Friday 28 September 2018

People's Walk for Wildlife

22nd September 2018
Hyde Park, central London- a huge crowd, ranging from butterfly conservationists to biologists, owl enthusiasts to hunt saboteurs, waits by a gargantuan stage, with a vast array of placards and their stalls- what could this all be for? This was two hours before Chris Packham's People's Walk for Wildlife, the first peaceful protest for Britain's wildlife. All ideas about the future of Britain's environment were met here with one common goal: to have a voice. When I got there, I met Arjun Dutta, Alex Liddle, and briefly spoke to James McCulloch and Mya Bambrick (both from Birdcamp) and Alex White. In the two hours before the infotainment, I caught up with Mark Avery and Stephen Moss, got my hands on the new London National Park City map (which will help me with my 2nd edition of my London nature reserves map) and had a quick glimpse of Bill Oddie!

Alex, Arjun, my brother Aryan and I with Bill Oddie

Shortly after, my brother and I were interviewed by zoologist Lucy Cooke, which was broadcast onto the large screen next to the stage. The interview was swift, so I had no idea what to say, but managed to talk a bit about the conservation of Bitterns, and giving advice on how to campaign for wildlife. If I had known what to say, I would have spoken a lot about natural history being taught in schools, and encouraging young people to create clubs or societies related to nature. At the infotainment, compelling speeches were made by young naturalists such as Mya-Rose Craig, Dara McAnulty, Bella Lack and Georgia Locock, followed by a powerful speech by Dominic Dyer. 

I then marched with Arjun and Alex to Downing Street, but unfortunately Arjun had to leave after we had crossed onto Pall Mall. For one hour, chants of 'keep the ban' and 'stop the cull' echoed through the streets of Westminster, and I saw a Peregrine fly over the Hilton Park Lane- a reminder that central London isn't all just pigeons. After an hour, Chris Packham, Mark Avery and the inspirational George Monbiot concluded the event with gripping speeches, and Chris Packham, along with six young naturalists (including Alex) went to Downing Street itself, to deliver the People's Manifesto for Wildlife. 

What an amazing event this was, getting to be amongst thousands of others campaigning for different aspects of wildlife. The outcome? I hope all our voices would have been heard on this day.

Monday 17 September 2018

Spurn Young Birder of the Year 2018

7th September 2018
At 11am, I went to King's Cross to travel on a two-hour journey to Hull, for my first trip to Spurn Bird Observatory. This was because I was a finalist for the Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder of the Year competition. I was so excited! When I reached Hull, I travelled to an apartment in Withernsea, twenty minutes from Spurn, unpacked my things, and set off for Spurn.

When I got to the famous Crown and Anchor pub, I met with David Walsh (who was at the BTO Birdcamp this year), and we decided to try and look for Pied Flycatchers in the 'triangle' of the reserve. There was also a Rosefinch that had been spotted on Beacon Road that morning, but had flown north. We heard one in the Cemetery, but unfortunately didn't see it. However, in the fields nearby, there were a few Roe Deer, House Sparrows, Swallows and Kestrels.

Roe Deer

After nearly seeing my first Pied Flycatcher, I headed down the road to Westmere Farm, where all of the Spurn Migration Festival, or MigFest events were being held. Richard Porter, a very respected naturalist who has worked in conservation in the Middle East for decades, gave a captivating talk on the challenges facing migrating birds throughout the Middle East, and how they are being dealt with.

With Richard Porter

8th September 2018
This was the day of the competition! At 9am, the finalists, Angus Jennings, Alex Liddle, George Rabin, Jack Bradbury, Rowan Wakefield and I met in the Observatory common room, where we were given an introduction to the competition by Nick Moran (who led the BTO Birdcamp this year). Straight after, Angus, Alex and George went to do seawatching and vizmig, while Jack, Rowan and I went to do the lab test, birding on the estuary and birding in the bushes. 

I started with the lab test, where I had to identify different calls and name different feathers on a stuffed Whimbrel. When I started walking to the next assessment, another birder told me there was a Pied Flycatcher in a tree nearby. As much as I wanted to see it, I knew I had to continue with the competition. The next assessment was looking for migrants in the bushes, but unfortunately there were only Robins and Blue Tits, and I was asked questions about migrating chats. 

I then went to a private hide in someone's back garden (wow!), which faced the Humber Estuary, for the next assessment. I was asked to identify different waders, and which of them had a white rump. The older finalists, then swapped assessments with the younger ones, and we were taken by van to a different part of the reserve. On both the seawatching and vizmig, it was pouring with rain, and unfortunately I didn't get to see much, apart from my first Sandwich Terns.

Back in the common room, Jack and Angus were announced as Spurn Young Birders of the Year, and Alex and I decided to find the Rosefinch, which had been seen that morning. When we got to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre, there was a huge crowd, but no Rosefinch. It started raining again, and Alex stayed in the area where the Rosefinch was last sighted, while I met with David Walsh and walked to the Seawatch Hide, where we saw a few seals. Suddenly, someone shouted 'Rosefinch!' over a walkie-talkie, and about twenty people (including David and I) burst out of the hide, and walked briskly to the site. David focused his scope on the bird, giving us amazing views:

Common Rosefinch

Common Rosefinch

We then found Jack and his mum, and we walked along the estuary, with hopes of Purple Sandpiper. There were none, but there were many Turnstone, Dunlin and Golden Plover feeding. 

The Estuary, with a few Dunlin

Find the Turnstone

On the way back to Westmere Farm, we tried to look for Pied Flycatchers, but there was no sign of them. When we got back to Westmere, Jack's mum kindly drove us to Easington, a nearby village, to look there. Unfortunately, they weren't there either. However, Jack found a Tree Sparrow, and there were many hirundines.

A hardly visible complete record shot of a Tree Sparrow

In the evening, the awards were presented at Westmere Farm by Richard Porter and Andy Clements, director of the BTO. We all received membership to Friends of Spurn, BTO and British Birds, as well as a trophy a Sound Approach guide to birding. The winners, Angus and Jack, received Swarovski and Opticron binoculars. This has been an incredible experience, going to an amazing place and meeting lots of like-minded people, and I would definitely go to Spurn again!

The finalists