Springwatch is almost here and I'm being left home alone next week as my girlfriend swaps my stimulating company for the delights of RSPB Ynys-hir in Wales - the home of Springwatch.
Part of Laura's job, as RSPB PR Project Manager, is to work with the BBC and to help things run smoothly for the annual TV extravaganza.
I know that lots of Birds readers enjoyed the 'Springwatch - behind the scenes' feature in the Summer 2012 issue of Birds, out now, so you might well enjoy this film of the Ynys-hir team, including Warden Russell Jones and Visitor Centre Manager Caroline de Carle, who you might have seen in the Birds feature.
I'll be watching the show next week, but while Laura and the guys at Ynys-hir are making me jealous with such delights such as redstarts, pied flycatchers and snakes (and she'll probably take great delight in telling me what she's seen...), I've decided to see what I can see in my garden while I'm home alone in Cambridgeshire and posting how I get on. Springwatch always say they can't promise live badgers on the show, but I'm pretty confident I might do alright on that front. I'll keep you posted.
Enjoy the show - it starts on Monday at 8 pm on BBC2.
Charlotte is Birds magazine’s Advertising Manager. She also loves her wildlife and I’ve been helping her plan a trip to see puffins in recent weeks. Here’s how she got on...
My love of penguins causes me to read book upon book and watch every TV show about them, while talking non-stop about them to anyone who will listen. However this is not an animal that you can easily go and see in their natural habitat. This lead me to wonder what could be a substitute to seeing them? Then, after seeing the proofs of the Summer issue of Birds and seeing this wonderful bird staring at me from the other side of the Contents page, it struck me – puffins. Arguably, one of the cutest birds, they stand small, chubby and proud, black and white and with an extraordinarily brightly coloured beak and feet, looking like they shouldn’t even be able to fly! This is perfect, I thought, and I delve into finding out where and when I could go and see them.
Fast forward a couple of months of me badgering my colleagues, hoping to tap into their knowledgeable brains, and you join me at the day where I am about to travel to (hopefully) see a puffin at our RSPB reserve in East Yorkshire, Bempton Cliffs. Well known for having the puffin as one of their star species, I thought this to be the perfect place for me to see my first ever one.
Starting early in the morning, (mostly because I was too excited to sleep!), we set off on the long journey up north. Finally, we arrived, first travelling through Bempton and arriving at the reserve. Pulling up into the car park, you would have no idea what lies the other side of the visitor centre. The excitement was building for me, as we put on our walking boots, pulled on layer upon layer, our hats and gloves and trundled into the visitor centre. First up, was posing for the shot above, as a warm up for the real thing.
A warm, but windy welcome
We got a wonderful greeting from the friendly RSPB staff there and they quickly shared their knowledge of the best places to see the different birds and, most importantly, where to see the puffins! They unfortunately hadn’t been seen that morning and so I prepared myself for something that hadn’t occurred to me before – that they may be hiding or we may be too early in the year to see them...
But, regardless, we set out on our mission. The second we came out of the centre on the other side, the gale-force winds hit us. We battled against it and walked across to a viewing point, at the furthest point on the reserve. There, we got wonderful views of gannets (the one above was sporting a great 'seaweed beard'), guillemots (below) and razorbills circling above us (last pic). These were all seen by me for the first time! They didn't need to flap their wings, but just let the sheer force of nature blow them to where they wanted to go, collecting food and nesting material as they did.
I peeled my eyes, hoping with all my heart that I manage to see a puffin – just one tiny glimpse and I would have been happy! Then, when we were just about to be blown away, I saw a glimpse of orange and I saw him. “There he is!” I yelled, as he darted in and out of holes in the cliff face and he then came out of hover. He was magnificent. Hovering in front of us, letting the wind carry him, ruffling his feathers, he stayed there for a minute or two, looking around, and then effortlessly landed on the side of the cliff in a little hole. My eyes didn’t move from that hole for ages, wishing that he would come back out. And then, all of a sudden, two puffin heads poked out and stared at me. I grinned from ear to ear.
The rain began to pour and so we marched back to the centre to warm up with a cup of tea and have a chat with the volunteers and employees. The wealth of knowledge from them was astounding – it was so great to hear about their experiences here and learn about the different birds, while watching the live web cam. After about an hour, the rain stopped and the sun came out and so we ran back out to the same spot- another two puffins had turned up! We spent another hour or so just watching them swoop together, disappearing out to sea and then battling their way back to their nest and their partner.
I could have stayed there for hours longer, but after being battered from the winds and the light was slowly going, it was time to call it a day. But the grin on my face never left and is still here, as I remember the feeling of seeing my first puffin. I would recommend that trip to anyone – whether you’ve already seen your first puffin or not, they are wonderful birds to see and I can’t wait to be able to go and visit them again.
The pics were all taken at Bempton by Charlotte's boyfriend Tim Kitchener.
So, day one of Springwatch ‘home alone’ as my girlfriend, Laura spends the week at RSPB Ynys-hir helping out behind the scenes of the show. I watched the live broadcast on BBC2, particularly impressed with the underground mole footage and the people with 11 young foxes in their garden.
So, having made myself the sort of ‘man home alone’ dinner that would have made Laura wince, and inspired by the show, it was time to strike back and see what I could find for myself.
One thing that we just don’t have this year in Cambridgeshire is many young birds. It was good to see that in Wales there are nestboxes with baby nuthatches starring on the TV and others, but in my rural garden, I have only seen one brood of dunnocks and two of blackbird this year.
We may not have birds in our nestboxes, but the other evening I had a surprise when I heard a buzzing sound inside one that didn’t sound quite right for baby tits. Suddenly, bees started flying out - tree bumblebees and a species unrecorded in this country a few years ago. Several were clustered around the entrance hole again this evening, buzzing away. look closely and you can just make them out below.
My garden is adjacent to a very big field and beyond that is the River Ouse, so I often see what comes flying up and down the valley. Things got going with a total of six little egrets flying along it to a colony in a nearby heronry, but the light soon began to fade, so it was time for the evening shift to take over.
You might have read the badger finding guide in the current issue of Birds. This is one animal I have become obsessed with over the last year after I discovered our new house provides amazing opportunities to watch them.
I set myself up next to the bottom hedge and waited. They were late out tonight, but the badger parade began with one of the regulars coming to the food I put out. It’s funny how the first Springwatch broadcast of the year brings something special for me – last year, it was the first time I’d seen a badger from my garden. This year, it was another treat from my humbug-striped neighbours...
Following some lively activity by the sett with playfighting among a group of three and two others feeding happily for a good half an hour, I was very happy with my efforts. But it was well after 10 when the highlight occurred as three badgers came down the track together – and two of them were cubs! They weren’t quite brave enough to come to food, and eventually scampered off at high speed. It was nearly half past 10 now, so a real late shift.
Feeling chuffed with such a good show from my badgers – I’d seen at least eight in total during my evening vigil – I had to content myself with one fox, rather than the 13 on Springwatch and glimpses of two barn owls rather than the sort of views on screen this evening from the nest cam.
Wake up call
The eventful night ended with an unwanted animal encounter when I woke up at half 3 in the heat to find, and hear, one of our cats, Alfie, balancing precariously on the window ledge, having slipped out of the window I’d opened earlier because of the heat. Then ensued what must have been a ghastly sight for my neighbours of me clambering out the window, hanging from the roof in my boxer shorts and finally grabbing the wayward feline one handed. It had been quite a night. The text message report from the set of Springwatch was “A really good day, but very tiring”. You should try late night badger vigil – and a middle of the night cat rescue Laura...
Alfie says "I love you Michaela..."