Thank you BTO, Berks and Oxon

Saturday was a very enjoyable day.  I attended a BTO conference for the Berkshire and Oxfordshire region (at Benson just south of Oxford).

It seemed the right place to be as the first talk was given by Ian Newton (whose latest excellent book was reviewed here), another talk was about the birds of the ‘heart of England’ (reviewed here) and there was a stall selling copies of the Birds of Buckinghamshire (reviewed here – with a printout of my review on the stand!).  You should expect a review of the Birds of Berkshire fairly soon.

I was speaking after lunch, which would normally mean that I would sit slightly nervously running my talk through my head over and over again (yes, I’ve given lots of talks but I’m still nervous before each one), but the morning’s speakers were so good that they distracted me.

Ian spoke about Sparrowhawks with his accustomed clarity and depth of knowledge.  I first heard Ian Newton give a talk 36 years ago (before the young lady sitting next to me was born) – and he has never given a bad one in my experience.  What do you think is the highest number of offspring produced in her lifetime by a female Sparrowhawk living in the wild? If I remember correctly, Ian said it was 24. Most Sparrowhawks (most birds of any species?) die before reproduction or fail to produce any young when they do breed.  The key to getting lots of your genes into the next generation is to live long and occupy a good territory – one with lots of food. Eight years would be a pretty lengthy life for a Sparrowhawk and they do move to better territories (moving up the housing ladder as Ian put it) as they become available.

Baz Hughes told us about WWT’s (and partners’) amazingly challenging project on Spoon-billed Sandpipers.  Every time I hear about it, I am impressed by the size of the challenge, the dedication and skill of the staff and the progress that has been made so far.  Will SbSs breed in captivity at Slimbridge this year? And, by the way, there are only 10 female Ruddy Ducks in the UK.

Dave Leech is a very enthusiastic speaker – I was almost worn out listening to him!  He gave an excellent talk about the Nest Record Scheme which persuaded me that I might send in a few records this year.  I should have paid more attention to that late Wood Pigeon nest in the laurel tree outside our house when I was finishing writing A Message from Martha last year.

There were mystery photographs – which I didn’t do very well in – I never do.

Chris Parker talked about the (local) Rivers of Life project – seems like it’s going well, and then the Welsh Wizard (aka Ieuan Evans) finished the day with the amazing story of those ‘BTO’ Cuckoos.  I never tire of hearing about them.

And I spoke too (and apparently, according to the oxonbirds forum, I was at my ‘anarchic best’) and sold all the books that I had brought with me (and could have sold a few more).  As usual, at a gathering like this, I renewed some acquaintances, met some long-standing friends, met some people I only know from Twitter or Facebook and met some ‘new’ people.  It was a really, really good day. Well done to all involved with its organisation.

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5 Replies to “Thank you BTO, Berks and Oxon”

  1. Apologies Mark, I hit the dislike button by mistake (again! too close together on my phone). Absolutely nothing to dislike about the meeting or your report. A very well balanced programme with a broad appeal for all levels of interest.

    Sitting where I was I could see up to six Red kites circling overhead through the skylight (somebody said there were up to 15!), brought in, I thought, by the goodwill emanating from the hall. Then I thought, this is a scientific meeting, birds don't do empathy.

  2. Rather off piste this Mark, but the hell with it. My father's side of the family is from Benson - there are many of us buried in the parish churchyard and my great uncle's name is on the village war memorial (check out my Facebook page today for a photo of him). We were yeoman farmers in the area for centuries and I often wonder what changes to the countryside and birds they would have seen.

    1. Still off piste Ed, there is an article in today's Guardian about locks an the Thames with a picture of Benson lock. It relates to the fact that the Environment Agency are reducing the number of lock keepers and the loss of all the expertise that they have in controlling flooding in the Thames catchment.

  3. This morning, while you were nervously awaiting your turn at talking, I was at work listening to Ian Newton on a BBC Radio 4 Natural World podcast in which he was talking about Crossbills (he studied finches for his PhD). You are right he is very erudite, and, in spite of his extensive knowledge and lengthy experience of working in ornithology, he was obviously still delighted at the simple pleasure of seeing crossbills in the British countryside.


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