March, 2017

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Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • Wild generation: the rise of 'hipster twitchers'

    Earlier this week, the likes of The Times and The Telegraph ran stories about ‘hipster twitchers’ which essentially claimed that birding has become cool among smart, edgy young twentysomethings – especially males.

    The archetypal Hipster eschews his forebears’ traditional ‘lad culture’ in favour of a more tactile, authentic world of craft beers, sustainable foods, upcycling and anything artisan. But hipsters still like their technology – carrying (and consulting) digital devices wherever they go. Allegedly, under 25s spend more time looking at screens than any other demographic. 

    Birding perfectly spans this mix of the traditional and the cutting-edge… Reportedly, 32 per cent of men aged 16-25 have been birdwatching. Today’s cool kids get a thrill from toting their tech into the great outdoors for some authentic nature immersion; hopefully resulting in some great wildlife snaps to adorn their Instagram feed, plus the gratification of finding something really exciting to add to their list. 

    Hipster kit: Birding allows the deployment of plenty of fun gadgets. Photo: Hector Martinez

    The article got got me thinking. 

    Firstly, it fills me with hope for the future. Despite the generational screen addiction, twentysomethings these days also seem to be much more engaged in the natural world than they were even 10 years ago. Perhaps they are more aware of its threats than we were at their age - they innately understand that something we took for granted is slowly slipping away. 

    When many young lads head to the beach to check out the birds, it’ll be choughs or rare gulls they’re looking for.
    Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    They want to learn their mistle thrushes from their song thrushes, and their whoopers from their Bewicks. I find this hugely encouraging. Historically, 16- 25 year olds have often (rightly or wrongly) been considered rather self-gratifying and shallow. I’m sure I was at that age. But if they are birding, then they’ll surely understand and care about the natural world, and we will be passing it into good hands.  

    Young men aged 16-25 are embracing birding, formerly the pursuit of older generations. Photo: Aaron Alvarado

     

    Not only do they want to protect nature, they want to enjoy it - and are wise to the benefits of doing so. It took me a lot longer to learn that the best tonic for a tough day was not in fact two glasses of wine and a movie, but a short stroll (or sit-down) somewhere leafy.

    Immersing yourself in an unspoilt landscape – throbbing and fluttering with wildlife just as nature intended – is just about the best possible respite from the confusing sprints and stumbles of 21st-century life. Perhaps they appreciate nature more than previous young generations, because they need it more. 

    As a busy, Gen-X working mum, I guess I am too old and threadbare to become a hipster - and I haven’t a clue about Instagram. But I can totally relate to the search for authenticity, for slowdown, for the gentle thrills of birding. I’m still a long way from being an avian afficionado – but I share the highs of spotting a new species, a fierce love of wildlife and nature, and a thirst for more knowledge and understanding of the world around me. 

    So it’s great to know I’m somehow cool enough to be down with the hipster kids. 

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    Are you a young bird enthusiast, or do you know one? We welcome your stories - contact the magazine or login to comment below. 

  • Mission impossible

    I like a challenge when it comes to finding wildlife as you will see from the “Wildlife Challenge” page I write for each issue of Nature’s Home.

    My challenge was to see two of my favourite birds in a weekend that involved birthday celebrations for my wife, last minute present and cake buying for said event and entertaining the in laws/not looking as if I didn’t want to spend time with them during their visit from Yorkshire.

    Cue the Mission Impossible music, routes sorted on the SatNav and an early night.

    Hedging my bets
    My alarm got me up at 6am on Saturday morning and I managed to slip out without waking anyone up. Next was a 20 minute drive to an area of wildlife-friendly farmland to the south-west of my village where a great grey shrike has been on territory for the last week. My record for these pied butcherbirds has been poor this winter – two attempts and two misses, adding to the pressure of “challenge one”.

    I parked up by the church and found the two ancient hedgerows the bird has been in – the left hand one in Bedfordshrie; the right hand in Cambridgeshire. “Should be a doddle” I thought. First mistake.

    It's been a great winter for great grey shrikes and they are now popping up in new places as wintering birds head back to the continent (illustration by Nature's Home's own Mike Langman rspb-images.com)

    20 minutes later, I had nothing and grumbled to a couple of other birders present that it had to do a “Friday night flit”. One last scan and fortunately a flurry of black, grey and white wings in a gap in the Cambs hedgerow convinced me it was still present. With a strong wind coming from the south-west, I surmised it was sheltering out of sight on the far side, so I drove back down to the main road to get on the right side of the hedge. Sure enough, there it was and with great views in the bag, it was time for challenge two.

