Meeting Reports for 2019

Indoor Meeting: The British Isles – a Birder’s Paradise. Speaker: Jason Moss 17th January 2019

Reporter: Alan Hughes

Us birders might have thought at first that Jason had led a charmed life with regards to his career, but despite his modesty, it became apparent during his talk that his success in his chosen profession was down to dedication to birding since a youngster, hard work, and a winning personality. Thus, since graduating in biology, he has earned jobs in 3 of the best birding locations in the UK, and it was his work on these island sites that was the basis of his fascinating work: –

1. Farne Islands, Northumbria. In 2009 and 2010, Jason was an assistant warden on this archipelago, following in the footsteps of St Cuthbert who some considered to be the first conservationist as, along being a religious hermit, he also considered it his duty to protect seabirds. These islands are home to 36K breeding pairs of Puffins, 2K pairs of Arctic Terns (these nest very close to public footpaths and aggressively defend their nesting sites against all other birds and visiting humans – hence the advice to wear a hat!), 1K pairs of Sandwich Terns, as well as Common Terns, and our rarest breeding seabird – the Roseate Tern – now only an occasional breeder. The cliffs host “Seabird Cities” of Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags and Kittiwakes, although numbers of the latter species are declining rapidly due to food shortages. Eider Ducks (their local name is the Cuddy Duck after St Cuthbert) nest on the grassy plateaux, and Fulmars are also in residence – these have the delightful habit of spitting concentrated fish oil sauce at intruders – up to a range of 2 metres – very smelly! One of his roles on the Farnes was to monitor the population and productivity of the seabirds in a programme that had continuity for many decades. But Jason couldn’t be a hermit – he was also required to engage with the many visitors and, for example, he was able to demonstrate the use of a burrow camera to examine the underground Puffin nests. Being a set of small, relatively remote islands meant the the Farnes were also a magnet for migrant birds, and sea watching stints enabled the wardens to record the huge migrant passages of seabirds including some rarities such as Cory’s Shearwater (4 in one year) and one Fea’s Petrel. Easterly winds in October also meant the migration of land birds, and as well as the first landfall of Winter Thrushes in the UK, there were records of many scarcities in his time there, including Bluethroat, Wryneck, Ortolan Bunting, Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike and Little Bunting, and rarities including Arctic Redpoll, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-headed Bunting, Black Kite and a Lanceolated Warbler. His most bizarre record was a Stone Curlew on the beach!

2.Fair Isle, Scotland. 2011 and 2012 saw Jason move to the bird observatory on this next birding mecca. Sat between Shetland and Orkney, this is the UK’s most remote inhabited island. Approximately 3 miles x 1 mile, Fair Isle is divided into 2 parts – the South is the lower lying fertile area inhabited by approx. 55 people, many of whom still run traditional crofts, – and the North is moorland and hill. Surrounding the island are cliffs, home to large colonies of Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots. Skuas, including the fearsome Great Skua (aka Bonxie) and the Arctic Skuas (now in serious decline to less than 25 pairs due to poor productivity as the other seabirds they prey on are much reduced in numbers – only a single chick was raised during Jason’s 2 year spell there!) nest on the higher ground. Here Gannets and Fulmars are doing well but Puffin numbers and other Auks are declining due to poorer feeding. Storm Petrels also breed here, usually in inaccessible places and only land at night. Landbirds include the Fair Isle Wren, Twite, Wheatear, Raven, Peregrine, Curlew and Snipe. Jason’s main responsibility was monitoring bird migration through a census that was conducted around the whole island during the 2 seasons of migration (this has been ongoing for several decades resulting in some really important data) and also through the ringing of migrants: A Heligoland trap was used to catch birds allowing ringing and biometric measurements. Scarcities recorded there include Red-backed Shrike, Bluethroat, Golden Oriole, Rosefinch and Wryneck. Rarities include the Autumnal “Fair Isle Specials” – Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler, Pechora’s Pipit, and Collared Flycatcher. Jason is celebrated for finding a Magnolia Warbler (only the 2nd time this American vagrant has been recorded in the UK) – and he conveyed the excitement of this find, as he waited for a colleague to join him to help identify this bird which only stayed for one day.

