Meeting Reports for 2010

What did you miss?  Here are the event reports from our Thursday indoor meetings for 2010.

Thursday 18th November: Trinidad & Tobago – Terns, Tropicbirds, Trogons & Turtles

The widely travelled naturalist Julia Burton gave an interesting talk on the birds of Trinidad and Tobago. These tropical islands, off the north east coast of Venezuela, have a wonderfully rich flora and fauna.  Namely, over 2000 species of plants such as palms and orchids, 100 species of mammals including ocelots and anteaters, 70 different reptiles, 50 types of snake, more than 800 species of insects and butterflies. And importantly, 420 species of birds along with 15 species of humming bird.

Excellent photos showed the many vivid coloured species of birds, with dramatically different combinations of feather colour for the head, wings, chest and tail feathers. Space does not allow for a full listing here, but includes white-tailed parrots, a luminous green Sabre-wing, kingfishers, palm finches, yellow breasted fly catcher, Amazonian white tailed Trogon, a blue-black crow, green birds such as the Hermit which makes a pendant nest on trees and a copper-rump humming bird seen on flowers. Also the yellow Tanager and Golden Headed Manakin with a luminous lilac body. The Manakins are small brightly coloured tropical American birds of the family Pipridae.  But the ultimate colour seen was the Scarlet Ibis, the national bird of Trinidad, found in large numbers at the Caroni Swamps. This is a vast area of mangrove forest and mud flats.

Julia included some video clips, one of kingfishers and then a species of water bird that flies very low over the water while its long beak continually skims the water surface for food. The mud flats are a rich feeding ground and are home to many species, some with extra large webbed feet for walking on mud. We saw the famous fiddler crab with its one giant pincer and one small pincer. The crabs popped down into muddy bolt- holes when predator birds arrived.

One of the most unusual birds seen are the so called oil-birds at Dunstan Caves. This species mimics a fruit eating bat. It is nocturnal and relies on echo location to fly around and find fruit, and also live in the caves. Also amazing is the sight and sound of the bell birds high in the tree canopies. This was a magical experience, resembling an echoing peal of church bells.

Derek & Rosemary Harvey

Thursday 21st October: Birdwatching in Oman

Apologies for those who turned up to Weston Longville Village Hall for a talk on Birds of the Isle of Man. Unfortunately Chris Sharpe was indisposed at the 11th hour but we managed to get Chris Mills, birdwatcher, ringer, photographer and tour guide to talk about a birding trip to Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Chris and a small group of birders (no doubt hardy souls) started their tour in Abu Dhabi in the UAE then crossed into Oman, a haven for migratory birds from both India and Africa. The tour traveled through Al Ain, the Muntasar Oasis, Al Beed, the Dhofar region and the isle of Masira. Lots of non-familiar species were shown. To name but a few, Mourning Wheatear, Ballion’s Crake, Rufous Bushchat, Black Crowned Finchlark, Bee Eater, Rueppells Weaver, Shining Sunbird, Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Hume’s Tawny Owl, and Crab Plover and the very elegant Red Billed Tropicbird. The full list and details of travelling through this part of the world can be found on the Norfolk Birding website

Thursday 16th September – Highlights of a Long Term Study of Sparrowhawks

Our speaker for September is mentioned in Debretts (nothing but the best here).  Professor Ian Newton, OBE gave a learned presentation of the highlights of a long term study of Sparrowhawks.  These monogamous birds had suffered a sharp decline in the 1950 – 60s due to the increasing use of organochlorine pesticides but have since make a complete recovery and are now quite widespread.  Their diet consists almost entirely of woodland birds although the female, which is the larger of the pair, can take the odd pigeon or Partridge.  They breed in early summer which coincides with the peak of the songbird population.  They have up to six young but 72% die before breeding and only 22% actually breed.  We learnt how Sparrowhawks nest sites are regularly spaced out but vary in density from 1 to 7 kms apart depending on type of habitat and food supply.  Their population has remained fairly stable over the period 1970 – 1990.  Not especially long lived, only about 10% reaching 10 years.  For those that want to take the subject further the Prof has written a book on the subject called, as one would expect, ‘The Sparrowhawk’.  In response to a post meeting question the professor claimed that there is no evidence that Sparrowhawks have any significant affect on songbird population.