    Back to school
    It has been a waxwing winter but I’ve only managed to see two groups so reports of a flock of them in my nearest town had me heading there for a drive round the general area they were in. The area was about 100 times bigger than I thought it was and with the time now 8 am, “needle in a haystack” came to mind. I vaguely remembered mention of a school and as I passed one, I slowed down and spied seven plump birds in a bush. Waxwings done – and superb views too with much trilling and rosehip gobbling.

    Birthday cake and wrapping secured at a handily-placed supermarket next door, it was time to head home.

    I got back just as everyone was just stirring, with a very smug feeling. Then I received news that the flock of scaup I had missed in the week at my local gravel pits had not in fact departed but had just moved the other side of an inconveniently placed large island. These beautiful seaducks are one of my favourites and being the biggest ever flock of them seen at the pits, I had to go. Time to push my luck as the challenge now became a three-parter.

    Scaup are much rarer now than they used to be, so a flock of nine at my local gravel pits was too good to miss. Male above and female below (illustrations by Mike Langman rspb-images.com)

    “Are you ok if I just dash out again? Should only need half an hour”

    I was out the door and down the A1 in a flash and these dapper ducks did not disappoint. All nine of them made a splendid sight among the tufted ducks and pochards, busy diving away. The males looked super silvery and the females’ huge white face patches made a fine sight in the hazy sunshine.

    And the best news of all? Not a single brownie point lost for my weekend hat trick of super winter birds – or so my wife led me to believe...

  • How I missed nature's biggest party

    Today I am a little annoyed.

    Last Monday, I returned from a two-week trip to the amazing island of Sri Lanka, having seen leopards, blue whales, some of the most wonderful temples and pretty much every endemic bird the island has to offer, but I’m still annoyed.


    Blackthorn blossom is at its best now, but hawthorn (above) lags several weeks behind (Andy Hay - rspb-images.com)

    It was cold and very much winter when I left for Sri Lanka, but butterflies were everywhere on my first day back in the UK. Blackthorn blossom cascaded down the branches at the roadside - out before the leaves (unlike the hawthorn, whose leaves are coming out now but won’t flower until May). The beautiful little Andrena clarkella mining bees that Anna blogged about last week are pottering around their colony here at the home of Nature's Home magazine, RSPB HQ at The Lodge, chiffchaffs are widespread and ditches and ponds are full of frogs all very much in the mood for love. 


    Buff-tailed bumblebees are one of our commonest bees - the queens reach an impressive size (Grahame Madge - rspb-images.com)

    Early spring is my favourite time of year and it is in full swing and that is why I am annoyed - I missed the arrival of spring! I love looking out for the very first butterfly and bee and those ever-so-slight, subtle changes that take us from winter to spring,  but it all happened while I was away. I'd arrived late for nature's biggest party!

    This week's wildlife tip
    Ok, so I jest. How could anyone be grumpy in a time of energy and activity? There is so much to see now and my wildlife tip for this week is quite simple. Spend a few minutes longer that you intend to in a particular spot and just wait. I guarantee that you will see so much going on that you could so easily have missed.

    Bumblebees are widespread now and these are the chunky queens that spent winter in an underground tunnel and are now setting up colonies. When you hear the deep hum of one, spend some time watching and following it and before long you may find where they are planning to set up their colony. Wait a while at little holes in the ground – solitary bees and wasps will be setting up homes in them. Birds are nestbuilding now, so watch them for a little longer than you usually would and they may well reveal where they are planning on raising a family. Wait at the water's edge and newts, frogs and toads, maybe even a water shrew, could make an appearance.


    I may have missed the start of spring, but I'll be making sure that I don't miss the first orange-tip of April - one of my favourite insects! (Tom Marshall - rspb-images.com)

    Look out for more spring wildlife-watching content and tips in Nature's Home magazine
    As an RSPB member your Nature's Home has photographs, illustrations and expert advice and tips to help you make the most of each season, so check out the "Wildabout" feature and put the key events and species to look for in your diary, so you can catch the best of the action, brought to you by our wildlife experts and writers.