The Past Few Days…

The last few days have been hectic; passing in a blur of feathers, arduous bus journeys and exciting new experiences. With countless miles traveled for the purposes of both education and enjoyment, and a newly formed dent in my bank balance as a result of our nations horrendously overpriced services stations (£4.00 for a small coffee, gasp). They have, however, been some of the most enjoyable to date, and as such, I thought I would post a brief summary of recent antics here.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday found me – and the other attendees of my masters course – whisked off to deepest, darkest Gloucestershire to spent time in the company of those behind the UK’s longest running badger study at Woodchester Park. Where a team of experts – I seldom use that term but it is surely justified here – have been working tirelessly, for many years, to better our knowledge of everything from badger ecology to bovine tuberculosis. It was enthralling. The talks and demonstrations we enjoyed, eye-opening, and the dedication of those involved, both to badgers and the betterment of the  knowledge surrounding the tenacious mustelids, wholly inspiring. We even had the opportunity to see some badgers first hand, which was nice, as ever. While also being provided with the chance to get out in the field and examine the various signs indicative of the presence of badgers. The beautiful location and a supporting cast of raven, red kite, roe deer and some extremely confiding marsh tits, only adding to the appeal.

In between bouts of badger study, Tuesday also found us paying a visit to WWT Slimbridge, where we received a talk on the threat posed by H1N8 avian influenza. It was exciting to hear about the virus from the horse’s mouth, lets say, though the talk filled me with no end of worry. The prospects following a full scale outbreak of “bird flu” – should it happen – seem bleak, if you are a swan or goose. Though on a more uplifting note, Slimbridge also provided us with the chance to get out and about: to ogle the sites wildlife and admire their extensive captive collections. Hand-feeding Hawaiian geese and various other assorted critters, while enjoyable, coming second to the appeal of the wider reserve. And during our stay I was left feeling altogether giddy by the sight of Bewick’s Swans – a year tick – and Pochard, Pintail and other wildfowl species in numbers far surpassing anything I have seen before. It was great, though I still have not seen a crane in the wild…

Fast forward to Thursday and arriving home in Newcastle, word greeted me that a friend was heading south in an effort to catch up with the Dusky Thrush currently delighting crowds around Beeley, Derbyshire. I couldn’t resist – setting off early in the morning and soon finding myself nestled amid the crowd of camo-clad birders swarming around the Siberian vagrant. The bird itself was delightful, showing intermittently for the duration of our stay. It’s plumage knocking me aback a little, far more pleasing that what I had expected based on the photos of others. The encounter made all the better by a catch-up with a number of birders I had not seen in many years, and a few faces recognized from Twitter. Dusky Thrush – only the 13th record for Britain – concluding the year in style, following many more fantastic rarities observed during 2016. But I will post more on that later.

Back home, the garden Wood Mice continue to delight…

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