3. Skomer Island, Wales. Managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Jason was here 2013-2016 as an assistant warden, then a field worker for the University of Gloucestershire. The island lies off the coast of Southwest Wales, and in May is covered in Bluebells, and later Red Campion, indicating its woodland past. Breeding birds include 3-4 pairs of Short-eared Owls (which prey on the Skomer Vole), Chough, Peregrine, Little Owl, Wheatear, Teal, Pintail, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Linnet. Migrants (including the “Spring Drip”) list Wryneck, Golden Oriole, Woodchat Shrike and Hoopoe as scarcities, and Dark-eyed Junco, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-headed Bunting on the rarities list.

Once again, seabirds featured heavily: Most famously the 300K pairs of Manx Shearwater (half the World’s population) – these amazing birds undergo a 6K mile migratory journey to Brazil and Argentina to overwinter every year, and are also one of the longest-living birds, one being recorded as 50 years old. Jason’s work included monitoring the productivity of their breeding burrow, and also attaching GPS devices to monitor their movements in detail. Puffins are colour-ringed for a 30-year study, and food returned to some labelled burrows was also recorded. Professor Tim Birkhead has been studying Guillemots on Skomer for 40 years. Jason also monitored Storm Petrel number – this was challenging as they only visit their inaccessible nest sites at night; they used a recording of their call to elicit an answering call from the chicks to locate them, establishing current numbers at approx. 300 pairs.

Following a series of excellent photographs to illustrate his talk, Jason concluded with a video film of seabird colonies on Skomer.

This was an excellent talk by a talented and dedicated birder – I am sure that Oriole birding tours are delighted to secure his services as a full-time guide.

Indoor Meeting: Holme Sweet Holme Speaker: Gary Hibberd, Warden 21st February 2019

Reporter: Sue Gale

It is always good to hear from a true enthusiast, and Gary Hibberd, who has been warden at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Holme Dunes reserve for 30 years, certainly fits that description. He gave us a lovely talk about the natural history of the reserve on the very tip of North West Norfolk. It was bought by NWT back in 1965, and as warden Gary gets to live on the reserve. What a wonderful address! He took us through the list of species we might expect to see at different times of the year, and this being the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, it did not only include birds. The geography of the place is also fascinating, as the sea ensures that it is constantly changing. Some areas are growing, remarkably rapidly, from the accretion of sand and gravel to form new dunes. Other areas, notably just in front of the pine woods and reserve centre, are suffering from erosion. The ‘Beast from the East’ caused a lot of damage, with pine trees falling off the edge of the eroded dunes. On balance, Gary thinks the accretion is winning and the reserve is growing, but is keeping his fingers crossed that the pines will survive.

The harbinger of Spring is the Wheatear, a favourite bird of many, that loves the dunes. Notably it isn’t here yet, in spite of the very spring-like weather we are currently enjoying. It might be joined by Ring Ouzels and Yellow Wagtails. The latter love to hang out around the cattle on the reserve, apparently much preferring them to the Konig ponies that also graze the area. Flocks of Yellow Wagtails used to number 300 or more, but not these days. So it isn’t only the geography that changes over time. Marsh Harriers used to be scarce summer visitors but are now reliable residents; breeding Snipe are a thing of the past, and Lapwing breeders have halved in number. Barn owls are doing well, with 4 or 5 seen most evenings, and the two small Little Tern colonies are hanging on. The terns and other waders like Ringed Plover breed on the beach in the open and are very
vulnerable to predators, weather and disturbance, so Gary is pleased that the reserve will have a beach warden this year. Disturbance to breeding birds can come in many guises, from microlights and paragliders to unexpected campers (!) and uncontrolled dogs.

Holme is famed for its Natterjack toads, which breed each year in shallow pools that are specially prepared for them. The pools must be shallow as deeper ones suffer from predation by such as dragonfly larvae. Between 1000 and 3000 toadlets emerge from these pools each year, but they are definitely on the menu for a range of predators, both before and after emergence. On the beach you might find the Dune Tiger Beetle, only found on the tip of Norfolk, or the rare and tiny Aphodius lividus, which is so small it doesn’t seem to have a common name. Another small and special inhabitant is a tiny liverwort that Gary has spent hours on hands and knees searching for.

To provide the different habitats needed for these various species the reserve has to be managed. ‘Scraping’ seems to be a major tool – creating bare of sparsely vegetated areas where the little things can thrive. Various grazing regimes have been tried, but the Konig ponies seem to be most successful. (Konig apparently means pony in Polish, so we are actually saying ‘pony ponies’.) All of this leads to some very beautiful plants flowering in spring and summer, including Bee orchids, Man orchids and Marsh Helleborines. Insects include the Bee Wolf, the Tansy Aphid and the Hummingbird Hawk Moth, and a new butterfly for the area, the Dark Green Fritillary. Perhaps the most interesting fungi we might find are the Nail fungi. In particular the Dung Button is a tiny dot of white that can be found on rabbit droppings! I am going to be walking around Holme with new eyes next time I go. Many thanks are due to Gary for an excellent overview. Can’t wait to get back there.

