2018 meetngs

12th January, Cambridge

Saving Albania's vultures: cuckoo horses in the crossfire by Kevin Hand

Shqiperia (Albania) means Land of Eagles, and historically Albania has been home to 36 birds of prey, including all four of Europe’s vultures. These magnificent birds once thrived in this mysterious and unspoilt corner of Europe. In Albanian folklore the Egyptian vulture is called the Cuckoo Horse - because it returns each spring at the same time as the cuckoo, and was thought to give it a lift home.

Recently Albania has opened up to the outside world, and while that means that many more of us can visit and enjoy its natural wonders, the changes that have taken place in the last few years have started to take their toll on Albania’s wildlife.

Kevin is an ecologist who for 25 years has led wildlife tours for the ACE Foundation, based at Stapleford. He had wanted to visit Albania ever since taking a boat across from Corfu in 1985, when soldiers politely turned him away. While setting up a tour there he began working with local NGO PPNEA, focussing on Egyptian vulture as a flagship species to highlight wildlife conservation throughout the country. After many adventures he led a crowd-funded expedition in Albania last summer surveying for vultures and other species, experiencing a major drought in the south and sub zero temperatures in the northern mountains.

He will talk about the country, its history, its abundant wildlife and the complex issues surrounding vulture conservation, including their links with power lines, poisons and the many wolves which roam the countryside. He will draw on the work of Joe Wood, the Cambridge University Conservation Leadership MSc student whose thesis on vultures in Albania Kevin supervised along with staff from RSPB and Birdlife International. The expedition was supported in many ways by CBC members, who donated funds and equipment and helped with publicity.

9th February, Cambridge

Bird conservation and birding in Bangladesh by Rob Sheldon

Bangladesh is not a regular destination for tour companies with most focusing on India and Nepal. However, the country has many fascinating birding locations and hosts some high profile species on many birdwatchers’ ‘must see’ list. Sonadia Island is one of the most important wintering sites for the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and a range of other shorebird species. And the renowned Sunderbans hosts a good population of the elusive Masked Finfoot. This talk will highlight some the key birdwatching sites across Bangladesh, as well as discuss some of the ongoing conservation work for threatened bird species.

Rob Sheldon has worked in nature conservation for almost 20 years, including 12 years with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Since 2013, he has been the Chairman of the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, The Caucasus and Central Asia (OSME). Most recently he has worked for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) as the Director of the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre (KKWRC) in Saudi Arabia. He now works freelance as a consultant through RDS Conservation.

9th March, Cambridge

Annual General Meeting followed by

Birds in the ancient world: winged words by Jeremy Mynott

Birds pervaded the ancient world. They impressed their physical presence on the daily experience and imaginations of ordinary people in town and country alike, and figure prominently in their literature and art. They also provided a fertile source of symbols and stories in their myths and folklore and were central to the ancient rituals of augury and divination. Jeremy Mynott’s new book, Birds in the Ancient World: winged words, brings together all this rich and fascinating material in translation for the modern reader, using birds as a prism through which to explore both the similarities and the often surprising differences between ancient conceptions of the natural world and our own.

Jeremy is the author of Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience (2009), a book exploring the variety of human responses to birds, described by reviewers as ‘the finest book ever written about why we watch birds’ (Guardian) and ‘a wonderful rumination on birds and birders through space and time for anyone interested in our relationship with nature’ (THES). More recently, he published Knowing your Place, an account of the wildlife in a tiny Suffolk coastal hamlet. He has broadcast on radio and television, is a regular reviewer for the TLS and wildlife magazines, a founder member of ‘New Networks for Nature’, and is the former Chief Executive of Cambridge University Press.

