Bird watching as a hobby has been traced back to the late-18th century as portrayed in the works of English naturalists and ornithologists Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick and George Montagu. During the Victorian Era, the study of birds became fashionable, but not necessarily in their natural habitats, as collectors obtained specimens of eggs and preserved dead birds sourced from around the world. In the late 19th century the Audubon Society in the United States and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain were founded to protect birds from these collectors and from the increasingly popular feather trade. In 1901 a book published by British ornithologist and writer Edmund Selous, entitled simply Bird Watching, is thought to have been the origin of the term describing the practice of observing birds in their natural habitat – a pastime which requires plenty of patience.
In today’s society which is increasing becoming accustomed to instant gratification, patience may sometimes be seen as a hindrance rather than a virtue, and this may be the case among birding enthusiasts who are using mobile phone apps to mimic birdsong in an effort to attract birds. Wardens on England’s Brownsea Island have recently reported instances where visitors have used these mobile apps to mimic the unique call of the Nightjar, apparently so they could get a clearer photograph. What these visitors may not realize is that they are breaking a law (the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981) which was put into place to protect nesting birds from being intentionally disturbed. Designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), Brownsea Island is home to a host of bird species, including the Nightjar which, thanks to conservation efforts, has experienced an increase in numbers in recent years.
When a recorded birdsong is played repeatedly it is likely to divert the bird from essential duties, such as feeding its young. It may also prompt a bird to interrupt the mating process to chase off what it perceives to be a rival in order to protect its territory.
Giving birders the benefit of the doubt that they may be unaware of the negative impact their birdsong apps are having, the Dorset Wildlife Trust is launching an online campaign to warn people of the harm they may inadvertently be causing. To reinforce the message, signs will be erected on each of the 42 reserves overseen by the Trust requesting that birdsong apps not be used in the reserves.
The market town of Helmsley in the picturesque Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, England, is the location of the new International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) which opened to the public in March 2013. Spread over eleven acres with historic Duncombe Park as a backdrop, the visitor attraction features more than a hundred birds housed in some forty aviaries, and is set to become one of the top tourist attractions in the district. In addition to being a visitor attraction, the ICBP runs a program of breeding endangered birds, most notably Steller’s sea eagles, which are among the world’s largest birds and listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.
The ICBP has three flying demonstrations per day where visitors can witness the exceptional abilities of a variety of birds of prey. As each flying demonstration features different birds, with commentary offering fascinating facts about the performers, visitors may want to spend the entire day at the centre and watch all three demonstrations. In the event of inclement weather, the centre will move the demonstration to a sheltered wooded area or indoors, so visitors are assured of seeing the birds in action.
Visitors may want to start their tour of the centre along the Hawk Walk, where they will be able to approach within a few feet of the trained birds which includes hawks, falcons, eagles and buzzards. The main aviary area features a series of enclosures which have been carefully designed with the comfort of the feathered residents in mind. The three solid walls of each aviary provide the birds with a sense of security, which makes them more content and enhances their breeding abilities. The success of the aviary design is evident in the fact that the ICBP has successfully bred 65 species of birds of prey.
Overlooking the parkland in front of Duncombe Park’s main house, the Flying Ground has seating for demonstration spectators, as well as picnic tables and acres of well-tended lawn to relax on. The east and north of the area are sheltered by ancient oak, chestnut, ash and lime trees with the west open to the prevailing wind, providing perfect conditions for the birds to perform in.
Other facilities include the Fountain Tea Room, a shop and a play area. A visit to the International Centre for Birds of Prey is sure to be memorable. Don’t forget to take your camera!