Indoor Meeting: Project Godwit  Speaker: Hannah Ward  21st March 2019

Reporter: Sue Gale

In her very clear and concise presentation Hannah told us all about Project Godwit, which she manages on behalf of the RSPB and WWT. We all see large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits during the winter months, but almost all of these birds return to Iceland to breed. They became extinct as breeding birds in England as far back as the 1800s, because of habitat loss caused by drainage of the wetlands. Currently there are fewer than 50 pairs in the country, 90% of which are at the Nene Washes. At nearby Ouse Washes they were down to 3 pairs in 2015, and this area has a problem with the increasing frequency of spring floods. New land has been acquired adjacent to Ouse Washes to provide a safe nesting area.

Project Godwit aims to secure a stable and sustainable breeding population in the 5 years of its funding. To do this they need to stop the downward trend in breeding productivity and maintain it at 0.5 chicks per pair at least. Predation has been identified as a major risk, and studies have identified Red Kites and foxes as significant factors. Electric fences around breeding areas have been successful in reducing this, and alternative food sources have lured Red Kites away. Colour ringing and radio tags have been used to track movement of the Godwits in the winter months, and birds have been reported in West Africa for the last three winters.

A major tool in the armoury is ‘headstarting’, which involves hand rearing of chicks to be released in the new habitat. Eggs are collected from early nests so that the birds have a chance to re-lay, and the hatchlings progress through aviaries until at 30 days they are ready to be released. But how are they doing? Were any still alive? Would they return to the new areas? Would they eventually establish a sustainable breeding population? Hannah left us to ponder the questions over the tea break.

The fledged birds stayed close to ‘home’ at first, but were later seen in North Norfolk and Essex. The following spring they were reported in France, presumably heading for home, and as late as 1 April in Belgium. Hannah wondered if they had inadvertently headstarted a Belgian population. Then to everyone’s delight some returned. Delph arrived at Welney, and in all 9 birds returned in their first summer, including 2 sets of siblings. Two females paired with wild birds and attempted to breed – most unexpectedly in their first summer. Sadly spring floods affected the birds that year, but eggs were collected from unsuitable farmland sites and used for the next round of headstarting. Even so, Earith successfully fledged a chick in her first year! By 2018 the wild population was slightly increased, but most importantly now spread over 3 sites, including Lady Fen. The best protection against flood damage will be a wider spread of nest sites, so Hannah and her colleagues are full of optimism.

To support the project you can become a Godwit Guardian. You will be able to follow the fortunes of a named bird. Sign up online at Many thanks to Hannah for a brilliant presentation.

Indoor Meeting Speaker Gary Prescott. Is there a Tapir at the Door 18th April 2019.

Reporter: Sue Gale

Well, this was a very different evening from our usual talks! Gary is the UK’s most famous ‘Biking Birder’, having cycled around all of the RSPB and WWT reserves in a single year. He has raised thousands of pounds for charity. He is very much the ‘Entertainer’ as well as a birder, and at one point he had us all singing! He even provided the words to ‘Bring me Sunshine’. I don’t think it was our strong point though. His talk was illustrated with pictures of the people he met in the UK and those he works with in Peru, as well as the usual birds from both countries.
Before the coffee break, when the sing-song happened, Gary concentrated on his travels in the UK and his efforts to become the Biking Birder record holder (which he is). He cycled around in all weathers, visiting 209 RSPB reserves and 9 WWT ones. At Strumpshaw I recall his visit, as I was on duty in reception at the time, but I didn’t know that he was going to sleep in the church afterwards – in the snow! He also made use of sheds, bus shelters and, of course, hides. In order to get the European record he had to stay some weeks on Fair Isle, and was lucky that many Eastern birds came in on a NE wind. He loves Fair Isle, but things are different there. When he needed just three more rarities to get the record he was made aware of a big twitch on the island: Arriving full of anticipation he found the bird was a Bluetit! (They are really rare on the Northern Isles). Luckily a Siberian Stonechat, Dusky Thrush and Blue Rock Thrush followed to make him a happy man.
Gary spends much of his time in Peru, where he works with disadvantaged children. Ha was able to show us some success stories of smiling young people now at various universities. However, he has also birded extensively there, mostly on a bike but sometimes in an inflatable boat of a most conspicuous colour. In his travels he saw 14 Andean Condors, picked out a rare (there) Laughing Gull from thousands of Franklins Gulls, found flocks of Andean Flickers (a woodpecker), and once was attacked by pigs. Gary pointed out the serious overgrazing of the grasslands that has led to a wildlife desert in some areas, but the Peruvian Government is now trying to reverse this.
A favourite destination was Manu national park, where there are 600 species of birds in its 70 mile reach, and over 3000 butterflies! He saw a Cock of the Rock lek here, and found a Giant Potoo while on an expedition to plant trees. He stayed with the locals by the river when water was too low to travel. Here were 3metre long Caiman which he was assured were not dangerous, and fresh Jaguar tracks. Gary was after another biking record in Peru, the world one, and he got his 619th bird, a Cream-Coloured Woodpecker, to claim that one too.
Gary’s book, ‘The Quest for 300’ by the Biking Birder was published in 2016. All proceeds go to charity. This certainly was an evening with a difference, and many thanks were extended to Gary.

