Northumberland, Bird Club

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Brilliant birds

For the second year running, and despite the lure of an England v Scotland football match on television, the November AGM of the North Northumberland Bird Club and subsequent talk attracted nearly 80 people.

The explanation for our good turnout was the draw of our honorary president Graham Bell, whose talk was entitled Birds of Prey and Owls.

His talk was filled with movement, sounds, images and poetry. Graham has that rare ability to educate and entertain.

Beginning with Birds of Prey (BOPs), he explained the key differences in identifying falcons and hawks on the wing, the usual way in which we are likely to see them. Falcons, such as merlins, kestrels, hobbies and peregrines, have swept back and pointed wings as opposed to the blunter, broader and more open form of the hawks, such as the sparrowhawk.

His images ranged from common buzzards migrating over Falsterbo in Sweden, a rough-legged buzzard which overwintered near his former home in Bamburgh and eagles from Africa and the USA, to ospreys and kites, including the viciously billed South American snail kite. Perhaps the most surprising bird was the secretary bird of the African savanna, office workers beware.

Although falcons are generally solitary nesting and hunting birds, it was interesting to learn that the red-footed falcon, a vagrant from Europe, not only roosts and nests communally, but even hunts in small flocks.

He also explained why the once common kestrel has slipped down the table of ‘most common’ birds of prey in the UK from first to third, being replaced by the buzzard, a very frequently seen bird in Northumberland.

Graham’s experience of seeing a peregrine swooping onto a flying heron and the tumble of both birds to death inspired an evocative piece of poetry, which he shared.

Describing the appearance and habits of the UK’s five main owl species, Graham took us through the barn, tawny, little, short-eared and long-eared owls.

As with the birds of prey, where Graham’s most notable sighting has been a white gyrfalcon, so with the owls, seeing a white snowy owl in Greenland is his most memorable moment.

As always, Graham’s talks are not just images of birds and their habitat, but give a much more intimate and personal experience of the lives of these birds.

Our last event of the year is our annual Christmas dinner. Our next talk, entitled Chile, will be given by Tom Cadwallender, at Bamburgh Pavilion, on Friday, January 13.