Monday, 23 December 2013

Apologies and Merry Christmas!

First of all, apologies for the lack of posting in the last couple of weeks. I've had several module deadlines, dissertation work, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties etc etc, allowing little time to go birding or do interesting things to blog about.

I've now set up the BirdTrack things needed to start the University Birdwatch Challange in January, and created instructions so the rest of the Bangor Uni Birding Group can join in. Zac and I have already started sending records in, and I'm hoping to get a mini bird race going in January to encourage others to BirdTrack sightings on Uni grounds.

Also, one of my sisters has got engaged and I've found out I'm going to be an aunty! Best Christmas present I could ever have asked for :-D 

I am now at home for Christmas, having met all my uni deadlines and picked up an extra module, so lots of work to do over Christmas and New Year. 

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas and manage to get out at least once, despite the awful weather!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Do British children get a "real" education?

I've been thinking about education a lot in the past month. As a student, about to get spat out of the top end of the educational system, I look back and consider what I have really learnt from my time in school and university. Ok, so I know how to spell, where to put commas and full stops, when the world wars happened, how to add 2 and 2... but I wonder how important these things really are in the modern society. 

Throughout my time in school, I was always told: Work hard, get good grades, go to university and you'll get a good, well paid job at the end of it. This message might have been true when my parents were at school, when they both got paid to go to university, but, to me, this doesn't seem to be the case any more. I've watched both of my sisters go through their education, get top grades from top universities (2:1 from Cambridge, 1st from Exeter + a distinction MSci from Imperial College, London) and still struggle immensely to get jobs afterwards. Their top advice to me - get practical experience!

I followed the family way and was good in school. Top GCSEs, Head Girl, straight As at A level, consistent 1st class grades (thus far) throughout uni, but I have to say, I'm not sure how helpful all this has been. Looking forward to my future career prospects, I'm fairly certain it's the practical experience, and the people I've met through this, that will eventually win me a job post-uni. Talking to local employers, we don't discuss what modules I'm doing at uni, or what grades I'm getting; we discuss the people I was out ringing with at the weekend, or how the hen harrier nesting season went at Vyrnwy, who I met on Bardsey and what birds I saw. In the area I'm hoping to go into, it's these experiences and connections that are valuable.

So why is it that the grade driven, classroom based system still exists? Isn't it time the curriculum moved with the times, like the rest of us have to? It's no good teaching the latest advances in technology and research, if the students never get time to learn how to practically use them. In my opinion, far more emphasis needs to be put on work experience now. It's no good doing two weeks during GCSE's or A levels and hoping that this will still be relevant on your CV 4 years later when you graduate! At a CV writing workshop this week a student asked - "What if we've done work experience, but can't quite remember what we did because it was a few years ago?". My immediate internal response - "Get out and do some new stuff now, so you can remember!". It frustrates me that most university students simply don't understand or recognise how important practical experience is these days. They haven't had older sisters to learn from, haven't been volunteering to ask the staff what they look for in employees. I've tried to tell this message to as many of my peers as possible, but most just don't get it. They say, and truly believe, "if I knuckle down and get a 1st, then I'll be fine". This is what the modern education system has taught them and so I can't blame them for thinking it. 

I've learnt to think outside the box during my time volunteering with BTO, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, FSC etc, and hopefully this will serve me well in the future. I just hope it's not too late for the current unemployment levels to shake some sense into my friends, and the educational system of the future.

[ I would prefer to have some data and references to go with this blog, but the weight of university work at the moment doesn't afford me the spare reading time. ]

And I would drive 5000 miles...

Just a quick post to celebrate the fact that, somehow, I have managed to drive 5000 miles in 5 months! Although this isn't great for my carbon footprint, it does show the distances I'm willing to travel in pursuit of my passions. I bought my car on 4th June with 62,100 miles on the clock. By November, it was displaying 67,100 miles. In the last month I have covered another 500 miles (Uni birding / twitching and a trip home), so it now displays this! 

5,500 miles in 6 months

Thanks to my little car for all the places it's taken me this summer! Lets hope it gets a bit of a break before next summer.

7th December - Ringing 101

Saturday morning was a brilliant ringing session. After an awful nights sleep, and a grumpy start to the day, I couldn't have asked for a better session.

We arrived on site at 07:30 (me, Susan Jones, her dad, and Rachel Stroud), to find Steve and Rachel had already set 3 nets. I went with Rachel to set another, and we started catching soon after this.

A busy morning of extraction and ringing bought a total of exactly 100 birds. I got some excellent extraction practise and my ageing and processing is also coming on very well; I can almost smell that C permit now :D

Group catch totals & personal totals

The ringing didn't finish after this session however. Once we had taken down and packed up, we all headed to Llanberis lake to try for some Goosander. We saw 4 males on the lake, and all of them obligingly came over when we fed them bread. Within five minutes, Rachel had hand caught one beautiful male and ringed it. These are stunning birds and it was an absolute treat to see them so close up! 

