Friday, 11 May 2012

RSPB Scottish Birdfair – not just for birders

Garden Shows are really my thing. I feed the birds in my garden and through taking photos & video I’ve enjoyed the challenge of identifying who visits. As I have experimented with bird feeders, locations and foods a wider variety of species have arrived. It’s been fun to see and blog about and I enjoy taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. Would I visit a Birdfair though? I wasn’t sure.

When a surprise email came in from the RSPB offering me tickets for the 1st Birdfair in Scotland I took a look through the website. If it wasn’t something I would go to I could use these tickets as a competition on my blog. I looked through the Exhibitors, Workshops, Talks and Events. To my surprise, a few things caught my garden watching eye.

I mailed the RSPB back saying ‘yes please’ to their offer of tickets. I am now looking forward to going to an event I probably wouldn’t have considered going to. I also have a competition first for my blog!

Two tickets for either Sat 19th May or Sun 20th May 2012 at the RSPB Scottish Birdfair at Hopetoun House is the prize. One winner gets a ticket for themself and a guest.

I’m making it easy to enter as I’d like other garden watching people to go too. If you are a birder, that’s good too! Please only one entry per household. To enter just drop me an email with your full name and which day (either Saturday or Sunday) that you would like to attend before 3pm on Tuesday 15th May.

A comment on this post about your experiences at other Birdfairs or what you would like to see/do at this one would be great but not essential. I’ll put all email names in a plant pot and get my (usually patient companion on my trips out) daughter to pick out a winner. I’ll email the winner on Tuesday by 6pm. Good luck!

Okay… now back to this blog… I’ve discovered some interesting stuff through collecting links for this post that I think regular blog visitors will enjoy hearing about and seeing too.

Armed with my video camera, this week, I’ve seen some controversial mammals living here in Scotland (hunted to extinction 400 years ago). In complete contrast I also discovered a new Android/iPhone App that I think is a fantastic idea - showing smart phone can have really smart uses in the natural world.



Back at the end of March, when out in the garden, I heard a commotion overhead. A group of three birds of prey were soaring together and a crow was noisily harassing them. You can see my photos are poor and when it comes to identifying birds outside my garden I’m pretty poor there too. Can anyone tell me what birds they were? Buzzards?

There are WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY Workshops on the Sat & Sun at the Birdfair and RAPTOR & WADER IDENTIFICATION Workshops too. They both caught my eye as I’d like to get better bird & wildlife photos when out of my garden. I’d also like to be able to ID the Birds of Prey that fly over my garden and ID Waders when out on beach/coastal walks.



Pre blog I never set out to plan/plant a garden for wildlife. I selected plants and planted in a way that was pleasing to my eye. As gardeners, we do change/adapt ideas as our gardens mature/suffer winter and wind damage and our interests/circumstance as a whole change.

Now, I am quite focussed on flowering plants for bees when buying new plants. However, my ‘not really seen as wildlife friendly’ plantings of Heucheras, Hostas, Meconopsis and Alliums all do have bees feeding on them and I only properly became aware of this when out getting photos of my plants for blog posts. I already had a garden for wildlife and it wasn’t wild and untidy. Now I am adding natives and keeping featured areas of long grass.

There is a GARDENING WITH WILDLIFE Workshop on the Sunday of the Birdfair. When I looked at the website for the Plant Centre running this I discovered that Emma had a Gold winning garden at last year’s Gardening Scotland Show "aimed to show keen gardeners that you don’t need to have a weedy, untended looking garden in order to attract wildlife. Many beautiful, non-native species are suitable for attracting bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects, as well as a wide variety of birds and even mammals such as hedgehogs.” Right up my street there – I wonder what plants she will use.



Through watching birds in my garden (most of the time through my window) I have realised that birds appreciate garden feeders all year round and not just through the cold winter months. When you feed birds at this time of year you are helping them feed chicks and get the added pleasure of seeing them do this in your garden after the birds fledge.

Garden watching has also alerted me to the need to keep bird feeders regularly cleaned to prevent the horrible disease trichomonosis causing birds (mostly finches) to starve to death in a few days. More pleasant looking views of birds from my window are the ones using the water trays to bathe and drink in.

When it comes to sound in the garden, I have yet to learn the calls and songs of all my visiting birds. I know some and my favourite is the tinkering of a charm of Goldfinches. However one day, whilst gardening, a sound that I thought was a distant car alarm finally alerted me to a good sized group of Waxwings (many more than in the photo above). That was a first!

It is fair to say my garden has never stopped surprising me with what I can see in and from it. Last year we had House Martins nest under our roof (another first) and in this past week they have returned again and have been heard chirping from last year’s nest. I must look out the video footage of them building it last year – it was fascinating to watch the beaks of mud build it.

