Last week was a period of anniversaries and of celebrations. On Wednesday the Hutton Cranswick Four presented me with a padded envelope, which I didn't examine until I arrived back home. On opening it I was surprised to find a montage of photos commemorating the first 10 years of "Birding with Flowers." The pictures depicted the Wednesday morning group at a variety of locations we had visited over the past 10 years. Clockwise from the left hand corner I believe these depict visits to Bempton, Millington Pastures, Far Ings and Patrington Haven. Also included were photos of a Firecrest after being ringed at Spurn in 2014, a Great Tit ringed at Spurn more recently and 3 Spoonbills from RSPB Blacktoft Sands. Many of the Hutton Cranswick Four are unable to return next term, so this seemed a good time to celebrate the first 10 years of Birding with Flowers.
Montage created by the Hutton Cranswick 4
Then on Friday at Brockadale the 2 stalwarts who have been studying birds with me for a decade asked if they could have 10 minutes of everyone's time at the end of the session, and before we set off on the long journey home. We weren't to know that this would take much longer than expected, as there had been an accident on the M62! Barbara and David opened the boot of their vehicle to reveal an amazing tableaux. Inside were a few models of Mallards, plus a Mallard plate and a large cool box. Then the refridgerated container was opened to reveal its stunning contents: bottles of elderflower champagne and fizzy apple juice, and the piece de resistance: an absolutely amazing cake. This was adorned with yet another image of a Mallard. You may ask why all the pictures of our most ubiquitous duck species?
Amazing Cake - courtesy of Barbara & David DaltonThe answer goes back almost a decade. When I'm looking for a bird species during the sessions, I tend to be searching to find something with which my students are not familiar. Apparently, one week after spotting a wildfowl I was disappointed we hadn't spotted a Pintail, or another less common duck species, and I said something like "it's only a Mallard." David took this comment to heart, and bearing in mind the glossy green head & other features he decided to found the M.A.S. - the Mallard Appreciation Society. In the intervening time he has studied every aspect of the Mallard and drawn up an information sheet of unusual facts about a Mallard's life cycle. The Friday afternoon group have colluded with David's interest, and many subsequent Mallard sightings are accompanied by various in-joke references to "unmentionables" and "unspeakables." The ultimate result of this is that the Friday afternoon group are more likely to know esoteric facts about Mallards than any other group.
BWF = Birding with Flowers
MAS = Mallard Appreciation Society
So, the first 10 years are over, and in that time well over 200 individuals have been introduced to more than 220 species of bird, as well as plenty of butterflies, mammals, dragonflies, flowers, fungi and other wildlife in more than 60 different local venues. Some people enjoy their weekly wildlife visits so much they are still attending after 10 years! That means they've been out in the field with me on at least 300 occasions in that time, and have discovered many obscure corners of Yorkshire, several of which they were completely unaware before the classes started.
Bearded Tit - guaranteed this Autumn!
The Classes started in a very small way in January 2004 with just one morning a week (Wednesday) run by East Riding College in Beverley. The following term an afternoon session was added, and the term after that a Friday morning term was added. This was soon expanded to Friday afternoons. When the time came to consider adding Tuesdays and Thursdays, the government chose that time to remove all support funding from adult education courses without an exam, so the college would no longer be able to subsidise the classes. I had to decide whether to finish with the birdwatching classes, and return to full-time employment in the NatWest business centre, or to branch out on my own and run the courses as a business. I chose the latter and until writing this paragraph I've never looked back!
The vast majority of 'students' hail from Beverley, Cottingham or Willerby and Kirk Ella, but people also regularly commute from further afield. At the moment the furthest participant travels from Ilkley every Thursday afternoon; and makes a day of it, visiting other sites of interest before his class starts. There are also 3 ladies from different outskirts of York, and the suburbs of Leeds have also been represented. In the past people from Skipton have joined, as has a lady from Lincolnshire. The furthest north I can remember has been someone from Flamborough, but Nafferton and Driffield still send their envoys every Wednesday. As the sessions take place on weekdays, the vast majority of participants have taken early retirement. However, young business people including a wedding photographer, and a fine foods delicatessen owner have also been eager learners. The latter was only forced to withdraw when she decided to have a family. One hard-pressed financial adviser finds by coming to the Wednesday morning sessions it breaks the week up nicely, and he is able to return to work completely refreshed.
Great Grey Shrike - hoped for this coming Autumn
Although the Spring/Summer term is over, I have already started to take bookings for the Autumn term. Only yesterday a couple from Osset rang to enquire about spaces in September. We will be paying special attention to locating birds on migration, but also some of our local specialised birds. Early impressions would seem to indicate that it's going to be a very good Autumn for Bearded Tits, and as most students are impressed by this species when they see them for the first time, and are still enamoured on subsequent occasions, this is going to be our number one target species. We will also be hoping to connect with Great Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, plus Hen Harriers, Merlin, Short-eared Owls, Redstarts, Wheatears and many other interesting species, such as Kingfishers and Water Rails.
Merlin - another hoped for bird
What do the autumn sessions entail? Well, for at least 2 hours every week, for a period of 10 weeks, we visit a different venue, and the visits are planned to coincide with the maximum number of species likely to be encountered throughout the year at that particular venue. In addition to coastal and estuarine locations we will also be visiting the best local Red Kite roost to observe these graceful fliers as they arrive and manoeuvre before they disappear into the trees. In the course of an average term you may expect to encounter and identify approximately 100 species.
Short-eared Owl - a popular species to see during daylight in Autumn
Redstart - migrating along the coast
If you are interested in joining the Autumn sessions, I'm afraid some classes are already fully booked, but there are plenty of spaces available on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. However, if you are interested in another session please ask, as there may just be a vacancy. I can be contacted on 07946 625688 or by email on email@example.com.
Wheatear - another migrating species
Kingfisher - probably the most popular bird of all time!
Thursday morning's celebrations on the actual anniversary may be read here: