Monday, 22 August 2016


HUGE crowds flocked to the three-day 2016 Birdfair at Rutland Water - the 28th in the series. The first two days were hit by showers, but that did not  matter much since most of the action - and interaction - took place  under canvas. Exhibitors, speakers and visitors and came from all parts of the world Below is the first of a series of special reports from the event - billed as “the international wildlife event of the year.  

It doesn’t always pay to arrive early - a soggy start for these visitors as they wait to be checked in

Maybe the organisers might consider easing their no-entrance-before-9am policy to reduce queuing times and save visitors from a potential soaking

Waiting for the starting gun - volunteers at the entrance prepare for the big influx of visitors 
Swift - like a shark in the sky

FIRST speaker of the 2016 birdfair was former  gallery manager for the Tate Gallery,  Edward Mayer, who has now retired in order to dedicate much of his time to speaking and campaigning on behalf of  the Swift Conservation Trust.

Prior to his talk he revealed that, on arrival at Rutland Water, the sight of the queue had  put the wind up him.

He confided: “I was concerned I would not be in time for my 9.30 start, so I slipped through a hole in the fence.”

Infectiously exuberant, Edward described some of the initiatives taking place in the UK, Germany and Switzerland to provide nest box homes on domestic and other buildings such as libraries and colleges.   

Edward Mayer - so many opportunities
The UK swift population is reckoned to be declining by about three per cent a year - partly because there are fewer airborne insects and partly because changing roof construction and repair methods are eliminating what once was nest space for these superb but all-too-short-staying summer visitors.

He told his audience: “There’s not a lot most  of us can do about the population of stone curlews, or even curlews, but the swift is one bird we can certainly help.”

If local councils, housebuilding companies, churches and individual homeowners  started to install nestboxes or swift bricks, then the population decline of  swifts could be slowed or halted.

Edward enthused about how, such is their animation, that swifts overhead can “cheer up even the dreariest street”.

He decried some modern buildings which are applauded for being “green and eco” when in fact they are nothing of the kind.

Citing The Shard in London, he noted that it was useless to birds for  either nesting or perching,  and its reflective windows posed a collision hazard.

Where no birds nest - The Shard in London

"The trouble in this country is the attitude of many towards  wildlife  is like that of the Americans towards native Indians -  best  put on reserves and forgotten about.

He added: “Instead of sitting inside watching ghastly TV, we should get out and enjoy the Nature all around us.”

More information from:

* Photo of swift: Jojo/WikimediaCommons
* Photo of The Shard: Colin/ WikimediaCommons


                           A GOOD YEAR FOR CORNCRAKES

Corncrake - doing well in Outer Hebrides
CRAIG Round, a professional  birder and guide for the past 20 years, was excellent on the birdlife of the Outer Hebrides - particularly North and South Uist and Benbecula.

Apart from the wildlife, which includes otters, much  of the magic is down to the serene landscape along with the ever-changing nature of the light and the sky.

Craig's illustrated talk sparkled with humour. Displaying an image of two sheep on a road, he joked:“The rush hour traffic can be a bit of a nightmare.“

The Outer Hebrides are a  magnet for migrating birds both on their way north in spring and south in autumn

Species range from wheatear to little stint, sometimes resplendent in breeding plumage.

Purple sandpiper (heading south in late July and August) are a particular feature as (throughout summer) are the sounds and sights of drumming snipe.

Of the predominantly maritime species, skuas - Artic, great, long-tailed and pomarine - are a feature, especially if  large numbers on passage come close to beaches.

“Sometimes you get between 60  and 80 long-taileds in front, behind and overhead,” enthused Craig. “It’s magical.”

Thanks to initiatives by the RSPB and resident crofters, corncrake numberss are increasing - and 2016 has again been a successful breeding year with up to 193 calling males.

This is a secretive species, but sometimes they can briefly be glimpsed running in the open.

“They’re very quick,“ said Craig. “Someone once described them as a cross between a ferret and a ginger rat!”

Despite their sturdy build, they are surprisingly strong and direct when airborne.

“They fly like waders,” continued Craig.

The calling males are famously noisy at night, and there are even tales of islanders throwing shoes through the window to try to shut them up!

The Outer Hebrides are also a good place to see birds of prey including hen harrier, golden eagle and white-tailed sea eagles(dubbed “flying barn doors” because of the 8ft wingspan of the  female).

The occasional snowy owl may turn up in winter.

 * More details about the Outer Hebrides are available at:

* Photo: Rachel Davies/ Flickr/ WikimediaCommons


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