The One Where I Go Missing For A Bit

If you’ve been checking in on this blog or any of my social channels even semi regularly over the past few months (and many of you have for which I thank you profusely), then you may have noticed that things have been rather quiet. In fact my last “original” content was way back in August following the barnstormer that was Birdfair 2018, after which I rather fell off the digital wagon. It’s not the first time and it probably won’t be the last despite my best of intentions and, as usual, the reasons are all too familiar. Time, work and having taken on too many other projects all feature prominently but new to me has been an overwhelming sense of despair that I’ve had real trouble shaking. Indeed it still burdens me now.

Some of this was a hangover from Birdfair itself where, despite writing of my intention to take inspiration from those fighting for our wildlife and environment, I couldn’t shake the sense that it was all hopeless and that in the end we’re on a downwards spiral whose course was set long ago. Even when opportunities to make a difference do present themselves it seems that those with the real power are either too busy playing politics or, as seems to be the case in many instances, simply don’t care. That makes global issues such as climate change and plastic pollution an almost impossible challenge. Even trying to lift my mood by heading out locally has managed to have the opposite effect with dirt bikes and fly-tipping blighting several favourite haunts.

Needless to say the desire to write upbeat posts therefore has been somewhat lacking and instead I’ve been throwing myself into other activities including the ongoing conversion of my van to a camper as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time playing Pok√©mon Go (yes, really!). When the urge to get back out birding became too strong to ignore we chose to forego the usual options and instead ended up on a week’s all-inclusive holiday to Sardinia. This came at just the right time with both of us nearing burnout and things couldn’t have gone any better. Fantastic wildlife, glorious weather and beautiful surroundings meant that we came back refreshed and with a feeling that perhaps all was not lost after all.

In recent weeks the rapid onset of autumn has brought a stark drop in temperature resulting in sharp frosts and some stunning early morning light. With it has come a flurry of Jay activity such that I’ve barely been able to go for a walk or drive without seeing these most colourful of corvids. Back at home our garden feeders have begun to feel the winter onslaught of hungry Goldfinches and we’ve also been joined by a chatty Magpie which seems to take much delight in banging our windows each morning. Beats an alarm clock anyway. Together these little moments have started to remind me why I fell in love with the great outdoors in the first place and that, no matter how difficult things may initially appear, there’s always hope and collectively we should never give up the fight. Hope prevails so long as there’s someone still standing.

So where does that leave me now? Conflicted yes but at least with light at the end of the tunnel and a renewed sense of excitement and curiosity. With a couple of months left before the end of the year I plan to bring this blog up to date with recent goings on and also to prepare for a 2019 which promises to be full of new opportunities and adventure. Just to whet your appetite here’s a sample of what will be coming your way very soon:


- Dipping through Waterfall Country
- Jurassic coast fossils
- Sardinia: a week birding and walking the Mediterranean
- Van Conversion Part 1: insulating and carpeting
- Van Conversion Part 2: cupboards and a custom bed
- Van Conversion Part 3: swivel seats and finishing touches
- My life in cameras
- Sunday Showcase

Plenty to keep me busy then including a backlog of several thousand photos to edit and catalogue, not to mention actually writing some posts. On top of that I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunity for odd day's out here and there particularly when the hills start turning white. Consider normal service resumed as of now.

P1180670 - Lyme Regis

I've missed this little community we've built together and look forward to seeing it grow even further.

Sunday Showcase - Wryneck vs Dartford Warbler

Two rarities for the price of one

28864_2 - Wryneck vs Dartford Warbler - 2012 Re-edit

It's a personal guarantee that if you spend enough time immersed in nature then sooner or later you'll experience one of those moments which makes you sit back and think wow, did that really just happen? We've been fortunate over the years to have enjoyed that adrenaline kick more than once ourselves but one particular encounter stands out above all others.

