Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 2nd October 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. Previous entries can be read by clicking here.

Thursday August 20th

It’s the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water tomorrow and I have a night before Xmas feeling, waiting for Pandora’s bird box to unlock at 9.30 in the morning. Going to try and set off about 7.00 and with luck should be there at about opening time. Still, what difference can it make? I have all my passes for the car and the fair. As long as I get there for the opening ceremony at 10 all should be Kool and the Gang.

Friday August 21st

6.00. Up early and playing with my new toy. A thermos flask! I would probably have abused any friend of mine who admitted they had one of these a year ago and now look at me. I love it. I decide to check it doesn’t leak by throwing it around a bit and holding it upside down. It survives my test and now I feel older, wiser and in union with this shining flask. Thermos packed in bag with sarnie and clothes and away I go. I’m taking Jackie’s clothes up as well as all of my gear as she is working today and getting the train up tonight. I put the bags in the car, jump in the drivers seat and smell coffee. If it’s inside the sealed and tested thermos flask, I shouldn’t be able to smell it, should I? I have a look and sure enough the thermos has leaked whilst in the bag and all over one of Jackie’s dresses. Oh no! Bloody thermos. Certainly seems like it has not passed my perhaps overly stringent examination. I rush back upstairs and douse the formerly pristine dress in cold water when Jackie appears and I tell her what has happened. “What do you expect when you try some ridiculous testing method on a flask that isn’t meant to be thrown around!” I reply remorsefully, “But at least I have found out that if you do throw it about needlessly, it will leak. Doesn’t say that in the leaflet that came with it. I really am so sorry.” Feeling ashamed I give her a hug and a kiss, “I better get going and I’ll see you tonight. Sorry again.” She nods with an air of resignation and a near smile. Sort of forgiven, I head to the North Circular, the scene of many a tragedy in the fabric of my time but this morning I sail round in a breezy twelve minutes to the A1.

7.15. On the motorway and from here it is two hours normally. No mishaps.

9.15. Like clockwork I arrive at Egleton where the fair is held on the beautiful banks of Rutland Water. I have my exhibitors blue parking pass but I am not allowed into the parking area as apparently I am too late and will have to park in the public parking. I am told I should have been here at seven or earlier like everyone else was. I plead film maker exemption and that I have to carry equipment all day long back and fore from the car to the fair and after, firstly, feeling indignation, which quickly turns towards contrition and finally converts into basic pleading, I am allowed in. Much like getting backstage at gigs really. Relieved, I have a quick victory wander around the site and say hi to Mark Thomas, from the RSPB, and then on with the camera to the opening ceremony and intros. Everyone who speaks at the opening ceremony talks with such commitment to the cause of conservation that it is a rather humbling experience. I am moved by the rediscovery of a genuine human kindness in this marquee and it makes me even more determined to help the cause in one way or another.

The fair is the global sponsor of Birdlife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which I am keen to promote in TBE. In fact, last year they raised £265,000 for the programme, and with luck, judging by the size of crowd on this first day they will surpass that this year. I shoot some establishing footage around the site and of the throng of people that have turned up. It’s easy to see why they call it the Glastonbury for birders. I am amazed at how busy it is for a Friday morning. I thought it was only myself that didn’t work during the week. I find out later that this year’s fair has surpassed all previous attendances and that the organisers had had to ask a neighbouring farmer to open one of his fields for extra parking. No bird recession here.

What I really love about Birdfair is that it is so easy to learn new things all day long. I flit in and out of the lecture marquees realising how little I still know. For example I go to a lecture by the BTO (The British Trust for Ornithology), which explains their work in compiling the Bird Atlas of Britain.

Basically a bird atlas provides an insight into the status of all of the bird species of an area. An atlas can be created for counties, countries or entire continents, creating a series of maps depicting patterns of distribution of every bird species present, whether it is a breeding, wintering, or year-round species. For the birder an atlas provides an indication of what can be seen where. For the scientist they provide a means of understanding the processes that shape bird communities and the factors limiting bird distributions. And for the conservationist they provide an indication of changes in distribution that might be indicative of wider issues. (Adapted from the BTO website)

What is interesting is that yet again, this is another project that relies on people like you and I taking part in examining the countryside and noting the different birds on view and reporting these findings to the BTO. By using the information often reported by the general public an overview of the state of the UK’s bird population can be created and many things can be learnt from the information that is gathered and reported. This is another organisation that needs our support.

I wander through the marquees and they really are an unbelievable mix of birdidity. (This is the only word I have been able to invent, which sums up the unique world that’s created by the fair. Everywhere I turn there is something that draws me in. There are book stalls, opportunities to take a bird trip to any or all of the four corners of the world, an array of optics (binoculars and telescopes) the amount of which you could never imagine existed and which cater for all pockets; bird food, bird feeders, bird clothes (for us not them) and so much more. “Roll up, roll up, all the fun of the bird fair.”

Then I see Will Wagstaff, the chairman of the Isles of Scilly Bird Group, and I am reminded of Scilly.


And because of this, a warmth spreads over me, as I realise that in a few weeks I shall be returning to those magnificent islands for the better part of October. Will, like Jim, has been one of my mentors on my journey. He gave me a crash course for the birders on Scilly and has become a good friend to me. He was the first person who taught me the importance of sound when looking for birds. He would hear a bird and know immediately what it was and because of that could then decide whether it was worth searching for or not. Although at my level of bird expertise everything is worth searching for and learning about. I now have a four-volume set of birdsong and calls. But I am still so amateur at aural recognition, which infuriates me as I have spent my life working with sound, that I really feel I should be further down the line of bird sonics. I guess like everything in life I have to practise more and more. Learn more, live more. This is even harder than the time when I was eleven and I decided to buy a Teach Yourself Welsh book in honour of my Welsh heritage. Apart from learning how to cough up the sound of two ll’s as in Llandudno, Cymru am Byth is about as far as I got. If you need to know, it means Wales forever.

Will then introduces me to a writer, Jeremy Mynott, who I have been eager to meet for a while since picking up his book entitled Birdscapes. It is a wonderful book to delve into as it studies birds, bird lore and their effect upon us and is this month’s Bird Book of the Month. It has had an effect on me and I am keen to involve him in some way with the film. He is a charming man and is warm, friendly and approachable. I may have rambled on about the Bird Effect as we meet for the first time but even so he gives me his e-mail address so I can’t have put him off too much. I hope we will keep in touch and as he will also be on Scilly at the same time as me, we should be able to reconvene our conversation there.

At the end of the day I am exhausted. Jackie comes up from London to join me at the hotel. We have some food in the bar and then to bed.