I'm very excited to present a guest blog from Stornoway frontman Brian Briggs - and your chance to get a free download from the band's new album, Bonxie. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the album launch in London the other week and thought they were great. Not only that, Brian has also written a brilliant piece for April Nature's Home magazine. Don't miss his "Best day" on page 98. Look out for the mag dropping on your doormat from mid April. Here's Brian...
Spring is here
Open your window at dawn or dusk this week and you can instantly hear that spring is here. I learnt the songs of a few common birds in my first real job, working as a field assistant in Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire, and it opened up a whole new dimension in the outside world. Birds like wrens, chaffinches, robins and great tits are more easily heard than seen, but fortunately they all have distinctive songs that don't take much effort to learn. Once I began to recognise a few key phrases of the local characters I started to feel a little more part of the habitat and a little less like a tourist on my own patch.
Tuning into the sonic landscape allows me to enjoy my time outdoors even more. As I wrote recently in The Guardian, I believe that if children were taught the language of our gardens and countryside from an early age they would grow up with a stronger appreciation of nature's importance to us.
Stornoway with Brian Briggs second from right.
I'm a life fellow of the RSPB and did my PhD on ducks in Oxford, during which I formed my band Stornoway. I'm lucky to combine my two passions of birds and music, with the natural world forming an ever-present backdrop to our songs and lyrics. Our new album 'Bonxie' is named after the Scottish term for a great skua, and it features field recordings from a variety of habitats, woven into the songs on the album.
Get a free download from Stornoway's new album!Here's a free song from the album to download, so you can see how we’ve combined our love of nature and music. It is called 'Lost Youth' and I hope you enjoy it!
In two weeks time, I’ll be heading to one of the major RSPB events of the year – and one of my favourites. It’s Members’ Weekend, based at York University, and an event I’ve been involved in, and have a strong affection for. I really recommend it if you haven’t been before. If you haven’t booked up yet, there’s still time! 27 to 29 March are the dates for your diary.
First time nerves
I joined the RSPB’s workforce in 2005 having spent the years between University and then writing about birds and wildlife in a freelance capacity. One of my first big RSPB “gigs” was being asked to present a seminar at Members’ Weekend based on a book I’d had published that year – Bird Identification and Fieldcraft: a birdwatcher’s guide. This was my first book and it was a real honour being asked to talk about it at the RSPB’s main event for its members.
The talk went so well that it was standing room only and my competitive side was a little bit pleased to know mine was the best attended talk that year! Crikey I was nervous though, but it all worked out fine. Last year, I gave a seminar on my role as RSPB Editor-in-Chief where readers’ letters and stories gave me some top content.
The Friday afternoon seminars are a real highlight of Members’ Weekend as they are by staff members so you are hearing about them and the work they do. This year, I’ll be making sure I attend my very good friend and top photographer (one of the best out there in my opinion) Ben Andrew’s talk about his job as a Wildlife Adviser for the RSPB. Ben's talk is my "top pick" for the weekend, so don't miss it at 5 o'clock. he'll have some great stories to share from his job.
Will the summer migrants be back in time for Members' Weekend? (Blackcap by Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)
We also have photojournalist Neil Aldridge talking on Friday evening - a fellow judge for the British Wildlife Photography Awards in 2012, that I have the pleasure of judging each year.
Up at the crack of dawn
On Saturday morning, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be one of the first people up (so early to bed for me on Friday). This is because I organised and lead the early morning bird walk around York University campus. It’s a 6 o’clock kick off and myself and my crack team of guides will do our best to show you the surprisingly varied birdlife that lives on and around the lakes,. Showy treecreepers are usually a highlight as are close views of great crested grebes either on nests or with chicks.
During the weekend, there’s always a chance of seeing something unexpected. Personally I’ve seen male hen harrier, Arctic tern, Little ringed plover, jack snipe and grey partridge.
Saturday afternoon is the time for excursions and visits to nearby RSPB reserves, and other places of interest. You can check out the programme here. The evening entertainment following the main presentation is always great fun and well attended and if you see me at the bar, mine’s a pint, thank you. And on the subject of refreshment, the food is absolutely top notch!
Sunday morning sees a packed programme of talks as well and then it's all over sadly - until next year anyway!
Do visit the web page to find out more about what's on offer, but I hope my personal perspective has whetted your appetite to come along and book your place.