Successful Wader Quest Inspiration of Waders event and AGM

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On a glorious Sunday morning at 10am the doors opened on the first Wader Quest AGM event.

Event kindly sponsored by Birding Ecotours.

Ahead of those arriving were talks with a theme, and that theme was to demonstrate how inspiring waders are. The event was to be upbeat and a celebration of waders. Whilst the problems waders are facing couldn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be ignored, it is also clearly important to look at the positive things that people are doing to turn things around for this wonderful group of birds.

The speakers for the day.

The first talk was by way of an explanation of the title of the event; An Inspiration of Waders. Rick Simpson, Chair of the Board of Trustees and co-founder of Wader Quest with his wife Elis, spoke about how waders have inspired both himself, Elis and many others to follow a life of wader conservation and research. He also outlined how inspirational the birds have been in human culture citing, examples from art, music and literature as well as myths and legends. The climax of the talk was to press for the collective noun of an inspiration of waders to be adopted by all for those incredible spectacles that we witness over the estuaries of the UK and beyond.

Photo © Astrid Kant

This was followed by Jess Owen of the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT) who came to talk about Project Godwit, a joint initiative run by the WWT and RSPB, to bring Black-tailed Godwits back from the brink as breeding birds in the UK. Jess gave us a wonderful insight into how the project runs and how they have overcome some of the problems they have encountered. Naturally the talk was liberally splashed with photos of cute chicks, shabby fledglings and an emotive video of the birds in the head starting scheme finally getting their freedom. It was clear that the dedication and passion of the team had paid off and it is hoped that with the increased availability of suitable habitat, plus the increased numbers of Godwits, the population will grow and re-establish itself and will, in the future, not require so much human input.

Photo © Elis Simpson

Last of the morning session of talks was given by Ben Potterton with a very revealing exposé on the secret lives of the Breckland’s breeding Eurasian Stone-Curlews. Traditionally we think of these birds being restricted to stony heaths devoid of human contact. However Ben showed us that these birds were infinitely more adaptable than we generally tend to think and are much more habituated to human presence than any of us had previously thought. He showed us nests of birds close to main roads, public pathways and chicken farms. The fact that few people are aware of this reflects the incredible ability of such a large bird to simply disappear when the need arises, by crouching down and blending with its surroundings. Most of us were left stunned by the revelations Ben brought to us and gave us much food for thought with regard to our preconceptions about the population of this species in the UK.

We then had a break for lunch when people had the opportunity to buy second hand books, raffle tickets and, of course, Wader Quest merchandising, including the new Eurasian Dotterel pin badge and the signed Lars Jonsson wader chick poster.

Photo © Elis Simpson

The afternoon commenced with the formal AGM and then we had three more talks. These were kicked off by Harry Ewing who explained that his PhD was concentrating on discovering how different conservation management techniques could be applied to saving the UK’s most endangered breeding wader, the Eurasian Curlew. Bucking the trend for decline across the UK the Brecks in East Anglia have seen a rise in numbers, and in range, of this threatened species. Quite why is what Harry intends to find out, in the hope that his findings will be used to assist Curlews breeding in other areas. What is driving this increase and spread? Can the conditions that enable it, be recreated elsewhere? We all of course wish him well in finding a solution to aid our ailing Curlew population.

Photo © Elis Simpson

This was followed by a talk by Graham Appleton, best known for his Wadetales blog but who has been a stalwart wader ringer for over 40 years on the wash. This placed him in a very good psoition to help us to enjoy a round up of 60 years of wader ringing in the UK’s most important wintering site for waders. It was a tall order to fit 60 years in to 25 minutes, but we had a fair understanding of what has been achieved by these marvellously dedicated people over that time, with some of the interesting facts and figures that they have helped to uncover, giving us a greater insight and understanding of wader movements to, and through, the Wash.

Photo © Craig Jones

Finally we were in for a real treat with a talk given by Craig Jones who is a professional wildlife photographer; his images were superb. Although not all waders it is true, who wouldn’t enjoy the stunning Barn Owl shots he treated us to among others? He explained to us just what Norfolk means to him and how he expresses himself through his images. He concluded with a short video, set to well chosen music, with beautiful images of waders interspersed with video clips. Some of those clips showed inspirations of waders at Snettisham, making a very fitting conclusion to a wonderful day of information and visual beauty, a treat for all who attended.

For some though that was not the end of the day. While the Wader Quest crew had to stay and clear away, some lucky attendees were able to rush over to Snettisham to witness inspiratons of waders in real life. Sue Shaw was one of those, and this is what she had to say of the experience:

‘We had the most unbelievable time watching the waders at high tide with a stunning sunset. It was great to hear their calls and wing beats when they flew over our heads to settle in the lagoon behind us. I personally have never seen so many birds in one place, there were thousands! It was definitely an inspiration of waders! We stayed until it got dark and were also treated to hundreds of pink-footed geese flying over – maybe heading to the marshes at Frampton – and again their calling and the spectacle of their flight was just thrilling.’

At the end of the afternoon the raffle was drawn the lucky winners being: 1st prize; Rachael Fisher – Opticron binoculars; 2nd prize; Andrew MacGarvey – signed Shorebirds in Action book; 3rd Prize; Mike Harvey – signed Lars Jonsson poster; 4th Prize; Maureen Irvine – Christmas goodies.

All the feedback we have received has been very positive and this is almost entirely due to the efforts of Andrew Whitelee who held it all together so ably and Ian Dearing who was on hand to sell raffle tickets, meet and greet and who organised the venue in the first place.

A very big thank you to  Andrew and Ian, to our wonderful speakers and of course to all those who came along to share the day and make it the success that it was.

In addition we would like to thank all the staff at the NWT Cley Reserve visitor Centre, in particular the catering staff who looked after us so well, filling the hot water earns and acceding to our other demands with cheerful good grace. Our gratitude also goes to Opticron for supplying the binoculars for the raffle and some lens cleaning kits as gifts for those signing up on the day, and of course to Birding Ecotours who generously sponsored the whole event.

The end of a wonderful day at Cley. Photo © Elis Simpson