Previous meetings this winter:
October 2023 – Birding Antarctica: the Last Frontier – with Andy Clarke
Andy Clark took us on a magical tour of Antarctica during which we were spellbound by wonderful images of birds and mammals.
Having worked for the British Antarctic Survey for 40 years, and spent two winters at the polar base, Andy has a wealth of experience which he shared with an audience of 70, drawn from Cley Bird Club and NWT’s North Norfolk group.
Andy set the scene by describing the geography of the continent and the history of its discovery. He went on to describe the routes taken by tourist ships, recommended appropriate field guides and then embarked upon a really informative description and superb illustration of the amazing wildlife.
Focussing on birds, Andy showed us tremendous images of penguins, albatrosses, petrels, gulls, tern and shags, often highlighting the very subtle differences between similar species.
March 2023 – Birding by Bike – Nick Acheson
In the midst of Covid lockdowns, Nick decided to get on his mother’s 40-year-old bicycle and follow the wild geese in North Norfolk. A deeply personal journey, inspired by loneliness and determination to reduce his carbon footprint, Nick spent seven months pedalling 1200 miles, the equivalent of the pinkfoot’s migration from Iceland.
Nick described in great detail the migration patterns and behaviour of geese, some of which are known individually by the experts who watch them regularly. It was interesting to learn that skeins of thousands of pinkfeet is a relatively recent phenomenon in Norfolk. In Nick’s youth, he had to go to Holkham to see them in decent numbers, whereas now the 70,000 birds disperse all over the county.
On arrival in autumn they graze on freshwater marshes and head inland locally to feed on fields of stubble. Later in the winter they search out harvested beet which, due to modern harvesting techniques and almost immediate drilling of the fields, forces them to journey far and wide. Numbers in Norfolk are down on the peak of 110,000 birds, possibly due to the changes in beet harvesting, or because global warming enables them to spend the winter further north.
Nick’s journey is recounted in his superb book “The Meaning of Geese” which many of us purchased during the evening. How lucky we are to live alongside these fascinating birds and to have someone like Nick to inspire us with his enthusiasm, eloquence and encyclopaedic knowledge.
March 2023 – The Reintroduction of White-tailed Eagles to England – Zoe Smith (Associate Ornithologist, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation)
Zoe joined the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation in 2021. She has over a decade’s experience working in raptor conservation in the UK and internationally. In 2022 she was elected to the board of the Raptor Research Foundation, superseding Jemima Parry Jones as the Director outside of North America.
Zoe spoke eloquently and passionately about White-tailed Eagles which, with a 2.5m wing-span, are the 4th largest eagles in the world. Driven to extinction in the UK, mainly through persecution, the last pair bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. It is therefore, most appropriate, that this island was selected for a reintroduction project which commenced in 2019.
The aim of the five year project was to release 60 juveniles, sourced from nests in Scotland. Chicks are collected when they are at least 10 weeks old. They are placed in pens with no human contact, fed twice a day and fitted with transmitters before release. This methodology has a proven track record in Scotland and Ireland where experience has shown that the eagles do not pose a threat to domestic animals such as lambs. Young eagles tend to feed on carrion while older birds hunt for a variety of prey including mammals, birds and fish. There is even evidence that the presence of eagles can suppress Buzzard and corvid numbers, thereby protecting vulnerable species such as Lapwing.
In 2019, 6 birds were released, followed by 7 in 2020 and 12 in 2021. Avian Flu prevented any releases last year. To date, 16 of the 25 released birds remain in the wild. The young birds have been roaming far and wide, often spending prolonged periods in Norfolk. One bird has crossed to continental Europe on two occasions, getting as far as Sweden. The eldest of the released birds are approaching the age of maturity and two pairs have established breeding territories, one on the Isle of Wight and one in Sussex. Could this be the year that we see the first White-Tailed Eagle chicks being born in England for almost 250 years?
