Westcombe Woodland – RSPB Bird Watch 2020

By Richard Sylvester | January 28 2020

Westcombe Woodland – RSPB Bird Watch 2020

Blog Category: Volunteer opportunityBlog Tags: Education

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    Blog about how a small event with just a few people attending can serve to attract new people. 

    After the RSPB BirdWatch in Jan 2020  (deliberately kept to a small group ) we tried posting one or two pictures in selected places (online and in local train station). Interesting to see the results- with new people contacting the group and turning up at the Volunteer morning.

    I guess it’s about creative thinking that can create a “story” – maybe just select and feature highlights. For example to advertise our monthly “volunteer mornings” we have made feature of the sale of Honey from our bees, and most recently-linked to the job of repairing the bird boxes.

    Pictures of the Tawny Owls that many people hear calling in the woods have also created interest.  At best – after an event where people may say “it’s a shame there aren’t more people here ” – take good photos and then next step is post the story (eg look what you missed)!

    Also highlight in advance specific jobs for each volunteer event or workparty – and have the resources or support to ensure they can be tackled. This can tempt a wider audience to come along next time!

    Like many other groups we have recorded the birds on our site  during the RSPB “garden “ BirdWatch weekend for the past three years.  This year seven volunteers met at  the woodland gate around 9.00am.  We wanted to share the experience our most knowledgeable bird  “expert”, who is also a professional ecologist,  Joe  (tweets @Joe_Beale)  and also aimed to keep the group smallish in order to focus on the task of hearing and spotting the birds in the woodland.

    The BirdWatch survey takes place for just an hour. So we started at 9.10am and walked up the track – to a glade and orchard in the centre of the woods. A couple of the group had binoculars and were able to pick up on small movements that indicated birds in the dense cover of holly and hedges. Having a very experienced birder with us made for easy identification of the birds calling or sighted.  Joe reminded us that we can’t count birds flying overhead- such as seagulls –  or ducks heading for Greenwich park !  We did see a sparrow hawk in 2019.

    The  bird “spots” that I was familiar with such as robin, wren, magpie, parakeet were ticked off as both seen and heard. Gradually the list grew and in half an hour we had around 15 species of bird, adding song thrush and goldfinch . Towards the end of the hour Joe spotted a Firecrest at the base of a holly bush -and we spent possibly 4-5 minutes focussing on it as it hopped around. Such amazing colours on this rarely seen visitor.

    We didn’t get a picture of the firecrest – but I found a good one online and used this to illustrate a little story to  “post” and highlight the fact that we spotted 18 species of bird in this local woodland.  The image and story generated some interest and comment  on “social media”-  local facebook pages for our area -and this  has resulted in 6 new people “joining” our facebook page- of course they may not all show up for the volunteer morning – but its a significant jump in “interest”. The next step will be to  find out what they are interested in and ideally offer them something quite specific to do !  It is perhaps uncomfortable  for us – who often work hard  to attract new people to our projects – to hear that when a survey asked people why they didn’t volunteer -the main reason they gave was that they “had not been asked !”. (will seek a source for this – it was back in the 1996 when I heard this story -possibly from RSPB).  We have a fallen tree that needs sawing up, a trench to dig for a new hedge – which local schools will plant in March…..but its always good to know what talents and skills people may want to offer – I am secretly hoping one of them will take some interesting photos and write a blog that reaches the wider world through Semble or other web channels !  (Memo to self ……must submit the bird survey to RSPB !)

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Richard Sylvester