25 age group in becoming the future of conservation. To work out the best way for the RSPB and other groups to engage with this audience, it is necessary to  look at what young people have most to offer. Clearly it's not money, of the RSPBs million plus members only a small proportion are ever going to fit into this category, and they are going to be less well off. I would envisage that the vast majority of the RSPBs youth membership have their membership paid for by well wishing relatives, or as family memberships, regardless of any interest shown by the younger people themselves. The dynamics of birding have changed as well, it's no longer a hobby adopted at a young age and continued through into older age, there are now far more  beginners in the 40+ age bracket, replete with top range optics and DSLRs wandering round RSPB reserves. From a purely economic perspective, this should be the target audience for new membership campaigns, for finding new volunteers and support- instead of trying to develop a potentially non-existent loyalty from a dwindling group of youngsters.

Instead, what's there is dynamism, energy, new ideas and enthusiasm, the same young people have to offer any corporate company. Many industries and companies acknowledge this, and offer an array of internships and graduate roles to young people to gain broad experience in their chosen career paths. It is here that the RSPB and other large environmental NGOs (although not all) let young enthusiasts down the most.

The RSPB job application forms are an exercise in intimidation, with huge amounts of skills and knowledge required for often the most simple of roles. Invariably a degree in a related subject is required. Furthermore, it is often the case that months of free labour, in the form of volunteering, is often required before even being considered for a job. Volunteering in general is of course a good thing, but as a pre-requisite for a job, can become a hurdle that rules out many talented individuals if they do not have the wealth to work for free for extended periods of time, or suitable access to reserves etc. For those coming out of university with upwards of £20,000 debt, finding any sort of paying job can take precedence over months of unpaid labour, regardless of the calibre of the individual. All of this serves to put off many talented young people looking for work within conservation NGOs, and substantially narrows the pool of people likely to be applying for a role, thus unnecessarily ruling out people who could be doing fantastic work for conservation.

In my opinion, the best thing the RSPB and other large conservation NGOs could do to help and encourage young people is to establish an annual 6-month paid graduate internship programme, for those with a genuine interest in conservation and nature. Ideally this would be done in combination with several NGOs, allowing different experiences within different organisations, and spreading the costs. Roles could be offered in different areas, 'field and reserve work' for example, or 'research', 'campaigning and media engagement' and other important aspects of these NGOs work. Importantly, however, recruits should be drawn for the broadest possible of backgrounds, paid so as not to rule out people on a financial basis, and regarded as a way of finding the best 'raw materials' to train and teach, rather than as a route in for those already with huge skill-bases.

This in turn I feel would further encourage the 'youth movement' so advocated by Danny, by showing that efforts and enthusiasm can be rewarded and appreciated by the large NGOs, that what can be accomplished by young people is still valuable.

-Oliver Metcalfe
Oliver is a young birder employed as an Ornithologist by Arcus Consulting, a job that gets him out and about birding all over the North and East of England. He lives in York, so regularly goes birding in the Lower Derwent Valley and spends his winter birding time at Rufforth tip. Oliver's Spring and Autumns are spent trudging the cliff-top paths looking for migrants at Whitby. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Summary of 2013 birding by Andrew Kinghorn

"Andrew Kinghorn takes us back over the phenomenal birding year that was 2013 (remember that?!). An illustrated cartoon poster is available, featuring many of the year's 'stars', from The One Stop Nature Shop website here." 

January started well with a drake Green-winged Teal at Saltholme, the rest of the month was devoted to gull watching with Glaucous (1), Caspian (6) and Yellow-legged (1). The month ended with a Cattle Egret on Holy Island, this was a long awaited British tick for me, the Cattle Egret is still a very rare bird in The North and the species is hardly annual. 

February saw a mini-influx of Glaucous Gulls to Seaton Common; it was hard to judge just how many birds were involved, however at least 3 was a fair estimate. February also saw more Caspian Gulls at Seaton Common with a stunning 1st winter early on in the month, things started to really heat up in February and I was soon off to Shetland for the first time in the year to connect with the absolutely stunning Pine Grosbeak, later on in the same day I managed to connect with a nearby Ring-billed Gull at Scalloway. A trip to Uist towards the end of the month provided multiple Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles before we encountered our target; a stunning 1st winter drake Harlequin Duck, the same day saw Kumlien’s Gull nearby and Ring-necked Duck all at Balranald RSPB. On the next day the same reserve produced excellent views of a single Richardson’s Canada Goose and two white morph Snow Geese nearby. 

March was typically quiet with Glaucous Gulls and Caspian Gulls being the main theme in the month; however a Ferruginous Duck on the 29th of March was a better plumage bird than my dubious first.

