Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Birders converge in England for the massive BirdFair event

I just attended the bird-watching equivalent of Minnesota’s Game Fair in the United Kingdom. The event is known as BirdFair, and more than 22,000 people from across Sharon StitelarEurope and the Americas rendezvous to see the latest and greatest in bird-watching products and travel. Vendors from all over the planet promoted their birds and tourism opportunities. Seriously, there was more than one booth dedicated to bird watching opportunities in Sri Lanka.

In the United States, birding events generally are festivals where the focus is seeing specific birds. People wake early to go on field trips, return in the afternoon to attend workshops, and top off the day with a banquet and keynote speaker. Some of the larger bird festivals will have a small vendor area, but nothing on the scale BirdFair.

Promoters held the event on the grounds of Rutland Water Reserve north, about two and a half hours north of London, but there wasn’t much time for birding.

A little bit of everything for birding is offered in one of the eight larges tents. There were large tents where you can try every binocular and spotting scope on the planet. Organizers wisely placed all the optics vendors facing the water where you can test out the glass on lapwings, graylag geese, and shorebirds. Camera companies were on hand for people who wanted traditional optics or try digiscoping. Tourism bureaus, field trip companies, and exotic lodges were present to woo potential clients. Books, clothing, apps for smart phones, and even camo companies had booths and wares to tempt your wallet. And all sorts of backyard bird feeding companies offer everything from vegetarian suet to birdhouses.

I paused for a lunch break and met an attendee who told me that he had a booth years ago at BirdFair where he sold lawnmowers. “The idea was that it would trim the grass but not hurt the frogs. I had a lady purchase one so that the owls in her yard could have easier access to the frogs!”

But apart from the gear, there are seminars on photography techniques, specialty birds of different countries, Creative birdhouses for all sorts of nesting birds. Some of these are meant for house sparrows.and the latest news on conservation strategies. Like Game Fair, birding celebrities abound at BirdFair. Most of them were from BBC programming like Chris Packham and Bill Oddie, and they were fun presenters.

The really interesting part of BirdFair is how much money it raises for conservation. Tim Appleton and Martin Davies, the founders of the event use the proceeds to fund a specific conservation project every year. Since 1989 the fair has raised over £3.3 million (about $5.5 million) for projects that include preserving migratory flyways and preventing the extinction of critically endangered birds. Money from this year’s event will go to protecting the world’s oceans.

A tower constructed near the optics area to test out Digiscoping.If you want to see Great Britain, consider visiting in August to check out this event. And a tip of one of the fair regulars, “You can tell the real birders from the geeks. Real birders leave their binoculars at home, the show-offs parade around with them around their necks.”

Also, if you’re gung-ho to see British birds, go bird watching before the fair. It’s simply too overwhelming to birdwatch while checking out the gear. The event is three days long and I went in with the strategy to visit a specific set of booths, and I still didn’t have time to see it all.

Identification guides for the United Kingdom

And if you need a book to pack for your trip to the U.K., the Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland is thin and fairly lightweight. It’s a good photographic guide for the birds you are likely to encounter.

If you are like me and prefer ID books in app form, I highly recommend the Collins Bird Guide app. It covers Britain and Europe, but you can tailor the bird lists in the guide to what country you are visiting and the time of year. If you leave location services on, it will pinpoint your location while you are in- country.

If you are really into bird calls for Europe, there’s a comprehensive app called Songs Europe from Sunbird that will give you songs and calls of all possible species, including some found in North Africa.

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