Previous meetings this winter:
January 2024 – Changing my perspective – new ways of looking at nature
When he retired, David North was given an Olympus Tough camera which has enabled him to gain a whole new insight into the natural world. Starting on the top of his garden wall, David introduced us to a dazzling array of miniature mosses and lichens. After a brief interlude of hares in snow, we were dazzled by dewdrops before marvelling at the beauty of frosty mornings, emergent leaves, Felbrigg at dawn and oak trees throughout the seasons. David’s superb photographs were enriched by his profound knowledge and we were privileged to benefit from his determination to “pay attention, be astounded and talk about it”.
December 2023 – Norfolk’s Wonderful 150
Our last talk of the year was named after the book produced by the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society to celebrate their 150th anniversary in 2019. The book contains descriptions of 150 species which are associated particularly with Norfolk.
Our speaker was Tony Leech, the country recorder for fungi, a former Biology teacher at Gresham’s School, and recipient of the Sydney Long Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the promotion of conservation.
Tony’s talk covered about 25 species including fungi, plants, insects, molluscs, crustaceans, birds and bats. An extremely wide-ranging, fascinating and entertaining talk was followed by wine and delicious nibbles.
November 2023 – Why is Kenya so special?
Our November talk was presented by Nik Borrow, co-author and illustrator of several guides to African birds and a hugely experienced tour leader.
Nik took us on a fascinating tour of Kenya, starting in the coastal forests before moving inland to the Taita Hills and then up the slopes of Mt. Kenya. From here, we were taken west to the Aberdare Mountains and north to the remote Marasbit region. Finally, we turned south to the Rift Valley and finished up on the vast plains of the Maasai Mara.
Along this journey we were treated to wonderful photos and detailed descriptions of many of the 1100 species, including many endemics, which inhabit this incredibly diverse country. This superb talk had something for everyone, covering not just birds but also a wide range of mammals and the spectacular wildebeest migration.
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 .