Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 31st July 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 2nd December

“Whatever path your life takes, make it useful and strive to achieve progress, however modest it may seem in your chosen field. In this way you will add to the general well-being.”
Gustave Eiffel.

Wednesday 9th December

Sometimes I get confused as to whether I am making a film, writing diaries or giving talks and then it dawns on me that these are all facets of TBE. I just have to do everything and more. But I do get lax at times and have not filmed anything in anger for way too long. But I am still coming to terms with how I want things to develop and I am ok as long as ideas keep unfolding and knowledge is forthcoming. I continually learn things and that in turn, means my course keeps changing. I did think this morning that I could not remember the last idea I had which was worrying. I hope the Symposium on Friday will energise and inspire me.

Friday 11th December

An early morning start at Paddington to get out to Oxford for the Birds, Culture and Conservation Symposium at the School of Geography. It has been organised by Paul Jepson from the School of Geography and the Environment and Mark Cocker, he of Crow Country fame, and I have been invited to give a talk about The Bird Effect and my journey through the avian world. I am going down with Jeff Barrett from CBTR and another mate, Chris Aldhous, a creative director with a company called Good Pilot, who has been getting involved with TBE. I get a cardboard sandwich at the station purporting to be something to do with breakfast and chuck most of it away before it has a chance to assault my stomach. Onto the train and we’re away.

I’m a little apprehensive about my talk as I know that I will be standing in front of a bird hardened audience and I hope that I am going to prove a worthwhile addition to their symposium. Some of my favourite writers will be there as well as Mark Cocker, including Stephen Moss, a BBC wildlife programme producer, whose book A Bird in the Bush, along with Mark’s book, Birders, really set me on my journey all those months ago. Also speaking is Jeremy Mynott, whose cerebral book, Birdscapes, I reviewed some months back and whom I saw on Scilly recently. I am mixing with some illustrious people and I really hope I don’t let myself down. Jim Lawrence from Birdlife has turned up as well and it’s good to have some more support.

I have been moved into the morning session, which means I won’t be agitating expectantly over my pork pie at lunchtime. In fact, my talk comes and goes quite quickly and lunchtime is an enjoyable experience as the talk seems to have gone down well and now I can enjoy chatting freely with various people. I am thinking that I would love to do something like this again. I think I survived.

The whole day has been a pleasurable experience and I have listened to some enlightening talks and met some really wonderful people. I think the highlight of the talks for me was Tim Birkhead, whose book The Wisdom of Birds is a great read. His talk is extraordinary and entertaining. He showed us the most wonderful video clip of a man teaching a bullfinch to sing. The bird is uncaged, perched on a branch of a tree in front of his tutor and as the song is learnt, man and bird seem to sway and dance together as they whistle their way through a duet. It is perfect, enchanting and magnificent.

Tim goes on to talk about aquatic warblers and the size of their testicles, which are huge compared to the size of the bird. He then relates bird ball size to infidelity, i.e. the larger the balls the smaller the fidelity. I look around the room and wonder if this angle works with humans and who may be the human aquatic warbler amongst us. Bird talks really can be brilliant.

After a day of taking in so much new knowledge, we reach the end of the proceedings and a chat with some of the participants ensues over a pint in the Students Union, before having to race back for my designated train back to London. I have enjoyed it all so much and my one major thought is that this would have been great if it had been open to the public, as it was engagingly educational and neither too stuffy nor too academic. This sort of event needs to be out in the public domain. Days like these could prove to be a great success. The time is now for nature. I feel invigorated.

Thursday 17th December

I am really intrigued by The Great Bustard Group and their efforts in trying to re-introduce this bird back into the British landscape. I first learnt about them at this year’s Birdfair where I enjoyed a talk about their work. The man behind the project is David Waters and the GBG has been going since 1997. Using a piece of land next to the M.O.D.’s firing range on Salisbury Plain, the aim has been to establish a self-sustaining population of Great Bustards in the UK. In fact, this year the first chicks in the programme were born. They were the first wild Bustard chicks in this country for 177 years. Two have sadly died but one has survived and is doing well. It is an ambitious project, which relies on private donations and has no help from the government due to the fact that the Bustard is no longer considered a British bird, but an alien species as it has been gone from our shores since the 1840’s, when it was hunted out of existence. Support is always needed for the project as it costs £150,000 per annum just to maintain the running of the operation.

I am interested in including the Group in TBE and as they were holding a fund raising evening and charity auction at the Royal Geographic Society, the Group’s Project Officer, Al Dawes, invited me along to see what they were up to and to chat about possibly filming the project over the coming months. What appeals to me the most for TBE, is how much David has personally put into the project and how it is one man’s obsession with a favourite bird from his youth, which drives the enterprise forward. I really admire his tenacity and gusto and hope to get that across in TBE. It may be a folly to attempt to bring back the Bustard but I really feel I want to support his and the Group’s efforts. His is a perfect example of the bird effect.

I turned up just as the cold snap had started in London and I was immediately bowled over by the fact that the Group has its own beer specifically brewed for them by Stonehenge Ales. Believe me I can vouch for it’s worth. And I like the shape of the bottle. So obviously it makes it on to my beer tips of the month. I believe that any bird group, which has its very own beer, has to be doing something right. And should be supported.

The auction was an eclectic mix of donated holidays, trips out with the GBG and bustard related items, but the oddest item up for grabs and the highlight of the evening for me had to be the donation of a vasectomy. Yes, that’s right a vasectomy, which apparently retailed at over £1000. It was bought by a young man, as a present for his father at a cost of only £320. (And no gags about it being a mere snip at that price.) I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t an only child who was thinking about protecting his inheritance prospects. Wise kid.

I also met Charlie Moores, who is one of the head honchos of the website, 10,000 Birds, which is an informative and well-written site about birds, nature and conservation, covering everything from sightings and bird news to reviews of books and music. Coincidentally, 10,000 Birds is also the first ever blog site to be a Species Champion for Birdlife’s Preventing Extinction programme.

I talked to Charlie about the fact that more birders should really be involved in an active way in conservation programmes. I wholeheartedly agree with him and the site is a fine example for other people, who are interested in birds, to follow. I hope I catch up with him again soon.

As I head out into the night, I suddenly feel like Nanook of the North as I am swallowed up by thick Arctic snow and a fierce, driving wind. This is made even harder as I am laden with pockets full of Bustard beer. I find that there is not a taxi in sight as a blizzard engulfs me and with a couple of miles to skate home, I try not to fall on this treacherous surface, knowing that a slip could leave me with busted Bustard beer bottles. I plod and slide towards home, excruciatingly slowly and uncertainly, through the worst wintry conditions I can remember for years and finally arrive home frozen to the core, thankful I have a decent unbroken drink at hand. Cheers to you Great Bustard Group.

I realise that Xmas is just around the corner and I have the whole festive period to organise the early part of next year for interviews and filming. Tonight I have just added several people to my list and for that I am grateful. Bring on 2010. I want to hit the ground running.

read Ceri’s earlier diary entries HERE.