There is really only one thing that I need to go outdoors and observe wildlife to the extent that I do; binoculars. At different points through the year I might be clad in shorts and flip-flops or layer upon layer to fight off those impressive Anglesey winds, but to really see the magic of a tiny Goldcrest or a far away Godwit I need a little magnification!
Whilst working at Cemlyn Bay this summer, I briefly met a lady called Lucy (working as part of a team to promote young conservationists) and as any diligent blogger would I quickly dashed off as I was on my way to a scoop; namely kayaker John Willacy had just arrived back from circumnavigating Britain in his boat.
After filming John’s return (still to this day I have not shared the footage, as my blog will not upload it) I found out more about the programme that Lucy is a part of. ‘A Focus on Nature’ (AFON) is an organisation to “open eyes…minds…and imagination” of young conservationists and to nurture their career in this field. The panel, consisting of Stephen Moss (nature writer, broadcaster and BAFTA award-winning television producer, notably the original producer of Springwatch and producer of Big Cat Diary), Pete Gamby (dynamic sales and marketing manager for Opticron), Dr Rob Lambert (Environmental Historian from Nottingham University and one of the most interesting folk you’ll ever meet) and of course Lucy (McRobert), an Environmental History graduate and nature writer.
This inspiring team of visionaries have developed the idea of AFON and now offer youngsters setting out in a career of conservation the chance to develop their field skills with a pair of binoculars (an often very expensive and yet essential edition to someone’s kit). Although this an opportunity for many, the candidates do have to compete for their optics; showing their passion for conservation through nature-writing, photography and more.
It may have been that I decided to write about AFON in a desperate plea for their assistance, luckily this is not the case. Having submitted work from this very blog, the panel have selected me as one of the recipients of their award. Amazing! Thank you.
It may be apparent from my posts and photographs that I have benefited from use of binoculars throughout, these weren’t mine though. The adorable Ken Croft, my birding mentor and friend, used to lend me his super-duper binoculars and forfeit his own sightings (a difficult thing for a birder to do, believe me) and latterly he lent me an old pair of binoculars to see me through my contract with the Wildlife Trust at Cemlyn Bay. Massive thanks to Ken for his kindness and generosity here.
So yes, this AFON prize of Opticron binoculars is very relevant and not wasted on somebody who won’t benefit; I am very excited and will cherish this prize! I have so many plans for the future and for my career and these binoculars will kick-start me on my way. Wahoo!
You can check out other winning entries and even apply for yourself here. This scheme is set up to help, so please don’t be intimidated. The panel want to encourage you, so apply and see how you get on! For those that won’t be applying, I’d still check out the site as I expect that we’ll hear more from these names in the future and you’ll meet them there first!
Kathy x (eagerly anticipating her new binoculars!!)
Albatross is a mighty fine tune by one of my all time favourite bands ‘Fleetwood Mac’. In fact, how about setting the scene by opening up a new a tab and playing it as you read?! Just click here.
The reason I have chosen to call this post ‘Albatross’ has nothing to do with the instrumental though. Yesterday, Wednesday 19th September I received a call from Dave Bateson, the reserve warden up at RSPB South Stack. Having already spoken to Ken, he knew that I was (unfortunately) working down the other end of the island and would not be able to dash for a chance to see a passing Black-Browed Albatross. I don’t think you need to be in ‘birding’ circles to appreciate quite what a bird an albatross is, famed throughout the world because of their enormous wingspan, longevity, loyalty and a symbol of hope lost to sailors in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.
It is becoming a trend that phenomenal things are sighted from South Stack when I am down in Menai Bridge. Almost this time last year Ken watched as a pod of Orca made their way northwards past the stack. I had been living on the reserve at the time and disappointingly found myself receiving Ken’s excited call as I walked along the High Street of Menai Bridge, past the Indian take-aways, bakery and coffee shops, miles from the spectacle outside my own bedroom window. In an annoying repetition of history, I was walking in exactly the same place yesterday when I received Dave’s call about the probable Albatross.
Unfortunately, neither I nor Ken (conveniently sea-watching from exactly the right place) managed to see an Albatross, Black-Browed or otherwise. However the texts and twitter speculation soon spread (like wildfire, or perhaps the common cold).
The birding world is well-connected these days; the bird lines and alerts have evolved, are well used and form the ornithological backbone of Britain. With the advent of social media (particularly twitter) and smart phones sightings can be seen by followers all of the world in a matter of seconds. It is fascinating (and also scary) to think that an hour after this “possible Black-Browed Albatross” sighting, it had been coupled with an unconfirmed sighted of the same species from the Isle of Man the previous day and that it was stated that it was now likely that this was an individual that used to visit the Scottish Island of Sula Sgeir. Perhaps is it. Perhaps one or both of these possibles was a definite? And perhaps this Albatross is visiting the North Atlantic rock of Sula Sgeir. And perhaps this is the same individual that has been sighted there before.
Black-Browed Albatross, should after all be breeding on the other side of the world. The likelihood of multiple birds travelling up the Irish Sea is small, but there has often been speculation about the number that may be taking refuge on our remote islands. Who knows?! I certainly don’t and without politely asking Mister Albatross to explain himself I think I’m unlikely to find out.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that this Albatross has in fact being visiting Scotland since 1967 when an Albatross was recorded on Bass Rock amongst the Gannets. After this date there were various sightings at various Scottish locations (Gannets close at hand). Indeed, our very own Ken Croft saw his one and only Black-Browed Albatross from South Stack Reserve back in 2005. It is thought that this is the individual that was then known to reside on Sula Sgeir, but perhaps not. Perhaps we have multiple long-distance visitors that despite their grand proportions slip unnoticed to the remote islands of Scotland.
Fascinating as their story may be, I think there is an allure in the unknown. Part of me hopes that they go on avoiding our gaze, seeking solace in our still wild places.
Where I work, at Cemlyn Bay, the birds seen from the section of coast path that passes through the reserve are surveyed on a daily basis throughout the tern breeding season, and today we invited members of the public to join us to add to the Wales Coast Path Birdrace organised by Visit Wales http://blog.visitwales.co.uk/10630/wales-coast-path-bird-race-2012/.
The weather was certainly on our side with glorious sunshine throughout the day (which actually felt hot when we managed to get out of the wind!). There was a morning and an afternoon walk led by Ben and Nia from the North Wales Wildlife Trust.
Highlights for me were:
1) Watching the terns bring in huge fish with which to impress their lady friends. The beauty of Cemlyn is that the terns pass right over your head as they cross the shingle ridge to the lagoon. The coast path is actually temporarily diverted on this section during summer to afford the breeding colony some privacy. The walk is barely altered though as the path is just on the seaward-side of the ridge.
2) Seeing two Canada Geese swimming out to sea with necks bent parallel to the surface of the water, disguising the four goslings sailing between them.
3) A calling Chough overhead (my first Cemlyn sighting).
4) Seeing a pair of Whinchats on the Trwyn (the headland on the westward side of the bay). The first time I have ever seen this species and especially welcomed in the absence of Stonechats locally.
5) Everyones enthusiasm and interest. I will never tire of seeing how wildlife delights and inspires people.
Below is the comprehensive list of birds seen (64):
Lesser black-backed Gull
You can now ‘like’ naturebites on facebook http://www.facebook.com/Naturebites and you will soon find pictures/videos from today’s event on the North Wales Wildlife Trust facebook fanpage – hope to see you there!
Ken Croft (@angleseybirdman) was birding elsewhere and has asked me to submit his records…
Hope you all had fun out and about today,