I grew up in Bristol and went to Bristol Grammar School where a couple of masters (Derek Lucas and Tony Warren) were instrumental in fueling my interest in birds. I was in the Young Ornithologists' Club.
In the school holidays I practically lived at Chew Valley Lake - a bicycle and a pair of binoculars were all I needed.
My parents liked nice scenery and walks in the countryside and that gave me plenty of opportunities for birding.
I spent a few years when rare birds were very important to me but aside from the very occasional lapse they aren't any more!
I did a Ph.D. on pipistrelle bats but most of my research before joining the RSPB was on bee-eaters in the south of France (nice eh?) and great tits and marsh tits around Oxford. However, the first scientific paper I wote was about the lekking behaviour of great snipe.
I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 as a researcher, became Head of Conservation Science in 1992 and Conservation Director in 1998 - all have been great jobs!
The fat balls, sunflower hearts and mealworms provided in our garden are proving very popular in this cold weather.
I keep missing long-tailed tits visiting our feeders but I am told that they are real!
Starlings, blue tits, great tits and robins are regular and keen feeders.
Goldfinches, greenfinches and chaffinches come too.
Blackbirds and dunnocks feed on the ground under the feeders.
How are things in your garden?
2009 was a spectacular year for heath fritillary butterflies. I mentioned it here in my blog at the time.
But going back to the RSPB Reserves Review of 2010 there is a more detailed article about how phenomenal an event it was and how we manage the Blean Woods NNR ( with Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Woodland Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust, Kent County Council, Canterbury City Council and Swale Borough Council). Our work is supported by Viridor Credits. And our mate, Martin Warren the Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation is the person whose research underpins the management of the site for this very rare and localised insect.
Cow-wheat is the food plant for heath fritillaries. We coppice the wood in c6ha patches every 15-20 years. This allows five years of cow-wheat growth and then a period when the coppice grows, shades out other growth and leaves , when coppiced, bare ground for the cow-wheat to reestablish. So the butterfly is chasing cow-wheat patches around the wood. Wide sunny rides provide highways for movement between cow-wheat patches and some glades are left permanently.
2009 was a really spectacular year at Blean - the butterfly numbers were something like 10 times higher than in other 'peak' years.
Mike McCarthy writes a very thought-provoking article in yesterday's Independent.
His point is that we have obviously lost, or almost lost, many species from the countryside but this adds up to a loss of something more - the 'more' of abundance.
He writes beautifully as usual and picks good examples - the insects which used to splatter your windscreen, the skylarks which used to exalt in our fields, the butterfly clouds which formed a living mist over chalk grasslands on summer days. There are others: the huge winter roosts of starlings, the ponds filled with frogs and toads and the big nursery roosts of bats. All still can be seen sometimes in some places - but all were far more commonplace.
And he makes the point which captures my imagination too - the shifting baselines idea. If you are young enough not to remember this abundance you don't realise what you are missing and you will be satisfied with your lot now, whereas the old codger will seethe with resentment at the abundance that has been carelessly discarded.
And, Mike refers to intensive farming too!