Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 4th September 2009

The diary of the making of a film. and an on going fascination with birds and their accompanying cast of human characters. By Ceri Levy. Read previous entries here.

Monday 27th July.

Just back from going away for the weekend. Went to see Mark at the RSPB and then we stayed with Jim Lawrence from Birdlife International and his wife Deb for the weekend. Great weekend.

Mark was wonderful to chat to. He really clued me in to the world he works in. The problems that birds face in this day and age are unbelievable really. It’s all very well having programmes like Springwatch telling us that a family of Goshawks are doing well but the reality is that the persecution of birds of prey is continuing. The RSPB gets about 400 reports a year of this from the public which makes one wonder what goes on that is not being reported because the countryside is big enough for many bodies to be strewn across it. It makes me sad and angry to hear about these murdered birds and honestly if you have ever looked up in the sky and seen a bird of prey I defy you not to find them majestic and their persecution heartbreaking…We have to protect them and we need people to report anything suspicious, just like packages on tubes really. But I think the most important thing is to make the public aware that these things are still happening. Then there will be more vigilance. I want to see a Golden Eagle flying in Scotland, I want to see Goshawks, I want to see Harriers… I want to see birds of prey alive and flying.

The other area we explored, as I was expecting to, was egg collecting. This is an English disease. It does not exist anywhere in the world. At this moment in time there are reckoned to be around 100 active serious egg collectors. Not many you think. Well, if they all had similar sized collections to the man whose collection was 8000 that’s 800,000 eggs. That is potential bird genocide. And the amount of people doing it was, a few years ago, estimated at 300 or so. So the RSPB is doing a good job. The other odd fact is that these collectors are pretty much all from the same town. Coventry. The best thing out of there was the Specials!

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Mark with the tragic Pearson collection of rare eggs (Photo Courtesy RSPB)

Anyway, the weather was too bad to film the interview… I am really trying to shoot as much as possible outside. I want light in my life!
The rest of the weekend was spent with Jim and Deb in Cambridgeshire. Jim is the Development Manager of Birdlife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which is trying to do exactly what it says on the tin, prevent extinctions of critically endangered birds, which at present stands at 192 species and without support, help and money, many of these birds will be gone in ten years time. Anyway, he’s a top bloke, a top birder and all round good egg, so please check the programme out. He has also been a fantastic mentor and taught me so much in such a short space of time.

On Saturday morning we went up to the Norfolk coast to get some lobsters and samphire from a little fishmongers in Blakeney (which are half the price they are in London – £15 a kilo and bloody tasty!) and to do some birding. We went to Cley and saw spotted redshanks, dunlins, avocets, an assortment of scruffy ducks in eclipse plumage, which were completely confusing, and had generally great weather supplemented by great hospitality and great food. The highlight though was the sight of ten spoonbills flying in to land not far from our hide. This was spectacular. The Spoonbill is an uncommon visitor to the UK, and normally only seen in ones and twos. It is a specialist feeder on water invertebrates and uses its huge spatulate bill to sift tiny creatures from the water by swishing it from side to side. This adult bird shows a yellow tip to its black bill whereas younger birds have pinkish bills and black wing tips. Crazily beautiful creature.
One of ten Spoonies at Cley (Photo Courtesy Jim Lawrence)

On the Sunday morning we went looking for a kingfisher, as my wife Jackie had never seen one. We were lucky to find two sat still on a lake in the grounds of Wimpole Hall and spent some pleasurable moments watching them before they finally sped off out of sight. Nice way to end the weekend with a pair of beautiful and magical water dwellers. Back to London. (Beer Tip – Woodforde’s Wherry.)