Due to the exceptional work of people like Zoe and her colleagues at the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, White-tailed Eagles are making a comeback in Britain. However, they face an uncertain future, faced by threats from Avian Flu, continued persecution, poisons and collisions with wind turbines. To keep in touch with their progress and track their journeys around Britain and Europe, look at the excellent website roydennis.org
February 2023 – Bustards – The Ecstacy & the Agony
As the title suggests Nigel Collar‘s talk fell into two discrete parts; firstly he spoke about the positives of Bustards , illustrated with photos of species from Europe, Eurasia and Africa. All of the species of Bustard are large birds which live in semi arid habitats and they are mainly ground dwelling, i.e. they nest and feed on the ground, rely on their camouflage for protection and walk or run rather than fly. The males’ breeding plumage and displays are amazing sights . The agony of bustards is that they come under threat from many quarters, not helped by their ground living habit and many of the species of bustards are now under serious threat. Among the issues are collisions with structures and in particular power lines which is not helped by the fact that Bustards have very limited forward vision, their eyes being placed on either side of their head. Another major threat in many countries is hunting of Bustards for sport. Poisoning either from pesticides and pollution, or deliberately by local people to try to prevent incomers trespassing to hunt them is another problem. They are long lived birds and their rate of breeding doesn’t meet the numbers which die unnaturally .
January 2023 – Wonders of Raptor Migration
In his fascinating talk on the Wonders of Raptor Migration, Richard Porter first told us of his early raptor watching studies in Istanbul. He then covered the topics, how do we know about bird migration and how do birds migrate. There are 313 raptor species 40% of which migrate annually and mostly they follow land bridges rather than crossing wide areas of open sea. They use thermals during their journeys and this reduces the energy they need to cover large distances. Migration presents raptors with many hazards such as lightening storms, being shot or trapped, collisions with buildings, power lines and wind turbines and, if they are carrying satellite transmitters, being seen as security threats. Richard spoke about two species of raptor particularly, Honey Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard. In the former adults migrate first followed by juveniles. They reach speeds of 55kmph & cover 8,800 km in 3 weeks. Richard recommends Batumi in Georgia as the best place to see raptor migration. Here 1.5 million birds pass through each autumn.
This meeting was sponsored by Lynton Wines.
December 2022 – Secrets from a Hidden World Revisited
We were treated to a superb talk by Andy Bloomfield, Warden NNR Holkham, on the 12th. 51 people attended & we heard just how extensive the Holkham Estate is, it’s various habitats, current and recent land use strategies, including the creation of new ponds, drains, stabilisation of sand dunes & people management to enhance the habitat wildlife including the breeding Spoonbills, & other recent incomers such as Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets .Also noted were the decline in numbers of birds such as Common Snipe. People management in this highly popular area, where up to 700,000 visitors a year are recorded on Lady Anne’s Drive alone , creates big challenges unheard of in the past.
The talk was sponsored by Birdscapes, who brought along a small art exhibition, and Lynton Wines kindly provided the wine for the Christmas Social which followed the talk . We were also pleased to have a Wildsounds book stall which proved popular and gave us an extra donation towards our conservation funds.
November 2022 – Birds of Bardsey Island
On the 17th Steve Stansfield, Director of Operations and Warden of Bardsey Bird Observatory, gave a talk about the birds of that unique island, famous as a place to study migration and for the rare and unusual birds that turn up there. The islands are famous for not only providing windows into the progress of migration, but also attracting vagrant birds. Steve talked and showed photos of the varying flora and fauna through the year and some of the vagrants that have been seen there.
This talk was sponsored by Cley Spy
October 2022 – NWT conservation outside reserves
The first of our joint meetings with tne N Norfolk NWT group took place on 20th October with Helen Baczkowska, Acting Conservation Manager for NWT giving a very interesting talk on the conservation work NWT do in the wider countryside, outside its own reserves.
This talk was sponsored by Picnic Fayre.
We were pleased to see a good turn-out for this new format meeting.