Bird Fair - Rutland Water 2018

rutland waterI’ve just spent two days at the annual Birdfair held at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Rutland Water. Amazingly it was the 30th such event and it has grown from humble beginnings to attract over 15,000 visitors from all over the country and beyond, providing a substantial injection into the local economy.It is the largest such event in the world and has spawned similar events overseas.It is a chance to see bird tour operators from all over the world together with all the latest optical and camera equipment and books and much more. Scores of lectures provide a window on birds and places across the globe plus reports on ongoing research, some of which I have touched on in earlier notes. It is also an opportunity to meet up with old friends.  

Each year the Birdfair raises funds – about £5 million so far - to support conservation projects throughout the world. This year the beneficiary is the Mar Chiquita in central Argentina, the 5th largest saline lake in the world and the largest in South America. It is a site of such significance for migratory, breeding and resident birds that in the next few months the Argentine Government will declare the site a National Park, the largest in the country extending to more than 1 million hectares. 

reed warblerIn my first note I described why the inward migration of birds from Africa is such an exciting time for birders. Well the reverse migration is now starting to take place and  I was reminded of this when I was watching the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) bird-ringers at the Birdfair. They set up mist-nets near the lake and birds caught in the nets are taken to the demonstration stand in bags. There is then the excitement of the ringers on the stand putting their hands in the bags not knowing what they will pull out. The most frequently trapped bird was the Reed Warbler, not just reflecting the fact that they are near their natural habitat but also that they are readying to return to Africa. Measuring the fat reserves on a bird’s body indicates whether it is ready to undertake the journey.  I was also reminded by an item in the Times newspaper’s nature notes reflecting on the fact that Swifts have already departed. As they were late arriving because of adverse weather their residency in Britain has been shorter than usual. 

The Common Swift is the only one to breed in northern Europe and there are upwards of 90,000 pairs in Britain in Summer. This compares with upwards of one million pairs in France but if you holiday around the Mediterranean then it will be seen confusingly alongside the Pallid Swift. With its dramatic high-speed flight on curved wings it is one of the joys of summer. Egg-laying begins in late May and they depart in late July/early August to return to their wintering grounds in an area from Zaire and Tanzania south to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Even when nesting they remain in the air living on insects caught in flight. They drink,feed and often mate and sleep on the wing. Indeed some birds can go 10 months without landing and no other bird species spends so much of its life in flight. You may have looked up when in Stamford to hear a group of them screaming overhead. It is such an evocative sound and its disappearance a reminder that summer is coming to an end.

KEITH LIEVESLEY

Hear the reed warbler's song...