From Gorillaz to Birds

August 26th, 2009

Welcome to the diary I am going to write through my next film project, The Bird Effect. Where do I begin with the Bird Effect? What is The Bird Effect? And why would you be interested? And who the bloody hell, am I?

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Diary 9

October 3rd, 2009

Thursday August 20th

It’s the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water tomorrow and I have a night before Xmas feeling, waiting for Pandora’s bird box to unlock at 9.30 in the morning. Going to try and set off about 7.00 and with luck should be there at about opening time. Still, what difference can it make? I have all my passes for the car and the fair. As long as I get there for the opening ceremony at 10 all should be Kool and the Gang. Read the rest of this entry »

Diary 8

September 21st, 2009

Thursday 13th August

Found this great bird quote: “There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.” (Robert Lynd – Irish essayist and nationalist)

Friday 14th August

Yesterday I went to Osterley Park for a wander. Jeff had told me that he and the Caught by the River crew were going to be there fishing and would be doing an interview with The Financial Times. So I thought it would be a good excuse to not do any work and go looking for birds! I have to practise birding so much if I am to survive in the bird world. I feel as though I have to earn my birding colours, which can only happen by becoming more knowledgeable. I have to be able to discern a bird by its jizz for one thing. Every world has its jargon and the bird world is no different. Over the coming months I will share some of these words with you as I discover them and fully understand their meaning. Jizz is all about recognition by the look and feel of a bird. It just looks like a such and such… It flys like a so and so… It perches like a… You get the picture. You know the voice of your partner or your child in a crowd as that is the jizz of them. A recognition, a feeling, a knowledge of them, without having to double-check the facts.

Anyway, back to Osterley. After a couple of hours walking, recognising and learning birds, I found our intrepid anglers on the banks of the big lake. Jeff in his waders having his photo taken, Andrew checking the lines and Robin ending up chatting to me about birds, fishing and nature.

I went off as they were doing their interview and had a surprising and very wonderful experience. I had only got about fifteen yards when I stopped and looked at the tree in front of me. There sitting watching me from a few feet away was a juvenile male kestrel on a low branch. We watched each other for a while and then he dropped down onto the ground just in front of me. Then he flew up to a tree ten yards away and I followed him. This strange behaviour continued for the next fifteen minutes or so as the kestrel flew between ground and trees in a circuit and allowed me to follow closely and it really felt like he was taking me for a walk! It was a superbly odd and lovely occurrence. Ok, birders will say I am humanising the moment but for a short period of time I felt that the bird and I had a connection and I loved it. It’s not every day you go for a stroll with a kestrel!

Diary 7

September 11th, 2009

Sunday 9th August

Just going through the footage of the interview with Mark from the other day and I am really pleased with how it’s come out. Busy logging his words for future reference, making my list of the interview. Mark is a keen birder away from his RSPB work and we chatted about aspects of birding and we got around to the subject of listing. This is almost certainly an exclusively male thing. Akin to Top Trumps at school I think. It is about building a collection and man loves lists anyway. When you look closely life is divided into lists. Shopping lists, databases, record collections, CV’s etc. Anyway, as a birder, as in life, you can have many lists. A life list, a place list, a holiday list, and as Mark told me a Sheffield Wednesday list! All the birds he has seen at football. One that includes an invasion of red-legged partridges into the stand itself during one game. It gives you something to do when the match is dull. Birds are for all occasions.

Tuesday 11th August

Thought for today…
I used to love birds as a kid. What would have happened to me if I had continued to be interested in them instead of discovering them again now? What kind of person would I have become? An imponderable ponderable! The paths we choose…

Diary 6

September 9th, 2009

Saturday 1st August

New month and I have set myself the task of filming a minimum of one subject a week. Not sure how long that will last seeing as it’s August and everyone clears off. But I have to set myself goals or I’ll get the fear. Please God, don’t let this go on for more than a year. Unless it’s really necessary.

Thursday 6th August

Good day with Mark Thomas at the RSPB. Great interview and managed to avoid the rain, which descended just as we finished. Set everything up nicely for the strands of the film relating to birds of prey and egg collecting. Egg collectors seem to be known to police and the Investigations Unit at the RSPB and it sounds like they are deluded enough to think that they are in some sort of James Bond movie, sneaking around, avoiding detection through subterfuge. It is almost as if the eggs are akin to a trophy at the end of the chase for these people. They are cold, calculating, clinical criminals who invariably shoo the bird from the nest to take not just one egg but the whole clutch. They blow the eggs, put them in a container and bury them in the ground out of the way as there is a chance that they will be recognised, get stopped and searched. Then they come back out after the breeding season and collect their appalling triumph.

He also told me about a couple of gamekeepers that recently blew the whistle on the persecution of birds of prey on one particular estate and there was a successful prosecution… Now I would like to try and track these guys down… I think they have both left the business of gamekeeping so maybe I can get them to appear in the film… hmm… could be interesting. And a tangent I didn’t quite expect to go down. But I do know something. Birds affect people in many, many ways. Good and as I am discovering sometimes unfortunately bad. I want people to know what can go on out there.

Diary 5

September 4th, 2009

Monday 27th July.

Just back from going away for the weekend. Went to see Mark at the RSPB and then we stayed with Jim Lawrence from Birdlife International and his wife Deb for the weekend. Great weekend.