Colin Wright

NOTE: Professor Ian Newton,Chairman of the BTO has been awarded the Godman-Salvin Medal by the British Ornithologists’ Union for his exceptional contribution to ornithology.

Thursday 19th August – Bats – Denizens of the Night

Warning! Reading this may well change your mind about…………………

……BATS – by Sam Phillips: Sam is chairman of the Norwich Bat Group which was formed in 2007 and works to help protect, conserve and raise the awareness of bats in Norwich, and the surrounding area. Sam gave an interesting talk about the habits and life cycle of bats and said there are 17 species of bat in Britain at least seven of which have been recorded in and around Norwich. We learnt that bats are not flying mice but are of the order ‘Chiroptera’, which means hand-wing, and are related to monkeys and lemurs. They are the only flying mammals. We were shown sonograms showing different bat calls some of which we also heard as an audible signal. There are only three species of Vampire bats and are only found in South America.

Sam then set about exploding some of the myths surrounding these little known creatures. We were told that bats are not blind, in fact they have very good eyesight and they don’t get tangled in peoples hair, they are merely flying low to catch insects using their superb echo-location sonar. Bats are very clean and spend a lot of time grooming and only a few species of bats actually roost hanging upside down. One bat can catch 3000 insects in a single night and they are excellent pollinators and seed propagators – in fact they are generally good for the environment. They have been around for about 60 million years but like many species, are in decline due to a number of factors including loss of habitat, pesticides and climate change. They are protected by law and disturbing a roost can incur a hefty fine.

We were then introduced to Debra, a tiny Daubenton bat quietly snoozing in a cardboard box whose cute face soon won the audience over. Unfortunately the demonstration of the bat detecting kit had to be abandoned due to the untimely arrival of some August rain. Nevertheless this was an unusual and fascinating talk by Sam Phillips who is a keen advocate for bats and the best PR man they could wish for. Further information on bats and bat walks can be found on

Colin Wright

Thursday 15th July – Members’ Summer Social BBQ

Once again the olfactory epitheliums of the members were stirred by the aroma of our July barbecue. This year it was a real DIY event, not only did we provide our own food and drink, but thanks to Lin, Richard and David (who I believe was a chef) we even cooked our own food on the tried and trusted Taverham Scouts hot coals machine. Add to this a delectable array of deadly desserts and it was a feast worthy of masterchef.

The evening also included a short talk by Ray Gribble on our recent trip to Scotland, our usual raffle and, by way of an experiment, rock and roll songs of yesteryear were provided, as background music by the resident DJ.  This caused a bit of concern to some of the members who realised they could remember all the words.  It was nevertheless a pleasant evening where everyone enjoyed a bit of social repartee in a relaxed atmosphere and of course the usual raffle.  Thanks to the cooks, the rafflers, the sundry food suppliers, tea makers, the setters up and clearers up who made the evening a success.

Colin Wright

Thursday 20th. May – The Wildlife of Kenya

In a change to the advertised programme we welcomed Dr Kevin Elsby to talk about the wildlife of Kenya. Dr Elsby is a full time GP in Norfolk, he is an experienced wildlife photographer and has travelled throughout the world in the pursuit of his hobby. He also has a masters degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation in addition to his BSc in natural sciences. Lots more on about Dr K on .