Indoor Meeting: RSPB Berney Marshes  Speaker Mark Smart  16th May 2019

Reporter: Alan Hughes
Mark, the Site Manager for RSPB Berney Marshes and Breydon Water, has achieved two important career milestones in the last year: He has worked for the RSPB for 25 years, and he was recently in receipt of their Lifetime Award for Wetland Conservation Achievement. In tonight’s talk, he ably described how his long commitment to conservation in this region made him a very suitable winner of this award.
The land he is responsible for can be divided into 3 areas: –
1. Berney Marshes. This is approximately 1000 hectares in total and an aerial photograph taken in February showed this to be a very wet site! It is actually one of the most important sites for breeding waders in the UK with 120 pairs of Lapwing, 120 pairs of Common Redshank, 60 pairs of Avocet, and some Oystercatchers. His stated aim was to fledge as many wader chicks as possible each year, but he described their success as “mixed” with 2016 being a particularly poor year with a 30% reduction in breeding waders (the possible cause of this was discussed later..). He also hoped that this site could be included as a release site in the Project Godwit scheme, so that Black-tailed Godwits could be added to their list of breeding birds. 2. Breydon Water. This is 360 hectares with large areas of tidal mud which is very important for wintering wildfowl: It provides a feeding site for up to 120,000 birds (the highest density for any estuary in the UK) and includes 30,000 Golden Plover (he once mistook these for an oil slick, until he looked more closely with binoculars!) 2,500 Lapwing, 2,500 Wigeon, 16,000 Pink-footed Geese and 6-700 Avocet. This area requires minimal management input, but Mark considers his cooperation with a local wildfowl shooting group with low-intensity shooting, to be an important part of this. 3. Halvergate Marshes. In total, there are 2,500 hectares, much of which is commercial grazing, and here cooperation with the 120 local landowners is vital to maximising the area for wintering wildfowl.
Mark was very keen to emphasise his belief in “Landscape Scale Management”: When Berney Marshes was purchased by the RSPB in 1986 it was only 70 hectares. Work commenced including embanking the marshes, and installation of diesel water pumps to increase the amount of water on site. Later, another 70 hectares was added, and then some arable land in the centre of Halvergate became available and this affected their ability to keep water on the reserve. The latter was converted from wheat fields to wet grazing, and this quickly became home to 75 pairs of breeding waders. A change in the dominant grass species here though, to one that survives flooding but gives a denser sward, possibly explains the reduction in wader breeding success in 2016 described earlier: the land was ploughed and rotavated to create a sward with more bare areas of soil where wader chicks were able to feed more easily, and already the average annual chick productivity has increased from 0.5 to 1.0 per breeding pair.
A lot of research projects have been conducted here: –
1. Developing ditch habitats as the ditches slowly lose their salinity. 2. The use of “foot-drains” to manage water levels. 3. Reduction of predation of birds using temporary electric fencing which is moved to different areas on the reserve. 4. Fitting radio collars to trapped foxes to monitor changes in their predatory behaviour in response to landscape changes.
And continuing the theme of Landscape Scale Management, Mark outlined 4 projects, each of which involved other organisations and local landowners, and developed areas of land beyond the boundaries of the reserve: –

1. Loughlin’s Marsh: This is 2 areas of land separated by an arable area, and lies alongside Breydon Water, and it is being developed to provide a second high tide roosting site by adding large scrapes within which are several large islands. These areas should attract passing birds and the hope is that they will retain their super-wet nature even as rainfall declines with global warming.

