Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 25th May 2010

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.

Wednesday 28th October

A real rarity appeared on Staines Moor while I was away, a Brown Shrike. This little fellow should be in Asia not Middlesex. That’s a real case of a vagrant bird. I wonder if Staines Moor bears any resemblance to the Himalayas. Even though it’s unlikely that such a bird will still be about I decide to get down to the Moor and see if it’s still there. Little did I know that it would be staying there for the next sixty-eight days. Often a rare bird appears for only a short window of time and that is why it is always best to go for a bird as soon as you possibly can as they have that enviable ability to fly away and never be seen again. But I also feel sad that at the front end of such a lengthy stint that the crowds are huge and then dwindle to no more than a matinee audience even though it’s still the same extraordinarily rare bird and only the seventh for Britain. I just hope someone was there to wave him goodbye and thank him for his company.

I get down to Staines Moor and trudge through the muddied trail created by hundreds of birders who have rushed to see this rarity in the last few days. Now there are only a few people left looking as the fever has died down and the world has seen this small interloper on Staines’ stained soil. At first there is no sign of the bird and I start to think that I have missed it, when flying onto a branch, appears this pretty little masked shrike hopping and flying from tree to tree. It’s a nice welcome home.

Friday 30th October

Trying to make the thirty birds Jim has set me to see before Christmas. The Shrike makes it in at Number 14. I’m never going to make it.

Friday 6th November

Nik Shelton, one of the press officers at the RSPB has invited me down for a day out at their headquarters in Sandy. I have been there several times to see Mark Thomas in the Investigations Department, but what is amazing is how many people work there in so many different areas. I believe there are over 400 people working on various projects in this grand building. Jeff from CBTR was going to come up with me to see the people involved with one of these missions, the Our Rivers campaign. But he got an angling opportunity he couldn’t resist so I drove up alone.

Nik took me to meet the guys in the RSPB Film Department. I was telling them about my hopes of filming the spectacle of birds as interludes in TBE and adding originally scored music for specific birds. I told them I had seen an eight-minute short recently on BBC about Knots at Snettisham which I had been particularly taken with. I said I hoped to do something similar. I was then told that the RSPB had been responsible for the footage and that it had been shot over five years. My jaw dropped as I realised the intense nature and long haul filming needed to capture wildlife properly. I am going to have to re-jig my strategy I think.

I was also hoping to see a Nuthatch as I still hadn’t ever seen one and they are pretty prolific up at HQ. It would hopefully become bird number 15 on the un-gettable list to tick before the end of the year.

Nik suggested I come up on a Friday as that was homemade muffin day in the cafeteria and I was not disappointed when I had one of those. After our elevenses he gave me a whistle stop tour round the RSPB and I met many people working on so many diverse projects and I realised that the RSPB gets involved with so many areas of conservation. I am wholly overwhelmed at the work they are doing and I hope I can do my bit to gain some more support for them.

There was also a lunchtime walk for some twenty or so staff around the site looking for mushrooms, as it was the fungi season, and I was invited along to find, listen and learn. Naturally I asked about Psilocybin and we were told there was some around and that there was something four times as potent on site as well. “Curiouser and curiouser,” mused Ceri. Funnily enough, we were never shown these X-rated shrooms or told where they lived. But we did learn about so many different mushies and it was a superb sunny day for a genteel walk around this extraordinary site. I even got to see Nuthatches and they really are beautiful little birds. How I wish I could walk upside down on trees like them. If we had found those extra strong mushrooms, perhaps I could have!

Thursday 12th November

I tell you this birdwatching lark is catching on. Who would have thought that the “Pesky Wabbit” would have his own bins. But here’s the proof in a production cel I bought recently. Irresistible.

Wednesday 18th November

I am off to see Martin Noble on the South Coast again. This time we are going to RSPB Pulborough. It’s a beautiful day and we see lots of birds including Pintails, Pochard, Wigeon, Godwits, Redwings, Fieldfares and Bullfinches. As we head off for lunch I ask at the desk if there are any Crossbills around as there had been reports of them being sighted earlier in the week, but nothing since. We are told there may be some out in the woodland area but they are difficult to find. As I am discovering, most rare birds are, and that’s half the fun of it, I think. We decide to head over there after something to eat, and then we’ll we try and make it in time to watch the Starlings on Brighton pier coming in to roost. Near the woodland area we get directions from an RSPB volunteer for the last sighting of the Crossbills. He points towards an area of the woodland as he heads off in another direction with his group of walkers. I think that our questions about Crossbills, provokes a minor anarchy in the group as they watch us stride off to find the birds. I hear the words, “Crossbills? Here? I love Crossbills.”

We decide to have a bit of fun and after a short distance I stop and look up and Martin does the same. We animatedly point upwards at nothing in particular as I know a couple of the group we have just left are looking our way. Sure enough, in a few moments the group hurriedly joins us, and amazingly in a few minutes we are surrounded by not only the walkers but half a dozen Crossbills as well. Mission accomplished for the intrepid woodland wanderers. We get wonderful views of these snaggle-beaked creatures as they pose on top of the pine trees. Result. It’s a first for both Martin and myself.

We have a really decent lunch in the cafeteria and I am constantly finding that a lot of these reserves serve good, honest home cooking accompanied by a nice mug of char. Lovely.

We head off for the Starlings on Brighton pier and get there just in time for dusk. It really is a wonderful sight as the birds swoop and move together all around us, as they elasticate time and space. Credit crunch time it may be, but nature can provides some amazing moments of free entertainment for all. Everyone who was on the pier became fascinated, intrigued, hypnotised and delighted by the starlings performing around us, flowing in wave after wave of synchronicity as they came into roost beneath our feet under the pier. Even when they had disappeared from view their chattering of bedtime discussions from under the floorboards was still amusing and affecting people.

Thursday 26th November

Great bird fact of the year! Peter Adolph invented Subbuteo in 1947. As a keen ornithologist he wanted to name the game after a bird of prey, the Hobby, but he was either unable to gain a licence for the name or was persuaded that the name was not specific enough, and therefore, in 1948, the game was patented as Subbuteo, after the Hobby’s Latin name which is Falco Subbuteo. Cool.

As an aside, have you ever played the very rare Subbuteo Angling game? It’s worth quite a bit of money now if you have a boxed set lying around. I also see a very good website has Subbuteo Angling mugs for sale.

Also a great article about the Angling game itself can be found here.

read Ceri’s earlier diary entries HERE.