2012 meetings

13 January: The Biggest Twitch by Ruth Miller & Alan Davies

St John's Hall, Cambridge

Everyone has dreamt of doing it but very few have actually done it. Packed up their lives and lived their dream, leaving behind the safe and secure for the freedom and excitement of doing exactly what they’ve always wanted to do.

This is the tale of two people who did just that, the tale of a world record-breaking journey around the globe. Alan Davies and Ruth Miller had reached a point in their lives when they wanted something more and knew that if they didn’t go for it now, they probably never would. They could find no good reason for not undertaking this fantastic journey and once they’d started telling people about their dream, there was no going back.

As keen birdwatchers, both with a love of travel, it seemed obvious to combine these two passions in an odyssey of discovery to see the world’s birds. As the plan developed, they soon realised that this journey could become something more: a world record breaking attempt to see more bird species in a single year than ever achieved before. With an itinerary covering more than twenty countries and a target bird list of over 4,000 species, it was never going to be easy. Could they do it?

Follow the ups and downs of their birding year in this fast-paced adventure of birds, people and places. Anyone with an interest in travel, wildlife or human relationships will be gripped by this epic tale.

  • Alan Davies was Site Manager of the RSPB reserve at Conwy on the North Wales coast, and oversaw its development into a popular visitor attraction as well as a haven for wildlife. Ruth Miller used to be the RSPB’s Head of Trading. Together they now run The Biggest Twitch, their Llandudno-based birdwatching tour company.

10 February: Birds: a Hidden World by Peter Holden

St John's Hall, Cambridge

A closer look at the behaviour of some of our common, and not so common, wild birds and other wildlife – some of the secrets that most books won’t tell you, and some that can only be told after the ‘watershed’! This talk is based on Peter’s new book with the same title.

Illustrated with my own photos, this is a wide ranging talk on British birds and some other wildlife from the point of view of how little we know about them and some of the amazing discoveries we are making about their lives –which are much more complex than we first thought.

Some of the sexual activities of birds, including infanticide and the Cain and Abel syndrome, make this more suitable for an adult audience!

The talk includes some new material of photos taken behind the scenes of the Natural History Museum – in the nests and eggs department.

  • Peter Holden was a member of the RSPB Headquarters staff for 40 years, and while running the RSPB’s junior membership he devised the ever popular Big Garden Birdwatch. He has written more than a dozen books, including the RSPB Handbook of British Birds and the RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife. A new book on bird behaviour is due in spring 2012. He is a regular lecturer on cruise ships and runs courses for Madingley Hall, Cambridge University and for the Bedford Education Retirement Centre. He was awarded an MBE for services to Nature Conservation in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

9 March: Annual General Meeting followed by

The Arabian Bird Atlas by Mike Jennings

St John's Hall, Cambridge

An overview of Arabian birds looking at the issues that fashion bird distribution in Arabia and the atlas project which brought it all together.

Bird distribution in Arabia is a result of a number of important factors. The arid climate restricts breeding species over large areas to a few Saharo-Sindian arid land specialists, several with a nomadic tendency. A varied topography and natural habitat, which includes a wide range of geology; granite, sandstone, lave flows, limestone, not to mention sand dunes; mountain rising to 3700 m, juniper forests and mangrove swamps.

Varied zoogeographical influences also play a large part, there are many Afrotropical species in the south-west, an Indian flavour to the eastern part of the peninsula but the Palearctic fauna is predominant. Arabia is also a centre of endemism with 23 endemics, comprised of 11 landbirds, three endemics of the seas around Arabia and nine endemics in the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen).

A stealthy change to the Arabian avifauna in recent years has been the establishment of at least 20 ferally breeding exotic birds. Major changes to the Arabian environment since about the 1970s have added many species to the avifauna, for example through the development of huge areas of irrigated agriculture, diary farms and artificial wetlands. Near the city of Riyadh these influences have increased the local avifauna from 44 species breeding in 1977 to 88 breeding by 2002.