2. Scrapes were created elsewhere, and the materials from these were used by the Broads Flood Alleviation Project to repair banks close to the Berney Arms pub. These scrapes were quickly colonised by Avocets.

3. Halvergate Fleet Extension Scheme: Here the local drainage board is creating a new water storage area in the form of a manmade flood plain environment which is wet all year round, although with fluctuating water levels. This will provide good quality water for grazing livestock, but also land suitable for breeding waders plus some of the European wetland species such as Great White Egret, Spoonbill and Spotted Crake.

4. Somerleyton Estate is rewilding the Herringfleet Marshes and already there are 5 pairs of Lapwing and 10 pairs of Common Redshank there.
Mark’s talk concluded with a video film summarising some of the work being carried out under his guidance in this area. He hoped that his legacy would be the creation of significant changes in the landscape through his work in partnership with other agencies and landowners in the area. Peter Lambley gave a well-deserved vote of thanks for this fascinating talk.

Indoor Meeting Dragonflies. Speaker Dr Pam Taylor. Thursday 20th June 2019

Reporter Sue Gale

Pam is the dragonfly recorder for Norfolk and a prominent member (as in ex-president) of the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) so she really knows her stuff. Luckily, she doesn’t assume a similar level of knowledge among WVBS members. She started her talk with some handy ID tips: Dragonflies perch with their wings outspread, while damselflies fold them along their backs: Besides damselflies, the three main types of dragonfly are :- Hawkers – the really big ones up to 4 inches long; Chasers and Skimmers – the short fat ones; and Darters – the small fat ones! There’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s a helpful start.
Pam then talked us through the main habitat types we are likely to be looking at in Norfolk, and which dragonflies we are most likely to find in each of them. (I will just need to take my notes with me next time I am out.) Strangely, the Broads are not an ideal habitat for most dragonflies, being too deep and therefore too cold. There are a few that will perch out in the middle, on a lily pad or similar, notably the Red-eyed Damselfly. Black-tailed Skimmers may be found round the edges, perched on boards, railings etc. Of course, this information was accompanied by excellent photos and more ID hints. Rivers have the same disadvantages as the broads, but there are some river specialists. These include the Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damsel and the Scarce Chaser (which isn’t scarce any more). An important ID hint here is that chasers all have a dark triangle at the base of their wings, which is absent from the otherwise fairly similar skimmers. Another thing dragonflies don’t like is water with overhanging vegetation. They prefer their trees at a distance! However even this habitat has its exception, and the Downy Emerald likes woodland ponds. You are unlikely to see it though as there is only one site in Norfolk and that is private.
At this point Pam explained the ‘mating wheel’ which is common to all these species, and which you will have seen in the wild. Once fertilised the females oviposit their eggs, mostly just by flying over water and hoping for the best, but the hawkers have a special spike with which to insert eggs into the substrate. The larvae spend up to several years in the water before emerging and slowly shedding their skins to become the adults we know. Look out for them in the dykes of grazing marshes, which can be full of dragonflies in the summer, including all of the small Blue Damselflies plus Large Red, Blue-tailed and various Emerald Damsels. There used only to be one species of emerald here but now there are several. These are the damselflies that sit somewhere between damsels and dragons because they hold their wings at an angle backwards. There is always an exception! Also, in these dykes may be hawkers, from the earliest to arrive, the Hairy Dragonfly, to the late summer Migrant Hawkers. In between there is the Norfolk Hawker, with vivid green eyes at the front of its brown body. It is no longer confined to the county, but we are hanging on to the name for now. Those eyes are enormous, and one counted recently in the USA had 30,000 lenses in a single eye! They are really efficient predators, catching their insect prey 90-95% of the time.
Some insects may be lured in to meadow flushes to lay their eggs, but these are a dangerous choice as they are not present all year and so may result in desiccated larvae. Better are sedge beds, where we might find the Four-spot Chaser, which is unusual in that the male and female are alike. Also, here will be found the late summer/autumn flying darters. We often see many of these, even as late as December if it stays mild enough. Of the three resident species, the Ruddy and Common Darters are the difficult ones to separate: The Ruddy Darter is bright scarlet and has a ‘waist’ but also shiny black legs and a rudolph-red nose. The Common Darter is usually less bright and has a waist only in profile. It also has a pale yellow stripe down those black legs. The third darter is the Black Darter and can be found on Roydon Common. It’s very small and when mature is entirely black.
Ponds, whether in gardens or parks etc, are liked by the Emperor Dragonflies, with their plain green thorax, and by the Southern Hawker which can be identified by the bands at the end of its tail. Other blue hawkers all have spots right to the end. Our last habitat is bog, such as Holt Lowes or Dersingham, and here the specialists are the Keeled Skimmer and the very rare Small Red Damselfly. The skimmer was only found on the Holt site but is doing well and has spread to several others but the damselfly is still only found on one small site in Norfolk.
Pam rounded off her talk with some pictures of spectacular dragonflies that we don’t see in Norfolk, like the Violet Dropwing from S Africa and the Scarlet Darter in Bulgaria. As Steve said when he proposed a vote of thanks to Pam, you will always learn something from a Pam Taylor talk, and we were very grateful for such an illuminating and engrossing evening.
For those who would like to know more, the BDS is at and there is a dragonfly centre at Wicken Fen over the border in Cambridgeshire. But hurry because funding is being withdrawn from next year.