Back in 2012 we were walking the Pembrokeshire coast path from Strumble Head to Tal-y-Gaer and, being October, talk inevitably turned to rare migrants and our thus far complete lack of success in turning up anything of note. In fact I had just broached the subject of Wryneck's when a bird shot out of the Gorse ahead before circling and vanishing into the undergrowth once more. I knew what I thought I'd seen but no, it couldn't be, could it? Searching intently soon had the culprit once more in view and blow me if it wasn't my first ever self found Wryneck! Seldom is life so perfectly timed.

Creeping closer I managed to get into a good position for photography, baring in mind that at the time my gear was somewhat limited, and already had a couple of semi-decent images in the bag. All the while though I could hear this frantic alarm call from somewhere nearby when, and I can still scarcely believe this some six years later, a Dartford Warbler hopped into view and proceeded to give our Wryneck a piece of its mind. For just a split second both birds were close enough to fit in a single frame and this week's Sunday Showcase is the result.

That wasn't to be the end of our Wryneck encounter either but for the full account why not head over to my original account of the day here.


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Sunday Showcase is an opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite images. Some will have been published here previously whilst others will be freshly liberated from my vast back catalogue. All have memories attached and each week I'll be sharing those stories with you.

Sunday Showcase - Ulva Swallows

Recently fledged Swallows on Ulva

P1100343 - Swallow, Ulva

Last summer we finally made our first trip over to Ulva, an island located off the west coast of Mull with a permanent population of just six. Access came via a small passenger ferry which saw us safely across the narrow straight on what was a morning shrouded in mist. Like much of the surrounding area Ulva is bristling with wildlife and the first birds we stumbled upon were this trio of recently fledged Swallows. Their parents were dropping in at regular intervals to deliver food but there's no mistaking that look of discontent. After several weeks in a warm, dry nest, who could really blame them.

For a full account of our time on Ulva head here.


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Sunday Showcase is an opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite images. Some will have been published here previously whilst others will be freshly liberated from my vast back catalogue. All have memories attached and each week I'll be sharing those stories with you.

Birdfair 2018 - The Talks

I summed up my first Birdfair experience pretty well in a previous post but wanted to focus in a little more detail today on the various talks we attended across the weekend. For me these were the real highlights of the event, a chance to listen to and learn from a wide variety of speakers across an even wider range of topics covering everything from plastic pollution to the latest developments in camera tech. Without fault each was presented with passion and authority and in amongst the amusing anecdotes and often stunning photographs were several serious conservation messages. These in particular deserve a wider airing and even if just one person takes something away from my summary here then I'll consider this to have been a worthwhile exercise.

Friday

Tesni Ward - Working with Wildlife
I must admit to not having come across Tesni's work before but her talk was to focus on the Olympus OMD EM1 mk2, a camera which interests me greatly, but by the end I'd made sure to follow her various social media outlets. That the Olympus performs exceptionally well when working with wildlife was perhaps no surprise but I was completely taken by Tesni's own style and portfolio of images, some of the best I've seen. Her video footage in particular stands out for high praise, the only issue being now that I want the Olympus even more!

Mark Carwardine - Never, ever, ever write a field guide
The first of the big names for Birdfair 2018 and Mark did not disappoint. Essentially this was one man wrestling with his sanity after five years spent working on an updated field guide to the whales and dolphins of the world. Doesn't sound too difficult I hear you say but wow did we ever underestimate the effort involved. From reading thousands of scientific papers to commissioning hundreds of original water colour paintings, the sheer quantity of research involved is mind boggling. Much of this is cutting edge as we begin to understand our marine creatures that much better but this also means that the landscape is in continual flux. Even the number of actual species is changing on a fairly regular basis meaning that almost as soon as the guide is published it will inevitably become out of date. The same goes for population maps which after hearing of Mark's sleepless nights spent worrying I don't think I'll ever criticise in a field guide ever again.

P1170815 - Mark Cawardine, Birdfair

Mark also had a serious message to share in the shape of a petition against Iceland's insistence to continue whaling. You may have seen recently that they slaughtered a Blue Whale (later claimed to be a hybrid as if that made everything ok) and it was heartening to see so many adding their names. Of all the cruelties performed against the world's wildlife whaling must surely be one of the easiest for us to eradicate.

