My column in April Birdwatch

The editorial team at Birdwatch are very kind to me, my copy deadline for each issue has gradually crept closer to publication day to enable my political birder column to be vaguely topical. And so it was first thing on 10 March that I sent Rebecca Armstrong my words for the April issue and it was yesterday morning, 23 March, that the published magazine came through my post box with my column on page 31.

I’m just taking a step back to admire the work that goes into such a monthly publication with its all-colour wonderful images, a bunch of adverts, readers’ letters, and news and comment from a gang of writers.

On 19 May 2013, I emailed my text for the July issue (out in late June) to Rebecca from a motel in Piketon, Ohio after a Sunday spent birding in the former home of John James Audubon in Henderson, Kentucky, visiting Cincinnati Zoo where the last Passenger Pigeon on Earth died on 1 September 1914 and then visiting the location where the last, or perhaps one of the very last, wild Passenger Pigeons met its end in 1900. If you’re interested in that day of mine (the breakfast the next day was an eye-opener to America too), then you can read what I wrote at the time in a collated series of blogs of that trip in the USA (click here and start at Day 5) or, for a more Passenger Pigeon-orientated finished account, turn to pages 92-99 in A Message from Martha).

I’ve been writing for Birdwatch for close to 10 years but there has never been a period between filing my copy and seeing it in printed form when the whole world around us has changed as much as our world has in the last 13 days.

My column in the current issue of Birdwatch is about Hen Harriers – as you can imagine I sometimes have to restrain myself from writing about them every issue. But it seemed appropriate for this issue as I was looking forward to our appeal hearing on the brood-meddling case, which was brought to an end by one of the judges being taken ill at lunch on Day 1. Was this illness coronavirus? We don’t know, but I wish him a speedy recovery, and we also don’t know when the appeal will be heard. We were also looking forward to the prospect of a Westminster Hall debate on banning driven grouse shooting, but, of course, all those debates have been postponed indefinitely. And I mention Hen Harrier Days this coming summer, for summer will inexorably come, and let’s all hope that even though normality will not be resumed by then, some semblance of it will be in sight.

The publication of one issue of Birdwatch used to be the time when I would be sending in my copy for the next one, but now I have another two weeks before I need to send that email. What will those two weeks bring?

Well, they’ll certainly bring a bunch of spring migrant birds but many of them will be missed by birders cooped up in doors. I’m hoping for some good weather because I can at least then spend time in the garden, looking up for an Osprey flying over and add it to the garden list. I wonder how many have flown over, and whether any have flown over when I was actually in the garden. I’ll keep my eyes open.

But first, I’ll have plenty of time to read Birdwatch from cover to cover.

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6 Replies to “My column in April Birdwatch”

  1. One ponders if those fortunate enough to live in or a short journey from wild places will be allowed to exercise and witness such as the magnificent 'skydance' or, if our uplands will ring to the sound of keepers guns continuing the eradication of our magnificent raptors.

    Am I a skeptic, perhaps I should be prepared to believe the representatives of the shooting industry who after all are the guardians of wildlife in the countryside ....

    Who amongst your readers will be lucky enough to see the first Osprey(s) as they arrive with us?

  2. I suspect that the Boris Johnson lockdown will mean that many places on grouse moors will go unvisited this summer and we know what happened in 2001 when we were excluded unnecessarily from the countryside. Keepers carried on and it was a very poor season for raptors because more than usual were caused to fail in breeding or were done away with. If I still lived in North Yorkshire I would be taking my daily walks on various bits of moorland on the boundaries of the Nidderdale AONB and YPNP our favoured area for harriers and persecution. I now live in Wales and most of the places it seems I used to visit here are an hours drive away so I had better get used to be very local.

  3. I hope the moorland monitors will still be able to keep an eye on the so called guardians of the countryside.
    On the broader topic of the current times, perhaps we should all read Defoe's 'A Journal of the Plague Year' !

  4. I am ok, living on the job as you might say, others in the area may find things a little more problematical.
    However, I would hope that a gentleman's agreement ,will maintain the very real progress made over recent breeding seasons, i think it will, anything else will be just too obvious and a
    great shame.

  5. Dear Mark
    As a frontline GP, I was appalled by Birdwatch’s stated position that they were continuing to publish rarity news during the current Covid 19 crisis. I had posted a comment when they released their statement:

    “As a GP currently working at the frontline, your stated intention to continue to publish rarity information utterly beggars belief and is morally repugnant. I shall be cancelling my subscription immediately” as a comment.

    This prompted a personal email from their content controller Josh Jones who stated “ Trust me, we are working hard to come to the most sensible solution that appeases all, yet reduces any possibility of a twitch developing. One option is to reduce the 'accuracy' of bird news to county level, as you have said. Another is to suppress all reports of birds that could potentially generate a twitch”

    My comment has now been removed by a moderator for “not adhering to the rules” and rarities continue to be published. Even one extra journey at the moment is one too many. Very sadly I shall no longer be reading your column as I have cancelled my subscription - their moral compass is clearly very different to mine.

    Kind regards


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