April saw the beginning of some special spring birds; Lesser Scaup was the first bird of note, followed by a Lady Amherst’s Pheasant and then a Pied-billed Grebe at Ham Wall RSPB on the same day. It wasn’t long until one of the most notable birds of April flew in off the sea at Flamborough Head in the form of a drake Baikal Teal; it has subsequently been accepted by BBRC and BOURC. Later on in the month I managed to find Durham’s first Iberian Chiffchaff at Boldon Flats NR, a highlight for me (understandably perhaps?). The very next day I was down to Spurn to see a female Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush that had turned up, whilst watching this beauty a Caspian Tern flew slowly north some 100meters from where we were, this was certainly a thrilling surprise and only my second.

May was a strange month, in some ways it was perhaps not as thrilling as April with some exceptions! A Pectoral Sandpiper at North Gare was perhaps not surprising, however a 1st summer male Collared Flycatcher days later certainly was! Shortly after I had my first of five Red-backed Shrikes of the month, a rather appealing and exciting Dusky Thrush on the 18th provided much internet discussion regarding identification of the said bird, it is pending submission. The day after I had seen the Dusky Thrush I was down to Hartlepool Headland to see the Thrush Nightingale that had turned up there, a superbly showing treat. The next day I was up to Holy Island to connect with my first Lesser Grey Shrike, the day after I also saw my first ever spring Red-breasted Flycatcher. The month closed with two Great White Egrets on the North Tees Marshes, always a pleasure to see! 

June was arguably for many the most exciting month of the year for birds, it started with two Red-backed Shrikes close to each other on the North Tees Marshes, the month was slow until on the 15th the presumed returning Pacific Swift finally pinned itself down to Trimley Marshes in Suffolk, allowing myself and others to connect with this truly superb looking swift, special thanks to young Harry Murphy for letting me look through his Kowa scope at this bird, I had left my rather heavy Swaro in the car! What was special about this bird for me was the fact it was relatively close and allowed excellent scope and bins views. The month kept on giving and days later I had seen my first Melodious Warbler in Notts at Tiln GP, the same day saw me finally connecting with one of my bogey birds; adult Rose-coloured Starling. The return journey allowed me to connect with a drake Ring-necked Duck at Catterick, not quite as exciting as the other two birds of the day. The 26th of June is memorable for many, including myself, I finally saw my number one bird to see in the UK; White-throated Needletail on Harris. The bird came to a sad end, but this was without a doubt my bird of the year and also the greatest bird I had ever seen, it has lived up to the reputation it had been given by friends who had seen them numerous times previously. The month ended with a drake Surf Scoter in Yorkshire of Filey Brigg, a handsome sea duck indeed. 

July got off with a bang, on the 1st a Bridled Tern was found at the Farne Islands; I was fortunate enough to be on the first boat over to the Farne Islands that day to see the bird and connected within minutes of docking. What an incredible bird, later on in the month I also saw the bird on its brief excursion to Saltholme RSPB. Mid month saw me finally adding Pacific Golden Plover to my British list with a stunning summer plumaged bird at Rutland Water in Leicestershire. The end of the month provided another Pectoral Sandpiper and my first Spotted Sandpiper, the latter being a somewhat awaited bird for me, and it was spotty!

August was typically busy, with mainly scarce and rare birds. The year got off to a great start with Spotted Crake at East Chevington in Northumberland and Night Heron in Leicestershire, followed shortly later by a Two-barred Crossbill in a farmer’s garden in Lancashire. A single Caspian Gull in the Whitburn area mid month was a nice surprise, followed shortly afterwards by the returning Bonaparte’s Gull in exactly the same ploughed field. A trip to the BirdFair allowed for a calling in on the Broomhead Reservoir Two-barred Crossbills, I managed to connect with a single juvenile but heard multiple birds. The same day after the BirdFair a quick dash to Old Moor RSPB provided me with my second Night Heron of the month! The star bird of the month for me was definitely the Booted Warbler in Northumberland at Hadston Carrs, in pretty much exactly the same area as my first Sykes’s Warbler! The bird crept around in thistles opposed to nearby hawthorn bushes, a superbly showing bird and a delight to watch. Black Tern followed the next day, the next day a Greenish Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, and Arctic Warbler, and Wryneck on the same day in Durham was exciting, especially considering I found the Arctic Warbler, however I had not correctly identified the bird first time around unfortunately; a lesson was learnt on the importance of not being so presumptions in birding. The month ended with a different Greenish Warbler at Whitburn Coastal Park and a Barred Warbler nearby.