Indoor Meeting: “Our Place” Thursday 18th July 2019

Speaker: Mark Cocker

Reporter: David Gibbons

“Our Place is partly a work of history, partly a personal geographical quest and partly a philosophical inquiry into our relationship with the rest of life. I’d like to think that it tackles some of the central issues of our age. And in its conclusion, I attempt to map out how this over-crowded island of ours could be a place fit not just for its human occupants, but for all its billions of citizens”
The history: About a century ago, the Commons Preservation Society was set up as land was levered out of common ownership, around 6 million acres; this robbed rural people of access.
Sir Robert Hunter and Octavia Hill pioneering for poor people and places to go.
Thus, the National Trust came about, a Non-Government Organisation, buying land for people to access. As Nature is Important!
The RSPB, another important NGO, was created by a group of pioneering women concerned with the protection of birds, as 64,000 tons of feathers were used for “Fashion” across the world. The UK banned this practice in 1921.
In the 1960’s, Operation Osprey helped launch the RSPB with 300,000 acres being purchased.
Wildlife Trusts with 230,000 acres and the National Trusts also buying up coast line in the 60’s with Operation Neptune, including 6,000 acres on the North Norfolk coast today. These are mainly Salt Marshes in North Norfolk which dominate the landform but they join up the more spectacular landscapes.
In total there are around 15 NGO’s in operation in the area of conservation and land management for wildlife.

Despite this, England is one of the most ravaged landscapes in Europe e.g. House Sparrows have declined by over 60% in the last 60 years. Invertebrates and breeding sites have been lost, Health and Safety issues result in the loss of spilt cereals!
Out of 218 countries England is 28 from the BOTTOM in relation to conservation!
Up to this point the Government had done nothing: It wasn’t until the Attlee government of 1945, as well as the creation of the NHS and Town & Country Planning Acts, they were responsible for the creation of National Parks and SSSI’s which opened up 8 million acres to the public.
There was a bit of a muddle between the NGO’s in preserving wildlife for people (RSPB) or the value of land to people (National Trust)?

What is conservation? For People or Wildlife?
Conservation is for both!
Now both these organisations are slowly moving towards the other species, human and wildlife.

The importance of Nature today.
• Science, the study of life, SSSI’s • Writing, Poets, Creative people. • Spiritual health. • Health – quicker recovery, recreation, walking and cycling etc.
“Nature – all what is great about being alive!
Urbanisation has destroyed the environment, people no longer “bump” into it. Nature Reserves now give people an outlet.
Agriculture is faced with massive challenges, use of chemicals, potential loss of subsidies, the pressures of feeding humanity.
England, with 66 million people, along with Holland, are amongst the most densely populated nations on the planet, more than China and India!
Question time raised many current issues and generated in-depth debate:
How to reduce the birth rate? Tax breaks? And the Ageing issues?
Farmers managing their farms — they have many ideas.
The population themselves, what can we do?
One issue, amongst many, PLASTIC? We could avoid using it, or pick up thrown-away litter, 1 piece today—2 pieces tomorrow?
It is not hopeless, the more we do the better. Get out into Nature and enjoy it!

As can see Mark raised many important issues whilst getting us to think of the environment which we are lucky to live in, for a short while anyway, and which we should preserve for those who follow.