If you enjoy garden birdwatching and have a pond (or perhaps water feature) with a small stream of water running you might just see newly fledged birds find their way there. I don’t know if they follow the sound but it is fun to watch them. There is a GARDEN BIRDWATCHING Workshop on the Sunday of the Birdfair. If you enjoy taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch you might be interested in the survey the BTO do.

Sorry, I am chatting on a bit – making up for my last Wordless post ;-) I’ll speed things up for you now. As you will see if you follow the exhibitor’s link above, there are many organisations for bird lovers from magazines, clubs, societies to optics. The ones that caught my eye were the Bat Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society, Plantlife Scotland and Gardening Scotland 2012.



Apologies to Bo Beolens (aka the Fatbirder) for placing his image above a muffin. Honestly, it just fitted that way! I’ve absolutely no idea to the shape of this gentleman, I’ve never met him. However his website was one of the first I added my blog to and I have been thrilled at the placings my blog has had in his Birding Top 1000 considering I blog about other stuff as well as birds. He entered my blog into his pages on Scotland some time back and I was delighted.

Bo clearly has a sense of humour with this image on his website and the title of the talk he is going to give on the Sunday at the Birdfair - THE A-Z OF BIRDING according to the Grumpy Old Birder. I just have to go along and say hello ;-)

Another talk by Naturalist and Writer Sir John Lister-Kaye on BIRDS AND BEAVERS on the Sunday caught my eye. Listed as “Topical content following the Environment Minister’s decision to allow the accidental reintroduction of beavers to the River Tay catchment. Sir John, Vice President of RSPB, will explain the benefits to wildlife from the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland”. This is controversial issue and not exactly popular here in Scotland.

Prior to the small reintroduction of Beavers at Knapdale in Argyll (Scotland) I had no idea there were beavers across on my side of the country. None at all. The Scottish Wild Beaver Group is working at raising the profile of the Tay Beavers and say there is now thought to be 120 individuals living in the waterways of the Tay. This story is getting heard now.

Wondering if it would be at all possible to see and capture video footage of a beaver, I made contact with Paul & Louise Ramsay at the Scottish Wild Beaver Group and asked where I could see them. We took a drive to meet them and they very kindly took myself and (patient travel companion) daughter to Bamff Ponds. Our evening wait paid off…




Walking through a wood back to the car, we saw piles of cones nibbled by red squirrels at the bottom of trees – brilliant. We saw some tree nibbles by beavers - amazing. We saw beaver dams on a smaller pond which was fascinating and an unbelievable sight in Scotland 2012.

Shortly after on our late evening drive home, small groups of roe deer crossed the road in front of the car a number of times. I can’t deny that then my mind then went back to the beavers that we watched across the pond and my feeling was - they looked like they belonged in Scotland in the same way as the red squirrels and the roe deer did. I understand it’s not as simple as that.



Only just getting the hang of identifying some butterflies – moths I don’t find simple at all. I don’t really go out in the evenings to see them butI have noticed them on my ivy clad pergola and tiny pond. I haven’t a clue what the ones above are despite having books. Has anyone any suggestions?

You might guess that a talk on the Sunday morning of the Birdfair caught my eye: WHY STUDY MOTHS? Surely they are brown, boring and nocturnal! Then I remembered that I’d seen something about organised Moth nights in previous years. I searched for links and found Moth Night 2012 will take place on 21 – 23 June 2012. I also found an interesting recording techniques page with instructions on making a wine rope to feed moths. I wonder if they fly straight after ;-)




Browsing through links to exhibitors at the Birdfair I discovered Birdtrack has new Android App. Looking down the page to see the selection of apps from ‘users who installed this also installed’ I found the Android Conker Tree Science: Leaf Watch. It caught my attention and I looked to see if there was a Conker Tree App for the iPhone too. You can see above there is. I uploaded it and intend adding any sightings I see.

The Universities of Bristol and Hull track the spread of the horse-chestnut leaf miner moth with this simple, intuitive app. I think making the App free is a fantastic idea. So many people have smart phones and take them out on walks and reports will contribute to the Conker Tree Science research project.



My simple watercolour above represents all the bird and wildlife artists that will be at the Birdfair. I don’t draw that much so will enjoy seeing their work and I am not a watercolour artist this is the first one I’ve done (although have shown it on my blog before).

I hope you’ve enjoyed my lengthy spin on what has caught my garden watching eye from the Birdfair website. Maybe by following some of the links I have given (check out the Children’s Tipi) this might be a visit you would enjoy too. There is so much more I could add but I’ve probably marinated this one too long ;-)

Finally, I’ll slow things down with a snowdrop walk through the grounds of Hopetoun House for my gardening followers. Oh no, the snowdrops are gone now but I didn’t get out snowdrop walking to share this year so this is a late treat. These grounds have seen many events.

I’ll just add one final thing… with your ticket to the Birdfair you can get half price entry into Hopetoun House – want to take a sneak peek inside?






This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in May 2012.

9 comments:

Christina said...