Jonathan Scott - The Making of Big Cat Legacy
I basically grew up watching Big Cat Diary so to see Jonathan speak was an absolute must. This was a heart warming tale of the making of his and wife Angela's latest TV series, one which I'll definitely be seeking out when it airs.

P1170820 - Jonathan Scott, Birdfair

Simon King - Then and Now
Another of my childhood wildlife heroes and I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through Simon's career. Using that as a pivot against which to discuss the current state of our natural world was a clever device and one which had me thinking about what changes I've seen in my own lifetime. The loss in biodiversity he's witnessed on the Somerset levels thanks to intensive farming struck a chord particularly. Long gone are the days where I'd spend hours picking dead flies and bees out of my car grille after a summer's drive for instance. There is hope though and by highlighting major success stories such as the restoration of Shapwick Heath and ethical farming exemplars there was a very clear message that if we all put a little more thought into the food that we buy then the cumulative effect could be huge. Food for thought (excuse the pun) next time you pick up that vaguely labelled pack of meat from Tesco (other supermarkets are available).

The Plastics Debate
Plastics. Thanks to Blue Planet highlighting the issue of plastic pollution within our oceans I challenge anyone to claim ignorance of what is possibly one of the biggest ecological disasters of our time. I had hoped that this debate would provide a set of varied viewpoints and ideas on how we might attempt to begin change but the panel were very much in agreement with one another and I couldn't help feeling a sense of despair that although we all recognise the problem, large scale change seems so far away right now. That is by no means the panels fault of course but a reflection on where politics is at present and they did a sterling job of stressing that even individuals can make a difference, no matter how small. In fact this was very much a theme across the weekend and there's a real sense now that meaningful change is only going to come from the ground up through sheer weight of public opinion. A message almost lost at the end by bringing the debate to a close by highlighting that this was the first ever women only panel at Birdfair (I'm guessing we're excluding the male chair in that) which although was a very good thing did leave me feeling a little odd. I'd much rather have taken away said panels opinions and messages rather than feeling that I'd been part of a PR exercise.

Dick Forsman - A Ten Year Raptor Quest
I think any birder would agree that there's just something about raptors which lifts them to another level. Dick's certainly one of them and has spent the last ten years researching his latest identification guide on the subject. Across an hour which simply flew by he shared tales of his adventures around the world as well as offering tips and tricks on where to go and how to age various birds of prey. It was utterly fascinating, convinced me that I absolutely need his book and confirmed that I have virtually no hope at identifying the rarer Buzzard species. Why oh why do they need to cross-breed I ask you.

Saturday

Chris Packham - How are you feeling Mrs Nightingale
This was undoubtedly the busiest event of the entire weekend with every seat taken and many more forced to stand. And can you really blame them? Chris has increasingly become a vocal supporter of wildlife campaigns around the world and used his star power at Birdfair to provide a platform for people actively working at the conservation front line. Particularly shocking was hearing of Malta's continued disregard for European law exemplified by the killing of several White Stork in recent days. I'd been following this story on twitter but to hear first hand from those who have been monitoring the situation was heartbreaking. On a slightly different note it was brilliant to hear from Joe who has been promoting bird therapy as a way of dealing with depression and other mental health issues. I know from daily experience that getting out into nature does me the world of good and his is another book which I look forward to reading when published.

P1170830 - Birdfair 2018

Iolo Williams - A Career With Wildlife
This was far and away the most enjoyable talk of the entire weekend, a cross between serious wildlife conservation and a stand-up comedy gig. I've met Iolo once before and he came across as a thoroughly nice chap and did so here on the big stage as well. I won't spoil any of the anecdotes in case you get the opportunity to see him speak elsewhere but I will advise that you don't go stealing eggs as you never know when a Gurkha might be watching.