Mark made this lovely comment at the end of this club meeting: “A fabulous evening with The Wensum Valley Birdwatching Society. Part of the bedrock of collective action for nature. Thank you for the invitation, for being a hugely engaged audience and for those amazing cakes and chocolate dipped Strawberries ”

Indoor Meeting 19th September: A Taste of Oz – Speaker: Allan Hale

Reporter: Sue Gale

There was a large turn-out of members to hear Allan Hale describe his birding trip to Australia. Allan is a member and regular speaker, and people knew they could expect to see some beautiful photographs of exotic birds. They were not disappointed. Allan’s trip took him across the North of Australia and into the middle, exploring many of the areas we have all heard about. Starting in Darwin, he immediately began to see exciting birds, like the Australian Ibis and Red-collared Lorikeet (a type of parrot). Allan did observe that most Aussie birds seemed to be parrots, parakeets or honey-eaters. Also very visible in Darwin were the Orange-footed Scrubfowl, found only in that area but very confiding and with the irritating habit of calling all night!
Further South the variety of birds in the wetlands probably did make up for the very basic accommodation. Going out at night to the loo is made much worse when you have to avoid treading on the Cane Toads which are all over the place. But there were Cone-crested Jacanas, Little Finches and Spangled Drongos. At Kakadu a boat trip on Yellow Waters brought Azure Kingfisher, Rufous Night Heron, the small and beautiful Pied Cormorant and the Jabiru (now called Black-necked Stork in Australia) and Crocodiles. This part of the trip also took in Katherine Gorge, Pine Creek – where Alan explored one of many sewage farms – and back to Darwin before heading out by plane to Alice Springs. He saw far too many birds to mention, but here he did see his first Kookaburra, the Blue-winged one, and some of the most interesting nest-builders, the Great Bower Bird and the Friar Bird.
From Alice Springs of course they visited Uluru, but Allan was less than impressed with this famous rock: He much preferred the Olgas, nearby. It had rained recently so there were thousands of Budgerigars and Cockatiels to be seen. Also, the Black Cockatoo that is the size of a Buzzard! Of special interest was the Crimson Chat, a pretty bird found on the salt flats and only there, as it depends on the salt.
Alan took a flight across to Cairns to see a very different range of species. On the seafront at Cairns were Australian Pelicans and some birds we are more familiar with like Caspian Terns and Bar-tailed Godwits. From here he also found the other Kookaburra, the Laughing one, and many Willie Wagtails. These are iconic Australian birds. At Kingfisher Park, where they had booked rooms in advance, they found the very colourful Red-Browed Finch and the lovely Fairy Wrens as well as Rainbow Lorikeets. Under the feeders were Bandycoots and a night-time outing produced pictures of the weird Duck-billed Platypus. The red-legged Paddymelon was another marsupial they encountered. Perhaps the biggest coup was the sighting of Cassowary. One came out of the forest at Etty Bay. These birds are 6ft tall and aggressive so need to be treated with respect. Alan also visited the Koala Sanctuary, a must on any tourists list, for good views of the not-so-cuddly bears, and finished at O’Reilly’s in Lamington Park. Here the parrots are almost tame, and you can feed King Parrots or Crimson Rosellas from your hand.
What a trip. Many thanks to Allan for his usual high standard of presentation.

October Indoor Meeting: 17th October 2019 The Norfolk Bat Survey Speaker: Stuart Newson

Reporter: Sue Gale

Stuart’s Norfolk bat survey has mushroomed into a national and even international survey, all based on sound recordings of bats. He started by giving us a quick run-down of the bats that we might expect to find in Norfolk – perhaps too quick for the likes of me, with little familiarity with even the names of bats! So please forgive any spelling or other errors! I did pick up that the Barbastelle is a Norfolk speciality that goes quiet as it approaches moths, its prey. Some moths, however, have reacted to the danger by sending out jamming signals!
Stuart was keen to get a recording survey started, but recognised that it is difficult to involve large numbers of people when expensive equipment is required. So, he set up centres across the county where people can book online to borrow a bat detector, while also recording the area they wish to survey. This started in 2013, and over 2 million records have been submitted so far, covering 30% of Norfolk. Stuart soon realised that people were recording creatures other than bats, and there is now great data available about Bush Crickets in particular!
Some bat calls are easily identified, but some are more difficult to tell apart. Natterers Bar and Daubenton’s bat are hard to tell apart, but the survey has shown very different distributions. The survey has also provided proof of breeding by the Nathusium Pipistrelle, a known migrant bat that gives distinctive social calls near its maternity roosts. The challenge of developing software that can reliably identify bats by their calls is Stuart’s main focus. He needs to obtain good quality recordings of both of any confusion species so that he can use them to validate the software. For example, working with the French he has obtained recordings of Brant’s and Whiskered bats on their known flight paths.
As well as Norfolk, the project currently covers the southern third of Scotland and 100,000 square kilometres in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but Stuart now has his eye on expansion into a National Bat project. To do this he has been developing a tool called Audio Moth so that it can be configured for use on bat species. This has brought down the price to $50 instead of $1000, and should be easy enough for use by volunteers. This would allow collection of records to show trends in populations, and development of risk maps so that conservation work can be targeted. Areas where bats could be helped by, for example, the planting of woods could be identified.

