Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland

There is definitely something quite special about Bird Observatories... or maybe it's just me?

As a young birdwatcher in my teens with no real cash or means of transport other than trying to persuade my dad to give up his Saturday to drive me and usually a mate to some far flung coastal location in search of new birds - Bird Observatories became the answer to my problems!

Ob's were typically found in great locations on obscure peninsular's and back in the day they were great value to stay in - all I had to do was get there! They gave you the chance to mix with like minded people who were always vastly more knowledgeable about birds than you were, and someone was usually on hand to I.D a distant Finch or put a name to a flyover Pipit or Bunting call you didn't recognise, which helped to advance and add to your own set of birding field skills. I always enjoyed observing and assisting with the bird ringing under the guidance of a BTO trained ringer, watching the birds being processed and seeing them in the hand at close quarters, learning about ageing and sexing of different species, moults and trying to understand wing-formulae (I still haven't mastered it) - whilst always hoping the mist nets would produce something a little bit special! Lastly it gave me the chance to ultimately see new birds I wasn't familiar with back home, all this whilst experiencing and observing bird migration in full throttle (my visits were always planned in the spring or autumn), that's not to say some visits were somewhat flat with no movement or birds to speak of - but that's birding!

The evenings were also entertaining with the chance to go down to the local pub with whoever else was staying at the Obs - even if I might have been just under the legal age to drink! Listening to stories of great autumn falls and passed rarities whilst getting an early taste for the local Ale - and then you would get up at first light next morning with a slightly fuzzy head (no change there then) in anticipation of what birds had arrived in the area overnight on the back of some favourable weather conditions and the merest hint of an easterly wind (you always prayed for an easterly - well I did)...and at my age then, all this stuff seemed quite magical.

It's been along time since I've stayed in a Bird Observatory but by all accounts they haven't changed too much - if anything the accommodation has vastly improved, with Fair Isle leading the way if the pictures are anything to go by (more Hotel than Hostel these days) - I'm yet to visit the 'magic Isle'...but I'll get there one day!

So for any young birder or for that fact any birder worth their salt and wanting to improve their knowledge of birds, I whole heartily recommend the Observatory experience - just as a day trip or even if you stay for one night!

If you are interested? There is a tab at the top of the blog Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland with a map and all the information and links you need to help you decide which of the 19 Observatories of Britain and Ireland you might like to visit...start planning your trip for next year now - I am!

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