On the other hand the birds of Arabia also have to contend with a wide variety of conservation pressures, overgrazing, charcoal burning, pollution, hunting, the introduction of exotic predators as well as habitat change on a grand scale. Several species are now under threat.

The atlas project started in 1984 with the objective of defining the breeding distribution, ecological requirements of birds in Arabia. The project reviewed all published sources, some museum specimens but the main source of distributional data was from nearly 500 field observers and 40 targeted ABBA field surveys (1985 and 2009) to all corners of Arabia, especially those not recorded by others. When the atlas was published in July 2010 it included 273 confirmed breeding species and another 24 which probably breed.

  • Mike Jennings is Project Co-ordinator of the Arabian atlas and a member of Cambridgeshire Bird Club.

13 April: Dragonflies: the Ancient Aerial Predators by Henry Curry

Cottenham Village College

In a broad-ranging talk Henry will discuss the life history, sight, flight capabilities, mating, evolution & fossil history and identification of dragonflies. He will also talk about the Dragonfly Project and the British Dragonfly Society.

For over 20 years, the Dragonfly Project has been working to raise public awareness of dragonflies first through its Sanctuary and then through our Biomuseum, now at Wicken Fen - and consistently on TV and radio.

11 May: From Scilly Bee to Common Nighthawk, the birds and Wildlife of the Isles of Scilly by Paul Stancliffe

Cottenham Village College

Paul lived on the Isles of Scilly, with his wife and two daughters, from 1997 to 2004. During that time he helped to found the Isles of Scilly Bird Group and was the IOS Bird Recorder from 1999 to 2004. His talk will look at the unique wildlife and birds on the islands, including some of the rare birds that turned up during his time on the islands He now works for the BTO as Press Officer.

8 June, 6.30 pm: Portholme Meadow

We are arranging a guided walk with Pat Doody.

Portholme Meadow is a large, unenclosed river flood plain meadow, bordered on two sides by the River Great Ouse in the Parish of Brampton. With an area of 104 ha, it represents 7% of the total UK lowland unimproved hay meadows. It supports a rich flora and is a haven for a number of less common breeding birds in summer (e.g. corn bunting and skylark) now absent from much of the more intensively farmed Cambridgeshire landscape. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and recognised internationally as a Special Area of Conservation under the European Union ‘Habitats’ Directive.

We will walk around the site to look at the vegetation and features related to the history and management of the site (where these can still be seen).

23 June, 10am: Castor Hanglands National Nature Reserve

We will take a guided general natural history walk, particularly looking out for insects and plants. Castor Hanglands contains four main habitat zones – woodland, wetland, grassland and scrub – and is home to a remarkable variety of wildlife. Among butterflies, black hairstreak should be out although they are a bit elusive and weather dependent so can't be guaranteed! We should see a variety of dragonflies, plenty of common spotted orchids, plus dropwort, crested cow-wheat and narrow-leaved everlasing pea. Likely birds include Buzzard and Red Kite.

13 July: Guided walk at Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits

Meet at gates at East Pit, Lime Kiln Road at 7.30 pm.

These quarries once provided building material for Cambridge University colleges. They have now been reclaimed by nature and today support a variety of habitats that harbour some of the county's rare plants and insects. The most important conservation aspect of these reserves is the chalk grassland, which could be well described as chalk flowerland. A notable plant at the site is Moon Carrot. By far the best and important site is East Pit SSSI. West Pit and Lime Kiln Close are 70% woodland; for most of the year there is a spectacularly large corvid roost at the latter. Kestrels and Tawny Owls should be around. Glow worms can be seen at the site after dark.

14 September: The Decline of the Urban House Sparrow and Potential Conservation Fixes by Will Peach

Cottenham Village College

Will Peach will summarise the findings of research efforts to understand the causes of population declines amongst urban and rural house sparrows, and discuss potential conservation solutions. He has worked for RSPB research dept for 12 years and now leads a team developing conservation solutions for farmland birds. Before that he worked at BTO for 9 years.

