29 January, 2016


With a reading week at uni and some holiday hours to take off work, myself and a couple of friends decided to book a four-day holiday to Malta.

Malta has never been top of my list of places to visit - mainly because, like many birders, I've been off-putted by the bird hunting atrocities that appear in the news every spring, but I was pretty easily swayed by the promise of sun, sea and good beer, and we set off on Thursday last week.

The first two days were spent visiting various historical towns and cities around the island, admiring the beautiful architecture and eclectic culture. The island has clearly been influenced by the colonies that have landed on its shores (evident by the fact that almost all locals are fluent in English and every other bar is an Irish Pub), but it maintains a really unique sense of individuality and tradition that no amount of British tourism could break.

We spent the last two days exploring the more remote west coast of the island, characterised by high cliffs, scree slopes, megalithic temples and 360 degree views. Blue Rock Thrush flitted between the boulders, whilst Sardinian and Cetti's Warblers sung from the dry scrub. One of my friends is current undertaking a horticulture internship back at home, so we spent a fair amount of time getting our heads around the local cliff top flora. Maltese Spurge - a species endemic to the archipeligo - decorated much of the upper slopes, interspersed with clumps of the tiny Mediterranean Heather and delicate Bunch-flowered Daffodil.

Mediterranean Heather (Erica multiflora)

Maltese Spurge (Euphorbia melitensis)

Bunch-flowered Daffodil (Narcissus tazetta)

Further north we stopped off at Ghajn Tuffieha, a collection of steep-sided turquoise bays composed entirely of sandstone. Sublime...

Cape Sorrel (Oxalis pes-caprae)

And all that done using only the island's well established network of buses - leagues ahead of public transport in London.

14 January, 2016

Binocular psychology

It's been a slow start to the year in terms of wildlife opportunities. A combination of coursework deadlines, job commitments and the grogginess of the weather here in Worcester have kept me inside for a large proportion of the past two weeks.

Last week I did go and treat myself to a new pair of binoculars from The Birder's Store in Worcester town centre. Brian was as helpful as ever and I ended up leaving with a brand spanking new pair of Opticron's Discovery 10x42. My technical know-how when it comes to optics is non-existent (I couldn't for the life of me tell you what the '42' in '10x42' means) so I won't even attempt to review them, but these look and feel fantastic for the modest price tag, and the compact design is perfect for the 'sling-over-your-shoulder' way I want to use them.

I never really got on much with binoculars, this being only the second pair I've owned. Wearing them around your neck gives you away as a bit of an anorak - or so 16-year old me thought - and that wasn't the type of self-image I wanted to promote. In the same vein as other people growing up with a passion for natural history, it felt as though no one in my school shared my interests, and I was afraid I might be seen as uncool if people caught wind of it. As a result, for most of secondary school, very few of my friends knew that I liked birds, and even fewer of them knew that I went birding around the local area on a daily basis - it was something I tried to keep secret; hiding away my binoculars whilst walking to my local park until I was sure there was no chance of bumping into someone I knew.

It hasn't been hard to notice a heartening change in young people's attitudes towards the hobby, as various platforms of social media (Twitter in particular) have helped link up like-minded people across the country. When I was school aged, only six or seven years ago, I'd come home and share my sightings to a tiny handful of other 'young' birders through the now dormant Young Birders blog. Fast forward to 2016 and the Next Generation Birders crowd now has almost 650 Facebook members and 4,000 Twitter followers; regularly organising field trips and socials for members. Every other post on my Twitter news feed seems to celebrate the actions of teenagers promoting wildlife within their school or wider community, and it's welcoming to see that they don't identify a passion for wildlife as something to be reserved about in the way that I did. It's fair to say that birding has never been so popular amongst youngsters.

On an unrelated note, I've noticed several other bloggers subtly drop-in links to songs at the end of their posts, and it works well - so much so that I might start adding more music to this blog in 2016. This week's artist was inevitable.