The presentation commenced with a short course in Swahili, starting with the greeting the ‘Jambo’ (hello). This was followed by a map of Kenya showing such famous names as the Masai Mara, the Rift Valley, Mount Kenya, Samburu, Amboseli and Tsavo. As to be expected there were lots of unusual birds such as the hammerkop with its huge nest, the colourful superb starling, the less than handsome lappets vulture contrasted with the stunning looking lilac breasted roller and the little bee eater. Among the ther birds featured were the kori bustard, reuppels griffon, hilderbrants starling, hadada ibis, African jacana, black headed weaver bird, Somali ostrich, pearl spotted owlet and the oddly named red cheeked cordon bleu. Particularly impressive were pictures of hundreds of thousands flamingoes on lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley. No presentation about Africa would be complete without a look at the animals of the area, the timid Thompson’s gazelle contrasted with the graceful cats and the cute looking, but very dangerous, water buffalo and hippo. Plenty of odd facts and survival tips such as, when confronted by a cheetah the best strategy is to stand still since they only like moving targets. Not sure I go along with that but, not having many cheetahs in Costessey I have yet to put this to the test. An excellent, all round talk, finishing with ‘Kwa heri’, which is goodbye in Swahili, if my notes are accurate.

Colin Wright

Thursday 15th. April – Patagonia-In Darwin’s Footsteps

At our April meeting, held at Weston Longville, WVBS member Peter Lambley MBE, gave us a well illustrated talk about his three week expedition to Patagonia. It was an action packed adventure about birds, natural history, geography and geology. At kick-off, we were shown a map of South America peppered with places of interest overlying the coloured geographic zones. The Patagonian region consists mainly of desert and arid scrub, occupying almost the entire southern half of Argentina. Following the footsteps of Darwin is an intriguing idea for any naturalist. Darwin had explored South America by sea and land, and found sites of great importance to the development of his famous theory of evolution (The Origin of Species), such as geological areas where rock contained fossils of dinosaurs, or environments where species exist today that had clearly descended from the now extinct forms. Many tourist spots had information boards quoting Darwin, and visitor centres had some of his fossils on display. Part of Tierra del Fuego is named Beagle, after Darwin’s ship, and a mountain in the south Cordilleras is named Mt Fitzroy in honour of the ship’s captain.

On visiting Buenos Aires, Peter noted that pigeons are abundant in the city. The Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve, a large and popular nature reserve adjoining the western suburbs of Buenos Aires was unfortunately closed but Peter’s talk included photos of many less familiar bird species, including the Chalk Browed Mockingbird, Monk Parakeet, Burrowing Parrot, Burrowing Owl, Razor billed Pochard, Speckled Teal, Upland Goose, Guira Cuckoo, Kelp Goose, Chilean Skua, Black Necked Swan, Southern Lapwing, Chilean Flika, and Austral Parakeet. In a southern coastal region Peter saw abundant penguins, many with eggs, and Cormorants in large groups. Then, swimming just offshore, Southern Right whales.

Inland again, interesting sightings of wild life included the flightless rheas that look similar to emus, the Patagonian hare and an iconic “must see” armadillo. On the plateau were relatives of the camel/ llama/ alpaca family group of animals that are adapted to the arid plains of Patagonia.

Peter also ventured into Peru, where some of the terrain is similar to Patagonia, and captured a surprising shot of a flock of flamingos wading in a sewage works, alongside some ducks and geese that were quite unperturbed by this environment. Peter then closed with a picture of the red “National Flower” (of the pea family) and commented that this was a ‘land of contrasts’ and that he wanted to go back to Tierra Del Fuego to see more of these islands, forests and birds.

Derek Harvey

Thursday 18th. March – A Birder’s Year in Norfolk

Founder member Allan Hale presented ‘A Birders Year in Norfolk’. An entertaining talk with plenty of feedback from the floor to help Allan keep track of which month we were in. We learnt the history of some birds from their ring numbers such as gulls seen at Yarmouth which have also been seen in Croatia, France and Poland. Also a fascinating description of the intricate details of plumage seen during a ringing session, the length, shape and colour of feathers indicating gender, age and in some cases, what sort of winter they endured. Allan manages to make a list of ordinary species seem something special and we were shown some dramatic pictures of a Bittern, seeing off a Grey Heron trespassing on its patch, and a Little Ringed plover displaying an imaginary broken wing to lure predators away from its nest. Favorite slide was a striking picture of a Bee Eater, not usually seen in Norfolk and a scruffy looking Robin in juvenile plumage – a far cry from the sartorial elegance of the Christmas Card icon. Despite the general decline in certain species there are some exceptions such as the Dartford Warbler and the Bullfinch but not so welcome is the rapid increase of Lesser Black Back Gulls nesting inland.