29-30 September: Cambridgeshire Bird Club Conference


The conference, organised by Cambridgeshire Bird Club in collaboration with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), will provide an opportunity for everyone to learn more about raptors in the UK and the challenges they face.

On Saturday, there will be a programme of lectures (each followed by time for discussion), displays and stalls. On Sunday there will be an opportunity to visit RSPB reserves in the county and hear about their management with particular attention to raptors.

12 October: Cognition in Crows by Gabrielle Davidson

Cottenham Village College

Gabrielle Davidson is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, studying the social cognition of Jackdaws and other members of the crow family.

Her research takes place in Madingley, in both large aviaries of Rooks and Jackdaws and a field site run by the Cambridge Jackdaw Project where 140 nest boxes have been set up to monitor wild Jackdaws.

Gabrielle’s talk will tell us why the corvids are thought to be so intelligent, the questions we ask about their cognition and how we begin to answer them using experimental and observational studies.

Gabrielle is particularly interested in how jackdaws follow gaze, that is, to track where other individuals are looking based on their head movement or eye movement. Her talk will discuss why birds may benefit from gaze following, for instance, it may be used during communication between pairs, predator avoidance or foraging competition.

Wintering Wildfowl on the Ouse Washes Ramsar Site by Samantha Lee

Samantha Lee is the public engagement officer at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Welney Wetland Centre. Her main role is to increase awareness of the ongoing and vital conservation of Whooper and Bewick’s swans and engaging visitors in the wetland wildlife at Welney and across WWT.

Her talk will cover the reasons why the Ouse Washes is an internationally important wetland, concentrating in particular on the wintering wildfowl and also the threats to the site and how sudden changes in its dynamics can have huge effects on the wildlife.

9 November: Earth, Wind and Fire: Potential Impacts of Renewable Energy on Wildlife in the UK by Benedict Gove

St John's Hall, Cambridge

Climate change is arguably one of the biggest threats wildlife faces in future decades. Tackling carbon emissions will involve the deployment of renewables on a huge scale. Bioenergy, wind power and solar energy are currently the most advanced renewable technologies available in the UK and are likely to see substantial growth in the next few years, if we are to meet targets for renewable energy production. However, all of these technologies could have considerable impacts on wildlife if care is not taken over the siting and design of installations.

  • Benedict Gove is a senior conservation scientist at the RSPB, specialising in bioenergy and wind energy and related impacts on birds and wildlife. He has spent over 10 years working on various projects relating to anthropogenic impacts on wildlife and the environment.

19 November: “Saving the Spoon-billed sandpiper"

Wildlife Trust offices, The Manor House, Cambourne. 6pm for a 6.15pm screening

The CBC, in conjunction with the Wildlife Trust, will be screening this new DVD from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust documenting the conservation efforts underway to help save the world's most endangered wader. Shot guerrilla-style, in the field, "Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper" shows the real-life human drama behind the conservation. The film features stunning footage of the Spoonbilled Sandpipers as the last few remaining pairs attempt to breed in the fleeting Arctic summer. It also follows the small conservation team tasked with finding and safely transporting tiny, fragile eggs from the Russian wilderness to Gloucestershire. The film lasts 1 hour, and we hope to have one of the conservationists involved present on the day. Tea/coffee available beforehand. Places limited to 50, please book in advance with Louise Bacon. Free to attend, but donations to the Spoon-billed sandpiper project will be collected on the night.

Christoph Zockler, who has been involved in Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation for 12 years and is coordinating the SBS Task Force of the flyway partnership, will be with us to answer your questions and bring us the latest news from China

14 December: Christmas Social

St John's Hall, Cambridge

Come and enjoy mince pies and mulled wine in good company while listening to inspiring short talks by club members.