Our volunteers were a bit put-out to see that the car park was already full an hour before we opened for business. Had someone organised a competing event such as a half marathon? Was there a rally of dog-walkers? As we soon found out, most of the cars belonged to bird watchers and photographers who wanted to get an early start. There was a strong demand for warm drinks as people came in from the cold or prepared to go out on our two guided walks. One of the "early-birds" had found and photographed a rare firecrest that almost caused a stampede.
Visitors had a choice of paying £2.50 each to go on a guided walk led by volunteers or on a sponsored walk with the ranger. The ranger’s walk is our own invention that we call a “Tick and Twitch”. Fifteen people joined me to see how many kinds of bird we could see or hear in about two hours. The catch was that they had to pay 10 pence for each species that we ticked off on our list.
Almost the first birds we saw were not even on the list! A pair of feral Egyptian geese flew low over our heads as we left the visitor centre, then we added magpies, crows, herons, greylag geese and swans; all big stuff that couldn’t be missed. Later we got into the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs); the warblers. Cettis warblers are almost never seen but you can’t miss their explosive song. They look and sound like a giant wren. (If they are not in your bird book, that’s because they are relatively new to Britain.) We found them in brambles around the meadow and went on to tick nightingales, lesser whitethroats and many more. The only birds of prey that we saw were a kestrel and a buzzard until, as we were adding up the list, a red kite flew over. We had missed a few very common birds such as starlings and sparrows, but most of us added those in the last minute or two.
On the Tick and Twitch we all saw over 50 species and some of us saw 55, so the collection box produced almost £80. Over the day as a whole, 250 people took part and they saw 77 species in all, which is pretty good for an inland site.
The main purpose of an event like this is to attract people to try bird watching and promote an interest in natural history, but we also hope to make a few bob and enlist a few new members to support our work. Apart from the money raised from the walks and selling teas we did well on the sale of second hand books and bird food too.
At this time of year the Reserve is particularly popular and we have many organised groups who come in the evenings for nightingales. As we are on the northern edge of their range it is not unusual to meet visiting groups of enthusiasts from the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire or even beyond. Our next event is an evening walk for local people to see and hear nightingales on May 5th. The first walk will leave the Visitor Centre just after 6 pm and then other groups will set out according to demand until 7:30. The event will end when everyone is counted back in, hopefully before 9 pm. The nightingales are already here, you just have to turn up!