Your water colour is charming, and I don't mean that in a derogatory way. I really wish I could sketch or paint; you have captured perfectly the character of the bird. When you write you describe the birds and animals so I feel as if I’m seeing them myself. Thank you Christina

Lisa at Greenbow said...

You were wordy today. I love your sketch. You should do more of that. Sketching is another way to enjoy nature. Your garden is amazing. Wonderful bugs, birds and animals. Have fun at the Birdfair. I will look forward to hearing what all you learn and see. Sounds like my kind of thing. I wish I could attend with you.

Mike said...

That LTT drawing is great Shirl really captures the character of the stunning little birds, you should definitely do more drawing like this, I cant get my head around watercolours myself.

Crystal said...

Really enjoyed your post, very informative. Loved the photos too. Looking forward to your report on the Birdfair.

Midmarsh John said...

It sounds as though you will have a lot to interest you at the Birdfare Shirl.
I enjoyed watching the video of the Beavers.
Have installed the Conker Tree Watch iPhone app as there are lots of them around the village.

shirl said...

Hello again, John. Yes, I was surprised that there would be things to interest me a Birdfair :-)

I thought you’d like to see the Beavers. I was such a tranquil place and they really did look like they belonged.

Re the Conker App, note (you’ve probably read this) that they don’t want multiple images of the same tree – just one per month. They want healthy leaves too. Sounds like you are in a good spot to help here :-)

You might be interested in the email I’ve received from a Moth Recorder here in Scotland. He says:
“the leaf miner moth has not yet reached Scotland. There are various fungal and weather related damage signs that look very like the real thing, and have been reported as such in local press; but I have checked out a number of such sightings in Fife and they are definitely not the leaf miner.”

He gave ID’s for my moths too which was great. The moth floating on the pond was a Map-winged Swift and the other (2 pics on ivy) was a Yellow Shell.

shirl said...

Hello again, everyone. Thanks for your kind comments on my watercolour. It was really only there to illustrate a link. I’m delighted you all enjoyed seeing it :-)

Christina, oh.. my drawing hand has been neglected over the years. It was the character of the bird I was going for. I had been watching this bird in my garden but its visits were so fleeting that I never got a photo – so I picked up a book and sketch pad. It was only meant to be a drawing then I thought I’d play around with a box of watercolours I had bought but never used. I love to write about the birds and animals and always hope my enthusiasm comes through. Thank-you!

Lisa, oooo… wordy from a regular reader of my lengthy post… definitely marinated too long ;-) I love to see the sketches and studies in your books/journals. I can completely understand that you learn more and enjoy nature more taking time to sketch it. Your work inspires me. Thanks, my garden has only become amazing since I started looking more closely. I’ll report back on my visit – I might go into the House too! Ah… I would guess that this would be your sort of thing and I would really enjoy attending with you too :-D

Mike, thanks for your kind comment. I should say, I’ve never really got the hang of watercolours either. I’ve attempted a couple and never finished them. This was a first. I was just delighted to finish it just before I over worked it and you could still see the glint in the bird’s eye ;-)

Crystal, delighted you enjoyed this. I hoped there would be something for everyone. Thanks for taking time to read this post and leave a comment :-) I know this one has kept everyone too long. I just kept finding things I wanted to add and had a job missing things out. Must try harder next time. I’ll try to get some good photos at the Birdfair. Thinking with lots of peeps about this might be tricky…

ShySongbird said...

A jam packed and fascinating post Shirl! I think you will have enormous fun at the bird fair...I know I would...'heaven, I'm in heaven' :-) Unfortunately such events are always held too far away for me to attend.

Lovely photos and videos, I particularly liked the photo of the young Blackbird being fed. I think your raptor probably is a Buzzard but from the photos I wouldn't like to say definitely. What a privilege to see the Beavers! I would have loved that. I know it's a controversial subject but I agree they do look 'right' and of course if Nature had been left to organise her own affairs their main predator, the Wolf, would still be playing its part in the natural order of things.

Ah, yes! I instantly recognised your lovely LTT painting and remember being so impressed with it when I first saw it, you really should do more. I used to try when I was little and really enjoyed it but was never very good at drawing :-(

Enjoy the rest of the week Shirl and have a wonderful time at the bird fair...I know you will :-)

shirl said...

Hello again, Jan :-)

Thanks for your kind comment. We did enjoy our birdfair trip. Not many photos as it was a freezing cold and dull day – an incredible contrast of the scorching sunshine since. Lots of friendly people :-D

Thanks for the bird ID – I know my photo wasn’t clear. Yes, you are right on the order of the predators in the natural world. The Scottish Government will decide the fate of the Beaver in Scotland in a couple of years. I’m sure it will be pretty heated then as the Beavers are breeding.

Thanks, I was certainly inspired by the work of a wildlife artist at the Birdfair. Wishing you a good remainder of the week and a great weekend :-D