If you enjoy watching and listening to birds but are frustrated trying to separate different species, this course will certainly develop your knowledge and confidence. Learning good field craft, how to make the most of your binoculars, and listening to and learning bird sounds in the field, will help you identify a range of resident species and summer visitors – and their elusive sound patterns!
East Anglia is an ideal place to observe bird activities in autumn. In late-October, migration will be in full swing, with birds that have bred in the high Arctic or that are escaping harsh weather in Eastern Europe and the continent making their way through the area or arriving to overwinter here.
On the first evening there will be a talk illustrated with slides and videos, while the days will be spent in the field at Suffolk’s best migration watch-points, so that a good variety of species are likely to be seen. We shall work as a group, but will try to give you as much individual help as possible.
Locations for our field excursions are to some extent weather and bird activity dependent but will include some of the following sites:
- The Flatford area: woodland, farmland and freshwater marsh
- Minsmere RSPB Reserve: several woodland and wetland habitats including reedbeds
- Landguard Bird Observatory
- Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve
- The Stour and Orwell estuaries
- Hazlewood Marshes RSPB Reserve
Without doubt, you will have many memories to take home.
The course will involve a series of complementary activities to ensure you become familiar with the identification and behaviour of birds which are seen. These will include:
- Watching birds from a distance in the various habitats
- Viewing birds in close-up at the Flatford bird ringing site
- Learning the art of fieldcraft
- Learning key visual clues to help you identify species by sight and by their calls
- Learning key calls to help you identify species as they fly through migration watch-points
We will divide our time between watching and listening to birds out in the field and working indoors reviewing and revising what we have learned. We will seek out as many species as possible to view in ‘real time’, but we will also use the latest DVD identification guides to cover those species which may elude us, to ensure you have as full a picture as possible.
Weather permitting, we will organise one or more bird ringing demonstrations, which will enable you to get really ‘close-up and personal’ with some of the birds. Seeing birds in the hand under the guidance of expert trainers is an excellent way of understanding the nuances of bird identification and will reinforce the observations you can make through binoculars.
Tutor: Steve PiotrowskiSteve Piotrowski lives in Suffolk and has been watching birds since the late 1960's. Over the years he has become one of the most experienced birders in the region and has gone on to write several literary pieces including his acclaimed 'The Birds of Suffolk'. He currently works as an environmental consultant, is an FSC Associate Tutor and also runs courses for the British Trust for Ornithology. He specialises in bird migration, was one of the founders of Landguard Bird Observatory and is a Ringing Trainer. Steve says, 'I like nothing more than to spend a day with fellow enthusiasts sharing with them my experiences of what is a wonderful hobby and hopefully hearing about some of theirs'.
Before You Attend
What to Bring
As the course involves field visits you will need a Thermos, lunchbox, waterproof clothing and stout shoes or boots.
It is important that everyone has their own pair of binoculars. 8x30 or 8x40 are good general purpose ones if you are borrowing a pair - the first figure is the magnification and the second the diameter of the larger lens in mm. Don’t bring a pair with magnification over 10x - these are not suitable for birdwatching. Above all, check that you can see clearly and there is no distortion.
FSC has published a fold-out chart - The Top 50 Garden Birds - which is available at the Centre for reference (and for sale at £3.50!).
A field guide will also be useful to help you develop your identification skills. Two we recommend are:
- Birdwatchers’ Pocket Guide by Peter Hayman, published by Mitchell Beazley (c £10)
- Collins Bird Guide (2nd Edition) by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom (Paperback 17.99 but less than £10 on Amazon)
The course will involve some walking each day but there will be nothing too strenuous. However, it will be along footpaths and tracks on occasions. Strong, comfortable walking boots or wellies are therefore important, as is a good selection of warm and weatherproof clothing in natural colours please: NO BRIGHT REDS AND YELLOWS! Hats, scarves and gloves may be useful. The Centre also has a stock of waterproof jackets, trousers and wellingtons, which may be borrowed if needed.
Bring with you any appropriate membership cards that would allow free entry to local nature reserves. Please note that permit fees, applicable to any nature reserves visited during your stay, will be in addition to accommodation/tuition fees paid to FSC.
Accommodation for this course will, where possible, be in rooms close to each other in order to minimise any disturbance by any early rising to other guests.