September really did get off with a bang, on the 1st a Stilt Sandpiper at Neumann’s Flash in Cheshire; the next day saw a White-rumped Sandpiper at East Chevington NWT in Northumberland. These two fantastic American waders were followed by a Ring-necked Duck at Castle Lake, the only one in Durham that year. The month saw me seeing yet more Red-backed Shrikes and a very showy Wryneck one day at Hartlepool. Seawatching was quality with Balearic Shearwaters noted past Whitburn Observatory on numerous dates. Mid-month saw the appearance of a Great Snipe at Spurn, this hugely obliging bird thrilled many by giving simply stunning views. A trip to Cheshire also produced my first ever Leach’s Strom Petrels, there was something rather special about seeing these stunning birds so close in shore, fantastic experience. St Mary’s Island in Northumberland produced the goods in the form of a partly summer plumaged American Golden Plover, the next day I managed to catch up with three Blue-winged Teals in Lincolnshire at Boultham Mere. The end of the month produced 13 Yellow-browed Warblers around the country, however I saw most in Durham. A Richard’s Pipit at the Jewish Cemetery was the first of four this month on the 26th. However one of the best birds in September was surely the summering Sardinian Warbler in the Borders at St Abbs Head, I was successful and had excellent views of this visiting warbler. The month closed with distant but acceptable views of a Brown Shrike on some farmland in Balcomie in Fife, it was a one day wonder, no doubt to the frustration of many of the Scottish birders.

October is always a special month in the birding calendar and 2013 did not disappoint! On the 1st an Olive-backed Pipit at Spurn was the first of two for me in this month, the other being a trapped and ringed bird at Whitburn Coastal Park on the 05th. This month was poorer for Yellow-browed Warblers and I noted only four, three of them in one day on Shetland. Two Firecrests in the same bush as South Gare in Yorkshire was a nice treat, and the next day a local Spotted Crake on the 4th at Herrington Country Park was a bit of a surprise to say the least, on the same date a Subalpine Warbler at Druridge Pools was a nice surprise and only my second ever. A trip to Shetland was not successful with my hope of connecting with the Thick-billed Warbler, however I did manage to connect with my third Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and finally managed to life tick Short-toed Lark. 
An unexpected Grey Phalarope flew north past Whitburn Costal Park on a seawatch mid month and then a Bluethroat the same day in the Costal Park made for a memorable day. Fall like conditions brought with them a Great Grey Shrike at the Jewish Cemetery a Western Bonelli’s Warbler at the Headland and a long awaited Pallid Swift, the latter was one of my favourite birds of October due to its solitary stay around the streets of the Headland and roosting on the Church tower each evening. There was something incredibly autumnal and exciting about that bird. 
A Semipalmated Plover at Hayling Island in Hampshire was a distinctive wading bird to finally catch up; it gave a good comparison against a mixture of waders including Ringed Plover. A Dusky Warbler at Hartlepool Headland and a Siberian Stonechat at Scalby Dams in North Yorkshire on the 20th made for a migrant filled day. The bird of the month was a clear winner and came toward the end of the month in the form of a Cape May Warbler at Baltasound on Unst, Shetland. The bird gave breathtaking views as it hopped around the trees and in the leaf litter, the same afternoon saw me having my best views ever of a Red-flanked Bluetail at Walls on mainland Shetland. The month closed with a Glossy Ibis at Hartlepool next to a housing estate, the species is beginning to become an almost expected yearly visitor in Durham now.

November once again started incredibly well, as was typical of a few months in this year I had a fantastic bird on the 1st, this month it was a Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra in Cornwall, a truly stunning bird, a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling in the Morrison’s car park was not quite as exciting, but was nice to see non the less, the next day I was up on Rhum and sadly dipped the Mourning Dove, however I stayed over night and returned on the next day and managed to connect with this rare American dove on its evening feed in the garden, this appearance also marked the last for the dove before its departure. Mid month onwards was rather exciting with Pied Wheatear in Notts, a Serin at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire marked the first bird of a successful trip to Norfolk, the trip produced 24 Common Cranes, three Shorelark, Rose-coloured Startling, at least 7 Parrot Crossbills, and a Black Brant. The final quality bird of the month was a Lesser Grey Shrike at the Long Nanny in Northumberland.

December was without a doubt the most exciting one I have yet to experience, I managed to connect with the Baikal Teal at Marshside RSPB which has also subsequently been accepted by the BBRC, a trip to Orkney produced cripping views of my first ever Ivory Gull at Evie. A week later I was watching my second Ivory Gull at Patrington Haven in East Yorkshire, a rather nice birthday present! The Christmas holiday was broken up by the appearance of a Brunnich’s Guillemot in Portland Harbour, then an incredibly showy White-billed Diver in Brixham harbour in Devon. A fitting way to close the year was with gulls, I undertook the Chasewater roost watch on the 28th and managed three Yellow-legged Gulls, adult Glaucous Gull, and adult Caspian Gull. I finished the year off with a self found juvenile Glaucous Gull on the 31st at Birsay in Orkney. What a phenomental year birding.

I reached my target of 300 and saw 304 birds if all birds are accepted by BBRC and BOURC, which seems likely with the exception of the Dusky Thrush if rumours are to be believed. Already 2014 is shaping up to be a good year!

-Andrew Kinghorn
Andrew is 22 years of age, and has been a birder for about 8 years. He is an ornithological surveyor living in County Durham. He has a vested interest in all things birding, however twitching is a passion of his and he loves to see new birds.