We learnt that careful handling is required when ringing birds such as the Hawfinch, whose powerful bill can crack a cherrystone. A Grebe, rescued from shallow water and put back into the river only to turn and bite the hand that rescued it. A Sparrowhawk was shown, held in a thick gloved hand belonging, we were told, to a somewhat wary handler, prompting an immediate complaint from fellow ringer Ray Gribble (whose hand it was), pointing out that a picture of his ungloved hand, scratched and bleeding, was unashamedly censored – you had to be there. A lively and absorbing, evening covering over 150 species and featuring, according to Allan, “The Best Birding County in the UK”. It ended with a sunset – and me winning an Easter Egg in the raffle.

Colin Wright

Thursday 18th. February – Titchwell Marsh – Coastal Change Project

At our February indoor meeting held at Weston Longville village hall, those members who attended had braved the elements of cold wind, snow, sleet and rain. They were well rewarded.  Paul Eele of the RSPB presented us with a day’s visit to Titchwell Marsh on the North Norfolk coast to see the Coastal Change Project. The superb photographs ensured that the sun shone all day. Paul’s enthusiasm and knowledge of Titchwell soon made us forget about the dreadful weather back at home.

As the dramatic aerial photos of sand bars, sand banks and marine inlets showed us, the main ongoing problem at Titchwell is that of coastal erosion. Over a long period of time this has resulted in three basic types of eco-system, namely salt-marsh, fresh-water marsh and brackish reed beds. Hence the great importance of this area to a wide range of species, notably waders and other flocks of migrant birds. Titchwell also had a vital role in the conservation of the Bittern and the Avocet.

Major construction work on new sea walls and dams using latest sea-defence technology, is underway. Large tracts of Titchwell Marsh will have to be closed to the public this summer for the duration of this work. Contractors equipment will dominate the scene. The noise of mechanical diggers, pile drivers, dumper lorries, and high-lift cranes will temporarily replace the happier more eco-friendly sounds of bird calls.

Big improvements to the hides, walk-ways and visitor centre are also scheduled. Some of the old landmark hides have already been demolished. However, the car parking space problem has not yet been resolved. Many birders will have to continue their secret trick of arriving early.  And this means EARLY. But one thing is for certain, Titchwell Marsh will remain a Mecca.

Derek & Rosemary Harvey

Check before you go! RSPB Titchwell website should have details of closure of trails etc. especially from August 2010 onwards.

Thursday 21st January 2010 – Out of Africa Project

Where are our Summer Migrants?

The first indoor event of our year was a presentation by Dr. Phil Atkinson of the BTO entitled, ‘Out of Africa’.  This project is one of the BTO’s prominent themes for the next few years and aims to improve our knowledge of the ecology of migrants wintering in Africa.  Over thirty of our breeding species winter in Africa but little is known about when they arrive, how they move around and what habitats they use.  It is known that two thirds of these species are declining. The Wood Warbler, for instance is declining by 10% per year.  To address this knowledge gap the BTO, in collaboration with the RSPB, the Ghana Wildlife Society and Naturama, will be monitoring migrants in five West African habitats ranging from the arid Sahelion area of Burkina Faso to the lush tropical habitats of Southern Ghana.  We were shown a series of pictures describing the five different habitats and some of the species to be found there.  The survey starts in the winter of 2009/2010. Lots of information on this vital task is on the BTO website, including the important topic of funding. Also look at which is an up to date personal account of the work already under way.

After the break Dr Atkinson looked back at a hundred years of bird ringing and the formation of the BTO in 1933.  A sixteenth century wood carving showed Swallows being fished from a pond as it was then widely thought they spent the winter at the bottom of reedbeds.  It was not until the early 1900s that the first bird ringing schemes were hatched to answer the question of where our summer visitors spent the winter.   Fascinating pictures of early ringing records and RADAR images (Angels) of 100,000 plus Lapwings and Swifts in flight.  Two excellent presentations (for the price of one) to the BTO’s usual high standard.

Colin Wright

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