13th April, Cottenham Village College

How our individual decisions collectively affect urban birds by Mark Fellowes

Today, we have become a truly urban society, with around 90% of British people living in towns and cities. Biodiversity, and our societies' connection with nature, is threatened by urbanisation, and our gardens provide a vital link between people and wildlife. In this talk, he will share his group's most recent research on how the decisions made by every garden owner affects the birds that share their gardens. We try to help birds by providing food and nest boxes, while at the same time we introduce their predators. What are the consequences of these decisions? Can we learn lessons that will help garden birds? From blue tits to red kites, grey squirrels to domestic cats, each story provides insights into the unexpected consequences of our individual decisions.

Mark Fellowes is Professor of Ecology at the University of Reading. While here he will focus on birds, his research encompasses groups as diverse as leopards, fungal pathogens, grass-free lawns, aphids, and (after birds) the most interesting species on Earth, parasitoids. Mark's work has been widely featured in the print and broadcast media, including appearances on Autumnwatch and Countryfile Diaries. For more information visit his research group's webpages (www.reading.ac.uk/people-and-wildlife) or find him on twitter (@BaobabJ)

11th May, Cottenham Village College

Social learning in great tits and blue tits : how birds use information about defended prey by Liisa Hämäläinen

Birds can gather information about their food from two sources: through personal experience and by observing the foraging behaviour of others (social information). Many insects have evolved chemical defences against predators and my research focuses on how birds use social information when learning to avoid these chemically defended prey. I use great tits and blue tits as my model predators and conduct learning experiments both in the wild, and with birds in captivity. In my talk, I will present the results from these studies, describing how great tits and blue tits use social information in their food choice, and how this can influence the evolution of prey defences.

Liisa Hämäläinen is a third year PhD student at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge. She is working in the behavioural ecology group and is supervised by Dr Rose Thorogood.

8th June

Chippenham Fen (booking will be essential)

13th July

To be arranged

10th August

To be arranged

14th September, Cottenham Village College

Counting wintering waterbirds – the UK’s Wetland Bird Survey by Teresa Frost

Non-breeding waterbirds have been systematically monitored for seventy years. Teresa’s talk will cover the history and background of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) and how it has helped us understand and conserve our internationally important populations of wintering waterbirds.

WeBS is a partnership between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in association with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Teresa works with colleagues at BTO and a network of 160 volunteer local organisers to run the scheme. She leads on development and is responsible for annual reporting of results including the WeBS Online Report and the summary report sent out to around 3000 WeBS counters annually.

Prior to joining the BTO in November 2015, Teresa worked in Local Environmental Records Centres for several years after completing her PhD, which was on analysing WeBS data. She sits on the Council of the National Forum for Biological Recording and is enthusiastic about engaging people in recording and monitoring their local wildlife and fostering cross-taxa collaboration between wildlife organisations and groups; and in making better and more extensive use of biodiversity recording and monitoring data for policy, research and conservation at all scales.

12th October, Cottenham Village College

Life in a world full of predators : saving the UK’s black-tailed godwits by Jen Smart

Breeding waders are in trouble and the beautiful black-tailed godwit is among the most threatened, with fewer than 50 breeding pairs and 90% of these at one nature reserve. I will talk about an ambitious and novel partnership project between RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, with funding from EU LIFE, which aims to secure the future of godwits as a breeding species in the UK.

Dr Jennifer Smart is a Principal Conservation Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science. Much of her career has been focused on the ecology of breeding waders developing conservation solutions to reverse their severe population declines. Increasingly this involves understanding and managing the impacts of predation and finding ways to influence landscape-scale management of wet grasslands.

9th November, Cambridge

Green birding, the RSPB and the adventures of a biking birder by Gary Prescott

Gary Prescott, The Biking Birder, will be talking about Green Birding, the growing way in which birders are being more environmentally friendly when birding. You will meet the characters from around the World who participate in Green Birding and find out why they do what they do. Gary will also be talking about his Biking Birder adventures, telling stories from his three years on the road as he cycled around the UK visiting every RSPB and Wildfowl & Wetland Trust nature reserve – twice! The first person ever to do this, Gary also has some Green Birding records to discuss, as well as tales from his latest Biking Birder adventure in Peru last year.

14th December, Cambridge

Christmas social

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