Eyes to the skies as birdwatcher group celebrates 25-year anniversary (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Eyes to the skies as birdwatcher group celebrates 25-year anniversary
"You’re never very far away from a good birdwatching spot in Bradford.”
Casper Pottle thoroughly enjoys heading out into the district for a walk, appreciating both the scenery and its feathered inhabitants.
“The moors are within easy reach, and are the perfect place to see upland birds like curlews, lapwings and skylarks. There are plenty of woods in the district, too – Buck Wood in Thackley near my home, and Heaton Woods are a couple of favourites.
“Shipley Glen is a great place for birding – all three species of woodpecker found in Britain can be seen there, as well as many other woodland species.”
A birdwatcher from the age of eight, when he inherited a pair of binoculars from his grandfather and began watching birds in the garden, Casper is a member of Bradford Ornithological Group.
Affectionately known as BOG, the group celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, and continues to attract new members.
One of the advantages of birding, as the pastime is known, is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages, all year round and combines with those staples of a healthy life: fresh air and exercise. Others like the thrill of spotting new birds.
“For me, it is the peace and quiet, and a relaxing walk, with the added excitement of perhaps seeing something rare,” says Casper. “For some it can just be the simple pleasure of feeding a robin in your back garden.”
The hobby should not be confused with that of twitchers – committed watchers who travel long distances to mark off sightings in a log book.
“Late winter or early spring is the best time to go,” says Casper. “The birds are looking for mates and meeting and nesting sites, but there are no leaves on the trees which makes seeing them much easier.”
“The Denso Marston nature reserve on the River Aire near Baildon is a good place to visit, especially for kingfishers.”
Being a member of a club brings benefits including monthly meetings with guest speakers and regular walks. The blog on the 140-strong group’s website is updated daily with members’ latest sightings.
Over the years, Casper, who has mastered the skill of being able to identify birds from their song, has noticed changes in bird populations. “There used to be many more farmland birds such as yellowhammers around the outskirts of Bradford, but sadly these have almost gone. On the bright side, birds of prey are no longer persecuted as they used to be and, as a result, there are more buzzards, peregrines and red kites about.”
Rare birds spotted in the district are, he says, “really only common birds which have got lost.” One example is the American robin.
“It is a common enough bird in North America, but exceptionally rare on this side of the Atlantic. Occasionally, they get blown off course in bad weather. One turned up in Gilstead five years ago and caused quite a stir – it put Bradford on the birding map for a while.”
Group member Stephen Lilley came to birding relatively late in life. “When I retired from my job with Bradford Council I decided that I’d get myself a good camera, then I thought about what I’d like to photograph. I was drawn to landscapes and animals, but I realised that I enjoyed the challenge of birds. They are small and don’t fill the frame, so to do it properly you need a good camera and lens.
I use a Nikon D300 and 500mm lens. “I have a teleconverter that increases the magnification to 700mm, 13 times that of a normal LSR lens.”
He adds: “It can be expensive, but does not have to be – anyone can take a reasonable photograph of any subject, but the consistency will not be there. You also need to get close – it is a combination of the two.”
Stephen, who lives in Riddlesden, has a portable canvas hide which can be used to get nearer birds without alarming them. “It is camouflaged and can be put up quickly. Sometimes I put it up on the patio at home to take pictures of birds on the feeder.”
He loves the hobby. “It gives me a focus and gets me out into the countryside. It is stimulating, both technically – I like learning about the techniques and equipment – and physically.”
But, he stresses, the pastime does not have to be hi-tech.
The club offers a social side which Stephen enjoys. “We have meetings and guided walks, and an excellent website.”
People post sightings on the website and some post pictures. “It is nice to meet people and get to know them – sometimes when you are out, you bump into other members.
“I’ve been out today to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal near Saltaire to look for the lesser-spotted woodpecker which is quite unusual.
“Sometimes, an interesting bird will come along and stay only 24 hours. Some are migrating and are crossing the country – that often happens. Some, like the chiffchaff and willow warbler, will sometimes come onto garden feeders, but for others you need to go out into the wild – you get to know their habitats.
“Summer migrants, such as the wood warbler and redstart are more of a challenge as they are usually restricted to woodland, and once the leaves appear on the trees it is hard to spot them.” He adds: “We have a great locality here, with so much to see with a short walk, drive or bus journey.
Brian Vickers joined the group after taking early retirement. “Bradford is a good place to watch birds as we have a wide variety of habitats and many reservoirs which are good for seeing ducks and waders and oak woodlands in which some species can only be found, and moorland which again has specific species.”
Brian, of Oxenhope, likes the pool of knowledge that comes with being a member of BOG. He also watches birds in Spain, where he has a holiday home, and occasionally joins birdwatching tours of the country.
“You are constantly learning, regardless of the years of experience you have – birds are always capable of surprising you, whether it be turning up in places they should not be, or the antics they sometimes get up to.”
Monthly meetings take place at 7.30pm on the first Tuesday, at Bradford & Bingley Sportys Club, Wagon Lane, Bingley. For further information, visit bradfordbirding.org, or write to Shaun Radcliffe at 8 Longwood Avenue, Bingley BD16 2RX.