Tim Birkhead - The Guillemot's Pointed Egg
We all know that Guillemot eggs are pointed to stop them rolling off cliff ledges and new research shows that we're all completely wrong. For what I thought would be a fairly specialised lecture this was very well attended with one of the most active question and answer sessions of the weekend. Apparently we all like a good egg mystery! Tim's research has concluded that the shape is actually to aid adhesion when lain on a slope and who am I to argue.

Sunday

Neil Phillips - Life in a Garden Pond
I've followed Neil for years on Flickr and this was a chance to see some of his stunning aquatic photography on the big screen. The perfect way to kick start a Sunday.

Nick Baker - Rewild
Rewilding is the in thing at present with a lot of focus being put on introducing species such as Wolves and Lynx back into our countryside. At least that's what the press would have you believe. Nick's take was much more focussed on re-wilding ourselves, getting back in touch with nature on a personal level and restoring a connection which is part of our fundamental make-up. Now that's a message I can truly get on board with and in a way is why I started this blog in the first place. 


So there we have it. A quick run through of the talks we attended at this year's Birdfair but rest assured only the thinnest of slices of what was actually available. I'd recommend that you follow the links spread throughout this piece to read in more depth on some of the issues highlighted and if possible consider what personal contribution you might be able to make. It doesn't have to be anything big, something as simple as cutting out single use coffee cups for instance, but if everyone could do the same then the cumulative benefits for our environment would be enormous.

Birdfair 2018


Quite why it's taken me until Birdfair's thirtieth year to put in an appearance I'll never know but, in the words of those great philosophers i.e. our mothers, better late than never. For those who may be unfamiliar with the event it's essentially Glastonbury for birders with hundreds of talks and lectures spread across three packed days, not to mention stalls from just about every country, tour guide and wildlife related company that you could possibly imagine. Year after year I've watched others on Twitter sharing their latest selfie with Chris Packham or waxing lyrical about a presentation which I'd have loved to have attended and finally, it was my turn. Although I'll pass on the selfies if that's ok. Probably better for all involved.

Gear Review - Wunderbird Women's Gyrfalcon Hoodie

You may recall my recent review looking at Wunderbird’s new range of clothing tailored specifically for birders (if not it’s well worth a read). The feedback I've received since has been incredibly positive, none more so than from my partner herself. She loved the Gyrfalcon hoodie in particular and being the caring sort I reached out to Wunderbird to see if they’d be interested in a female perspective on their range. Thankfully they were and not only are my brownie points now well and truly in the green but Emma’s had an enjoyable weekend in mid-Wales putting her new gear through its paces.


As before the ordering process was a breeze with the website's sizing guide proving just as accurate for Emma as it had been for me. No easy feat as in our experience clothes sizes for the fairer sex seem to be a complete minefield with no two manufacturers apparently able to agree on a set of measurements. Even better was the cut which manages to tread that fine line between being tailored but not overly clingy. Thumbs up all round.

Once again the key features of padded shoulders, quick draw binocular supports and double layered pocket are all present and correct, the same high quality of materials and manufacture proving that my first delivery was certainly no fluke. As Emma tends to carry the weightier of our backpacks those padded shoulders have come in for particular praise easing pressure and increasing comfort no end. Interestingly she's also been finding the quick draw binocular support incredibly useful, not something we expected given that she already wears hers on a harness. Using the lower of the supports however has now completely eradicated any remaining movement and as I also found makes for a much more comfortable experience out in the field.



Something I couldn't do in my original review was comment on the warmth of the fabric thanks in no small part to us being slap bang in the middle of a heatwave at the time. Thankfully conditions are now returning to some kind of normality and Wales threw its best at us over the weekend including heavy rain and cool winds. The Gyrfalcon hoodie coped easily with both, managing to be warm yet breathable despite the high humidity and went on to be a cosy companion as we whiled away the evening back at base.

In summary then exactly what I've come to expect from Wunderbird. High quality clothing which really does deliver on its promises for birders, be they male or female. If you like what you see here then why not head over to the Wunderbird website or even better, pop along to their stand at this weekends BirdFair.
https://wunderbirdworld.com/
Disclaimer: Wunderbird provided me with these products free of charge in return for my honest opinion and review.
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