Mark was wonderful to chat to. He really clued me in to the world he works in. The problems that birds face in this day and age are unbelievable really. It’s all very well having programmes like Springwatch telling us that a family of Goshawks are doing well but the reality is that the persecution of birds of prey is continuing. The RSPB gets about 400 reports a year of this from the public which makes one wonder what goes on that is not being reported because the countryside is big enough for many bodies to be strewn across it. It makes me sad and angry to hear about these murdered birds and honestly if you have ever looked up in the sky and seen a bird of prey I defy you not to find them majestic and their persecution heartbreaking…We have to protect them and we need people to report anything suspicious, just like packages on tubes really. But I think the most important thing is to make the public aware that these things are still happening. Then there will be more vigilance. I want to see a Golden Eagle flying in Scotland, I want to see Goshawks, I want to see Harriers… I want to see birds of prey alive and flying.

The other area we explored, as I was expecting to, was egg collecting. This is an English disease. It does not exist anywhere in the world. At this moment in time there are reckoned to be around 100 active serious egg collectors. Not many you think. Well, if they all had similar sized collections to the man whose collection was 8000 that’s 800,000 eggs. That is potential bird genocide. And the amount of people doing it was, a few years ago, estimated at 300 or so. So the RSPB is doing a good job. The other odd fact is that these collectors are pretty much all from the same town. Coventry. The best thing out of there was the Specials!

Mark with the tragic Pearson collection of rare eggs (Photo Courtesy RSPB)

Anyway, the weather was too bad to film the interview… I am really trying to shoot as much as possible outside. I want light in my life!
The rest of the weekend was spent with Jim and Deb in Cambridgeshire. Jim is the Development Manager of Birdlife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which is trying to do exactly what it says on the tin, prevent extinctions of critically endangered birds, which at present stands at 192 species and without support, help and money, many of these birds will be gone in ten years time. Anyway, he’s a top bloke, a top birder and all round good egg, so please check the programme out. He has also been a fantastic mentor and taught me so much in such a short space of time.

On Saturday morning we went up to the Norfolk coast to get some lobsters and samphire from a little fishmongers in Blakeney (which are half the price they are in London – £15 a kilo and bloody tasty!) and to do some birding. We went to Cley and saw spotted redshanks, dunlins, avocets, an assortment of scruffy ducks in eclipse plumage, which were completely confusing, and had generally great weather supplemented by great hospitality and great food. The highlight though was the sight of ten spoonbills flying in to land not far from our hide. This was spectacular. The Spoonbill is an uncommon visitor to the UK, and normally only seen in ones and twos. It is a specialist feeder on water invertebrates and uses its huge spatulate bill to sift tiny creatures from the water by swishing it from side to side. This adult bird shows a yellow tip to its black bill whereas younger birds have pinkish bills and black wing tips. Crazily beautiful creature.

One of ten Spoonies at Cley (Photo Courtesy Jim Lawrence)

On the Sunday morning we went looking for a kingfisher, as my wife Jackie had never seen one. We were lucky to find two sat still on a lake in the grounds of Wimpole Hall and spent some pleasurable moments watching them before they finally sped off out of sight. Nice way to end the weekend with a pair of beautiful and magical water dwellers. Back to London. (Beer Tip – Woodforde’s Wherry.)

Diary 4

September 3rd, 2009

Monday July 20th

Just off the phone to the RSPB. I am going to meet their investigations unit on Friday. They look into all sorts of nefarious activity to do with the bird world. I am going to speak to them about the murky world of egg collectors. Now some of you may think “what’s wrong with that, I did that as a kid.” Well from what I can gather it’s a huge problem as these people live to collect eggs from rare birds. A while ago they caught one of the main guys who had a collection of 8000 rare birds eggs. He was sent to jail, if only for several months, but at least now there is a prison sentence waiting for these people. In fact, in jail these egg collectors are supposedly given the same sort of treatment as paedophiles.

The RSPB also has a campaign to stop the killing of birds of prey and I urge you to sign their petition and pledge your support.

Thursday 23rd July

Yesterday I had a great day filming up at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve with Tim Appleton. As soon as I had got there we had to be off as there was going to be an impromptu unveiling of a carved wooden sculpture of ospreys by Andy Burton on the Oakham roundabout. Tim is always dashing somewhere for one meeting or another. Luckily he took me along with him yesterday and I managed to get some footage in the can. Tim was a really good interviewee, very engaging and came across very, very well. In another life I think he would make an excellent wildlife presenter. We went onto the reserve and saw one of the female ospreys feeding while we chatted about the project. If you have never seen an osprey I urge you to visit them at Rutland. They should be there until the end of August or so. Beautiful, beautiful creatures. (the Osprey project is here).

Tomorrow I am off to see Mark Thomas at the RSPB and chat about birds of prey and egg collectors. This will be the dark side of the bird effect.

Diary 3

August 28th, 2009

Terminologies of the month:

Most important is the difference between a birder and a twitcher so let’s get this out of the way from the off. All birders are NOT twitchers!
Birder – Someone who watches, identifies and studies birds in their natural habitats.
Twitcher – Someone who travels specifically in the pursuit of rare birds. Read the rest of this entry »

Diary 2

August 27th, 2009

Friday July 17th

One of the definite effects of birds has been the feeling that now I can hear again. I live in a tree lined street in London and never heard or noticed the birds particularly. Now I hear the jay, the blackbird, the robin, the wren, the great tit, the blue tit, the long tailed tit, the magpie, the crow, the dunnock and the swifts that wheel incessantly outside our kitchen window. I never knew… but now I do! Read the rest of this entry »