Coach me

Last Sunday I was one of 33 mid-Nene RSPB Local Group members who set off from east Northants at 7ish for the delights of the RSPB nature reserve at Titchwell.  And delightful it was, too.

Heading across the Fens we hoped that the forecast rain wouldn’t arrive before we’d seen a few decent birds.

Just as driving across northern Ohio in May had made me think of the road across the Fens, the road across the Fens made me think of northern Ohio – the flat arable landscape, the lack of trees, the big skies and the sex shops.  Yes, the adult shop we passed on our way to the very respectable Titchwell reminded me of stopping at a crossroads in Ohio and seeing a single-story flat-roofed building with blocked-out windows and large signs saying ‘Sex toys‘, ‘Adult shop‘, ‘Lingerie” and ‘Truckers welcome‘.  So that’s what those captains of the road are wearing is it?

But the road to Titchwell is mostly a bit dull – the world has been designed like that so that Titchwell can be even more of a contrast and even more of a delight when you arrive.

Arriving at 9ish we de-coached and immediately the birds started coming,  Within a few minutes many of us were having our best ever views of bearded tits.  There were around 15 sitting on top of the reeds on either side of the path and ‘ping’ing away.

Some of the party also had really good views of a bittern flying over the reeds whilst some of the rest of us were beginning to pick out the little stints and curlew sandpipers from the dunlin.  There were quite a lot of waders including ringed plovers, avocet, redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, golden and grey plover, bar-tailed godwits, snipe, oystercatcher, sanderling and lapwing.

The weather stayed sunny, the wind was low and the rain didn’t arrive at all.  Looking out over the sea there’s one thing you can say about the wind turbines that have sprung up offshore – they do make it easier to point out birds at sea.  As an Arctic skua and a Manx shearwater flew east they passed ‘under the right hand end of the windfarm‘, ‘under the red bit‘ and then ‘under the left hand end of the windfarm‘.

There were also a few guillemots, red-throated divers, common scoter, gannets, a long-tailed duck and sandwich terns – and a honey buzzard flew in off the sea.

Around the new enormous hide there were a couple of whinchats and a redstart.  A spoonbill which had been on the fresh marsh somehow got to the saltmarsh without us seeing it fly.

Some saw water pipit, others saw stonechat, water rail and that honey buzzard again.

The bird list was rather impressive (see below) and the weather was lovely.  There was a grey seal offshore and a hedgehog had left its droppings on the path to the hide.  Small copper, red admiral an speckled woods were seen.

Our group split up and coalesced at various points – coming together at various stages and drifting apart at others.  Our flock mixed with other RSPB local groups (eg from Sheffield) and small parties of local and distant birders.  We were just like the birds – some flocking, some staying single, all being mixed up and with their different journeys to and from Titchwell.  And I for one preferred the toasted cheese and onion sandwich as a means of refuelling over a mouthfull of muddy molluscs from the marsh.

The demography of our party was interesting too.  One of our party was in their teens but, unless my field skills are much at fault, there were no 20-somethings or 30-somethings and precious few 40-somethings in our group.  50- and 60-somethings were the mainstay of our party, and the male:female ratio was 3:1.  That wouldn’t look too good as a stable population structure so it is to be hoped that we were a far from random pick of local birdwatchers.

Forty years ago when I was in the teen age group I would, I think, have leapt at the chance to go to Norfolk for the 15quid coach fair – even with a bunch of crusty old men as I would have thought those old men could probably help me out by showing me some birds.  Where are they now? Do they not exist or do we not reach out to them in the right way?  That’s the type of thing you ponder as you head home, near the back of the coach, through one short shower of rain.

Mute SwanBrent Goose
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Egyptian Goose
Common ScoterLong-tailed Duck
Red-throated Diver
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Manx Shearwater
Little Egret
Grey HeronBittern
Honey-buzzardCommon Buzzard
Marsh Harrier
CootWater Rail
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Little Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Dunlin Turnstone
Bar-tailed Godwit
Spotted Redshank
Arctic Skua
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Sandwich Tern
Collared DoveGreen Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
House Martin
Meadow Pipit Water Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Cetti’s Warbler
Bearded Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Reed Bunting

6 Replies to “Coach me”

  1. Mark, Unfortunately you are spot on, the age profile of Local Groups is exactly as you describe. My local group has disappeared after 37 years for exactly that reason (I was the youngest when it started and not far off the youngest when it ended). I don’t think this is a symptom just of RSPB Groups though and it is probably accurate for other charities and clubs. It is just how society is and charities will have to adjust accordingly to keep a long term future. As an afterthought I note the sitting near the back of the coach, that seems familar, do you always book that seat.

  2. Hi Mark,this is off subject I know but have been to Mull for 2 weeks and following observations.We have always seen Hen Harriers on Mull but this year seemed really good numbers and had better not say much more than what a pity bird lovers cannot really expect to see them in England,such a beautiful bird male and female,saw many more Stock Doves or Rock Doves than expected and Grey Lag Geese.Lots of both Eagles that we really went for.Each time we go to Mull thoughts are what a dedicated person Dave Sexton is and how fortunate not only the RSPB is to have him but also Mull birds,residents of Mull and visitors,think he is a big part of the reason lots of us go there and the general scenery whereas think it is assumed by many the only draw is the White Tail Eagle.Of course the WTE is a big draw but must not be overestimated.

    1. Dennis – that’s really nice. I’m glad you had a good time and I’m sure the charming and handsome Dave Sexton (known as Sexpot to his ‘friends’) will be delighted to read your comments.

  3. As a 22 year old gradute ecologist with a long time interest in natural history I thought I’d add some of my thoughts to Mark’s comments about the age profile of current naturalists……

    First of all I wonder if one of the reasons young people don’t engage with local member groups is becuase of the pretty miserable reception they can get from certain members of such groups! Sadly, there’s been more than one occaision where older members have been outright rude or just patronising to me in ways they would not to older members of the group.

    Birdfair 2010 was a example of example of this…..

    Having read about the birdfair for years and years I was really excited to finally be going and I camped the full weekend with half a dozen or so like minded and similar aged friends. We enjoyed ourselves, but it wasn’t helped by the attitude of a lot of the other visitors.

    We were by far the youngest group there and everywhere we went we felt like we were being singled out as potential trouble makers. We were talked down to by dozens of folk and it seemed most of the bridfair crowd thought it ok to drop all manners when talking to us “young’uns”. The worst offenders by far were the campsite attendants who were so patronising and treated us so child like that one of our group, who was a primary school teacher, pointed out that she would never even talk to her students like that!

    We were a group of interested and highly educated young people, several of whom worked/had worked for the RSPB, and by the end of it we felt like we were back at school – and personally I wouldn’t go back to the birdfair again becuase of it.

    Now if thats the feelings a committed group of young conservationists got, how do you think younger people who just have a passing interest will feel when confronted by a load of stuffy, prejudiced old naturalists?

    1. Danny – well, that’s a wake-up call for lots of us. Thank you. I’m sorry, and more than a little surprised, to hear about your reception at the Bird Fair. And I think there would be lots of readers of this blog who will be silently saying ‘Oh no!’ on reading your comment. Stick with it, please. I hope to see you at the Bird Fair next year.

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