So 101 birds for the day and a superb start to my weekend!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

29th Nov - 1st Dec - Whirlwind weekend

So Friday was the first day of non-birding related socialising I've had since I returned to University. I'm not entirely sure how I've managed not to do this for 9 weeks, but it felt great to go out with my friends again. We went to see the new Hunger Games film (highly recommend it) and then had lots of people round the flat. Then it was out to the pub for a bit, before me and Chris had to return home around midnight. Chris, somewhat madly, then headed out lamping with Hamza Yassin, but I got some shut eye.

Saturday morning was a 05:45 wake up to pick up Susan, Conor and Jimi at 06:15 for some cannon netting at Rhos-on-sea. Conor and Jimi are both 1st year students and keen to start ringing training, so I was glad they both decided to make the effort to come, despite the particularly early winter start.

We got to Rhos by 07:00 and after a little bit of Turnstone twinkling (a technical cannon netting term), the safety brief, catching up with old friends, some more twinkling and a very long run, the net was safely fired and lifted just before 8am. Only one net was fired, despite having set 3, and a good thing to. This one net managed to trap ~140 Turnstone (target species), ~220 Oystercatcher, 16 Redshank and a Dunlin. This made for some excellent extraction practise and I feel I'm really building confidence with this now. I managed to get most birds out quickly and efficiently, and quite a few were less than easy. This was all done during a fabulous sunrise and by the time all the birds were safely in the keeping cages, it had turned into a gorgeous, blue sky day.

I spent the next 4 hours scribing for the Oystercatchers and weighing the Turnstone. We had a lot of public interest, as this is a very public catch site, and a lot of excellent PR work went on throughout the morning. All in all, an excellent catch and one we all thoroughly enjoyed. A few good retraps and controls came out of it, and an excellent sample has been added to the ever growing SCAN database.

The ringing team with 1 processing team behind,
the other is to the left. (picture by Chris Bridge)
The beginnings of a beautiful day - (picture by Chris Bridge)

Conor and Jimi thoroughly enjoyed their first cannon netting session and both are now starting the process of becoming trainees. It's great to have a few more enthusiastic students on board! 

We had finished and packed away by 12:30 and then it was back to Bangor for lunch, some uni work and a short nap. At 22:00 we (me, Chris and Hamza) headed to Porth Penrhyn for some Woodcock lamping. Rather frustratingly it was another fruitless night. We were back to Bangor for 02:00 and slept like logs.

Sunday was another early start. Chris was up at 06:45 for another SCAN session, but I wasn't going. I had a full day of birding planned with Steve Culley, 4 students and some Bangor Bird Group members. This is the first birding thing I'd encouraged Bangor Uni birding group members to come to, so I was hoping for good weather and good birding, to get these novice students into bird ID. We were out from 08:00 - 18:15 and had an absolutely fantastic day! We went all round the Angelsey coast and got great views of many species. The highlight for me was undoubtedly a marsh flush that produced 80+ Snipe and 13 Jack Snipe! Having only seen one Jack snipe before, it was incredible to have several flush from right in front of me, at the same time. We also had Goosander, Common Scoter, Black Guillemot, Common and Grey Seal, a flock of Brent Geese, Chough, Long-tailed Duck, Pintail, Golden Plover, Woodcock and Tawny Owl, to name a few. Everyone enjoyed the day immensely and it was great to see some non-birders enjoying themselves so much! Massive thanks go to Steve Culley for such a brilliant, jam-packed day.

Everyone enjoying the Brent Geese on Holy Island
All expectantly waiting for Steve to flush a Bittern - No joy.
(Picture taken by Hamza Yassin)
Hungry Herring Gull found a starfish

So after 120 miles of driving, I dropped my car load off at 18:15 and just had time to change, grab some food, meet Chris and Hamza and pick up Susan, before heading to Llanfairfechan for some wader netting. We arrived at 19:00 and I immediately went with Steve Dodd to the pools. Redshank and Dunlin were already flying into the nets, without a tape lure, so the next 4 hours were spent knee deep in water (still haven't replaced my broken waders), busily extracting. This was the first time I'd done any decent amount of night extraction and I think, considering, it went very well. I had to ask Steve and Rachel for a few technique pointers with the first few birds, but the rest seemed to go ok after that. I couldn't help reflecting how far I've come in 22 months.

My first ringing experience was the January SCAN session in 2012, which was the Rhos-on-sea catch, followed by a mist netting session. On these two catches I managed to let 1 Turnstone go, unringed (1 of the 2 we caught that day, despite begin the target species) and snap one of Steve's wader net poles. I haven't made either of those mistakes since, thankfully! Now I'm one of the more experienced SCAN regulars, able to help in most areas of net setting, lifting and extracting, a competent scribe and able to extract from nets at night. I've ringed over 1500 birds of 72 different species, all over the country. I've met many fantastic people, including my boyfriend, through ringing, and it has become a major part of my life.

Once we'd finished extracting and taken down, we returned to base camp and helped ring/process the remaining birds. We got 51 Redshank, 49 Dunlin, 3 Snipe and 2 Wigeon.

A very successful session and another good step towards gaining my C permit. I was asleep by 02:00, after an extremely long and fun weekend, and ready for my 9am lecture.