This Friday, I’m delighted to present a guest blog by Rob Hume. I know Rob as the man who found the UK’s first ring-billed gull and was my predecessor as editor of the RSPB’s magazine. He's now author of one of the most talked about, and in my opinion, best bird books of 2016, which is why it was selected as Nature's Home Winter 2016's book of the issue. Here's Rob with his take on changing times....
Britain's Birds - a changing perspectiveSince leaving what was then Birds magazine and the RSPB I have been living in a small Dorset village with a Hampshire postcode, and sampling the birds, butterflies and wild flowers of both. Most come on the Hampshire side of the line, especially as I am a regular at Blashford Lakes, in the Avon valley between Ringwood and Fordingbridge, in the New Forest, and at the little western outpost of Hampshire that is Martin Down national nature reserve.
There are pluses and minuses with such a long-distance move. The Norfolk coast with its pink-footed geese, snow buntings, rare autumn migrants and so on seems a long way off, both in distance and time; some birds I used to see regularly I now see hardly at all. How much is because of location and how much simply declines of species such as lesser spotted woodpecker, yellow wagtail and lesser whitethroat?
Yellow Wagtail is getting harder to see, but Rob's move "down south" has brought him rich rarity rewards (image by Andy Hay - rspb-images.com)
Local specialtiesObviously I’m out of range now for things like nightingales: but closer to woodlarks and Dartford warblers. I enjoy some birds far more often – little egrets and my long-time favourite Mediterranean gulls, for example (which I see occasionally over the house, often on the holiday beaches of Bournemouth, and have seen flocks of more than 600). I have far more experience of birds such as goshawks now – but the local Bewick’s swan flock, once exceeding 100 but down to the 20s when I arrived, came down to a single bird this year.
Rob's favorite bird at its stunning best (Mike Langman - rspb-images.com). The wall next to my desk has a very fine original of a "Med gull" kindly done for me by Rob himself.
Rarity role callCatching up with rarities is not so simple, and anyway I have stopped going far to find them: but being fairly close to places such as Keyhaven Marshes has given good birds such as long-billed dowitchers and semipalmated sandpipers, and Blashford has been good to me with finds including long-billed dowitcher, several ring-billed gulls and a Franklin’s gull – being close to a gull roost guarantees many long, cold vigils in the hides!
While hard at work on the new book, I also looked afresh at commoner birds. I never stopped enjoying them, but it was nice to look again with the eyes of a beginner. With a bit of RSPB seed mixture on the lawn, I even attract yellowhammers to the garden (where from, I have no idea) – as many as 27 – and the odd bullfinch and even a firecrest or two in the garden is a bonus. It has all helped get the book, produced in association with another ex RSPB staff member, Andy Swash, and computer-design wizard Rob Still, into even better shape.
Never again struggle with your bunting ID thanks to Britain's Birds (yellowhammer by Andy Hay - rspb-images.com)
Buy Britain's BirdsBritain's Birds is a must have ID guide, absolutely packed with stunning photos and information to improve your ID skills. It's fully deserving of the Nature's Home book of the issue and I can't recommend it enough.Find out more about it and get your copy from the RSPB shop