Not content with the bat project, however, Stuart is working on using the previously accidental recordings of other species, which he used to consider a nuisance. The different species of Bush Crickets seems to be a favourite for development, probably because there is a reference library of their calls in France, and because many are already being recorded. They can be detected in daytime and at night to study their activity patterns, and even local schools have been involved around Dersingham, because children can hear these insects unaided! Other potential uses are the detection of Brown Rats on islands, bird migration and mouse and bumble bee ID. We will watch this space! Many thanks to Stuart for a very interesting evening.

November Indoor Meeting 21st November 2019: BTO Garden Bird and Wildlife Surveys
Speaker: David White

Reporter: Sue Gale
The Garden Birdwatch scheme, run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), has now been running for 25 years, during which time over 11000 members have submitted over 250,000 records. Norfolk is the county with most members, perhaps not surprisingly as we are such a birdy place! The weekly returns cover not only birds but mammals, insects etc seen in gardens, but most records are of birds. The most commonly seen birds are Blackbird, Robin, Blue Tit and Woodpigeon, in that order, so no surprises there. The sad part is that many species are declining, Greenfinches and Song Thrushes amongst them. The latter are now only found in 20% of gardens when they used to be in almost all of them.
The survey allows trends to be recorded, but also looks at seasonal changes. I was interested to learn that the House Sparrow is seen most frequently in late summer, when big family parties might arrive. Reed buntings come in to gardens in February and March, when seed and insects are scarce in the countryside. Blackcaps used to be a rarity in winter, but no longer, as Blackcaps from central Europe have adapted to spend their winters here. Woodpigeons, on the other hand, are seen all year and are not a favourite, probably because they eat so much! Although numbers are often declining, we are likely to see more different species in gardens than we used to. Collared Doves are a relatively recent success story and are now a common sight. In some areas Ring-necked Parakeets are also common, and they have indeed reached Norwich. They can be something of a problem as they roost in large numbers – 60,000 being the largest roost recorded. Also, they can out-compete hole-nesting birds like Marsh Tits.
The survey also records observed plumage variations, beak or other deformities, and signs of disease. Such records allow the spread of diseases to be mapped, and BTO is able to give valuable advice to limit that spread. We are all exhorted to clean our feeders regularly, using boiling water. Greenfinches were very seriously affected by Trichomoniasis , although there are signs of recovery recently. This may be because resistance is developing, or maybe that improved hygiene has helped. Avian pox can affect Great Tits and Dunnocks, but although unsightly it is rarely fatal. Similarly, club foot in finches looks pretty horrible but doesn’t seem to affect the birds adversely.

David also told us about the Tawny Owl survey conducted this year, with 14000 people contributing. Early results suggest that the rural population is doing well, but that Urban Tawnies are struggling. The autumn is a good time of year to listen out for these owls as they are especially noisy then. Young birds are being ejected from the parents’ territories and have to find their own!
A fascinating insight into valuable ongoing research. I was surprised to see how few members actually participate. Perhaps more will join up after this talk. Many thanks to David.

Christmas Social 12 December 2019

Reporter: Keith Walker

The Christmas Social was held at the Swan Inn at Ringland and forty-two guests turned up dressed in their festive finery. In addition to the meal there was a table quiz coupled with some audio questions.

From the hubbub and general merriment, everyone appeared to enjoy themselves. After a fiercely fought competition the team of Richard & Beryl Norris, Chris King, Alan Fordham, Steph Plaster, David Gibbons, Ann Walker and Jacky Pett were declared the overall winners.

We also held two inaugural awards; the first was for the best photograph of a bird taken in the Wensum Valley in 2019, which was a Buzzard taken at Sparham by Hilary Gostling. The second award was for the best bird sighting in the Wensum Valley, which was a Turtle Dove sighted by Steve Connor.

The Swan was beautifully decorated and provided Xmas Fayre, which was served by their cheerful and efficient staff.

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