Friday, 30 May 2014

Meeting Reports February and March 2014

21 FEBRUARY 2014


Steve Keightly from Frithville near Boston brought some African colour to a winter's evening with his 'breathtaking' photographs of the birds of Gambia. Steve told us about the trips he had made to that tiny African country in 2010 and in 2012. He enjoyed his visits so much that he and four other like minded birders are going again next month. This time they will not be staying in the tented safari lodge by the river Gambia where they sometimes shared their tent with a large monitor lizard.

The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa with a population of about 1.7 million. It flanks the Gambia river and is surrounded by Senegal, apart from a short strip of Atlantic coastline at its western end.

Steve and his party landed at Banjul airport before setting off to comfortable accommodation at Footsteps and Farakundu lodges where they first saw a Black shouldered kite soaring above. He advised us that the best time to visit Gambia was in the dry season between late November and March when the rural sandy roads were not muddy tracks. The mode of travel was by 4X4 and by river transport – sometimes they had to paddle their own canoes! The daily temperatures rose to the high thirties and in this Afro-tropical climate the humidity was very high. However, the vehicles were air conditioned – you just opened the windows and held your breath when passing vehicles covered your vehicle in abrasive dust. Not comfortable conditions to carry a huge, heavy camera with a tripod whilst coping with binoculars and sun glasses strung round your neck.

Local drivers and guides were a must. The guides had undergone a three year apprenticeship to qualify as ornithologists. They were hired by the day at a rate of £40 per person but Steve reckoned they were excellent value and without them he would have missed many of the 226 species he photographed on his trip along the river.

There was a plethora of birds which occupied all the ecological niches. Many were brightly coloured; not just Starlings but Purple glossy starlings and White crested helmet shrikes – the names were so descriptive. They saw six different types of Kingfisher, some lived by the river and others like the Pied kingfisher in the illustration were forest dwellers.

One of my favourite photographs was that of the Verreaux's eagle owl. A large, impressive owl with 'ear' tufts – most dignified until you saw its pink eyelids! The Ospreys which breed in the UK and overwinter in this area of West Africa were a common sight as they fished in the rivers. The Hooded vultures dominated the sky and did a grand job of clearing away carrion and other edible rubbish. Steve spent time at the municipal rubbish tip where Kites and Vultures were joined by other scavenging birds.

To remind me of the 100 or so exotic species shown in Steve's presentation I shall log onto his website at which has a fantastic range of pictures of all his adventures.

Friday 14th March 2014

Wildlife and the Washlands

Martin Chapman gave us another interesting illustrated talk about many aspects of farming and wildlife conservation. He started by telling us about life in rural Saltfleetby when he was a boy, and discussing the changes as farms have become larger and more mechanised.

In the early 1990s Martin began to develop land in Manby into a wildlife-friendly zone - the LWT group had visited the area in 2012. Encouraged by FWAG Martin created the wildlife pond, now known as Lucy Mae’s Pond, in 1½ acres that was too wet to crop. Fascinating pictures showed the topsoil removed to reveal 3 feet of boulder clay with peat beneath. After excavation of the pond the top soil was replaced and seeded with a grass and wild flower mix. The original bushes had been carefully preserved, and quickly the area became a wildlife haven with reeds and other plant species.

A 25-acre area adjoining Lucy Mae’s pond became Martin’s next project. This was developed to become a washland, taking flood water from the Long Eau River, and becoming an appropriate habitat for water birds. Ray Woodcock told us he had recently counted 27 bird species there.

In the final part of his talk Martin showed how he manages hedges, ditches and arable fields to provide a range of plant species, feed sources for birds and insects, and a desirable habitat for many animal species. RG

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