If you're interested in birds then why not come along to the next Montgomeryshire Bird Group meeting? The Group meets on the third Wednesday of each month between September and April.
A wide range of speakers are invited to talk on all things ornithological, from local to global perspectives, of interest to beginners and accomplished birdwatchers.
Everyone is welcome, and the entrance fee of £2.50 includes the lecture, light home-made refreshments, and the opportunity to chat with like-minded folk and the speakers themselves. We look forward to seeing you there!
Contact : Bird Group Secretary - Sally Davies - 01938 580278
|2017 Montgomeryshire Bird Group Lectures & Trips ~ Reviews|
15th February 2017 - Dr Anne Brenchley - "Birds of the Pantanal"
We were pleased to welcome back Anne, a popular speaker at the Bird Group, and she began by dedicating her talk to the late Derek Moore, who's idea it was to visit the Pantanal on the occasion that Anne and a very willing group accompanied him. The Pantanal encompasses the world's largest freshwater wetland area, extending to somewhere between 140,000 and 2000,000 sq km, and is located mainly within Brazil, but also partly in Bolivia and Paraguay. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and as the Pantanal is such a vast area, there is only limited access to tourists. As roughly 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, a very biologically diverse aquatic flora has evolved, which in its turn supports a vast array of animal species. During the dry season, the flood water retreats, and so during the year a range of ecosystems can be found, the most common being wet woodland, dry seasonal grassland, and riverine habitat. As the Pantanal is home to over 700 species of birds (and is also an important migratory area for North American birds), 100 species of mammals, 260 species of fish and 80 reptile species, the trip was bound to be memorable, and Anne's pictures certainly reflected the huge biodiversity of the region.
She explained that despite being an area of wetland, there were very few wildfowl, but other water birds were common - for example, there were several heron species, including striated, black-crowned night, rufescent tiger, and little blue herons, as well as birds like the limpkin (in a family of its own, it looks like a large rail but is skeletally closer to cranes), Amazon, green, American pygmy and ringed kingfishers, grey-necked wood rail and the sun bittern, to name but a few. One of the few wildfowl they spotted was the Southern screamer, a small goose.
As well as birds, the riverine habitats revealed a range of animals, including caimans which were very common and often occurred in their hundreds at one spot. Capybaras were also numerous, and giant river otter was also spotted, but possibly the highlight amongst the mammals were the jaguars on the river banks which seemed unconcerned by the presence of a group of tourists.
The drier woodland was home to a different group of birds, including great horned owl, the amazingly well-camouflaged great pottoo, and both white and lineated woodpeckers.
An impressive number of birds of prey were seen during the trip, including several vultures (turkey, black, king and lesser yellow-headed), snail kite and roadside hawk.
But the bird which Anne wanted to see above all others was the hyacinth macaw - the largest parrot in the world at 100cm long, and now protected. Looking at her photos of this beautiful bird, with its cobalt blue feathers contrasting with the bare yellow eye ring and patch of skin next to the lower bill, it was easy to see why it was number one on her wish list, and good to know that she had such good views of it, particularly around the lodges where they stayed.
Another 'hyacinth' was less popular - the water hyacinth, which choked many of the waterways and is an alien plant of the Pantanal. As the birdwatchers enjoyed boat trips in search of elusive species, their route sometimes seemed impenetrable due to the endless patches of this very successful plant.
By the end of Anne's talk, it was easy to see why the Pantanal is so famous for its massive numbers of flora and fauna, and the birds mentioned in this report are only a fraction of those we saw in Anne's pictures. Several members of the bird group had their appetites whetted, and may well be making a trip over to that part of the world one of these days! Thank you Anne.
18th January 2017 - Colin McShane - "Birding northernmost Norway & establishing a bird observatory"
Colin had dreamed of visiting the far north ever since reading a book called Arctic Summer by Richard Vaughan, but a fear of flying combined with a lack of funds meant that this was just a dream...............until May 2011, when he was offered the chance of a free promotional birding trip to the Varanger area of Norway by Biotope, a unique bird-related architectural company, combining expertise on birds and birdwatching with the design of structures such as birdhides, shelters, nature trails and outdoor amphitheatres.
Varanger is one of the few relatively easily accessible arctic destination in the world, and being the northernmost area affected by the Gulf Stream, it stays ice-free in winter, despite lying 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Consequently it attracts unique birdlife, and Stellers Eiders, King Eiders, Gyr Falcons, Brünnichs Guillemots, Pine Grosbeaks, Siberian tits and many other bird species of the north can be seen at very close range. It is where taiga, tundra and arctic oceans meet, sharing a land border with Russia. Having flown to Kirkenes, the group of guests, many of whom represented birdwatching holiday companies, spent a week birdwatching over a large area, from the taiga of Pasvik to the tundra of Varanger and the Arctic Ocean coast, staying at guesthouses chosen for their location close to or in the middle of great birding sites.
Early birdwatching highlights included close-up views of a nesting gyr falcon (the grey form), numerous white-billed divers, thousands of blue fulmars, and the world's most northerly mainland colony of gannets. A spectacular group of 32 white-tailed sea eagles took advantage of an abundant food supply, in the form of young kittiwakes. They have apparently devised their own hunting technique - by flying very close to the kittiwake nests, they blow the young birds off the ledges with a single powerful wingbeat, catching them as they fall.
At the inner end of the Varangerfjord, close to the village of Nesseby, Steller's Eider were one of the highlights of the trip. This area proved a first-class birdwatching site, excellent for local birds, but also on a migration route, bringing in thousands of waders later on, in July. On this occasion, a flock of newly arrived Lapland Buntings landed in the grass, offering some great views, and snow buntings were also plentiful, as were Arctic redpolls and many other passerines. During a lunchtime conversation, Tormod Amundsen of Biotope mentioned that he would really like to set up a bird ringing station here as part of the birding scene. This was just the type of challenge Colin relished, as he had set up a similar project in the Algarve seven years previously. So tentative plans were laid, which gradually became reality in August 2012. It was decided that experienced ringers from England would visit Varanger for a fortnight each August, and based at Nesseby their aim would be to try to ring as many of the birds in the area as possible, in order to provide recent data on the birds of the area, lots of biometric data on local birds before they migrate, and an opportunity for members of the local community to join in and experience the thrill and privilege of seeing birds at close quarters..
By August 2012, everything was in place, and the first ringing party arrived. Since then, a total of 23,000birds comprising nearly 60 species have been ringed in the ten weeks the ringers have spent on the project. The list of birds in the hand is impressive - redwing, fieldfare, brambling, waxwing, willow warbler, bluethroat, red-throated pipit, reed bunting, sedge warbler, merlin, red-necked phalarope, dunlin and curlew sandpiper to name but a few. Several unlikely species have taken the ringers by surprise, including barred warbler, which has never before been seen as far North, thrush nightingale and rustic bunting.
Local schoolchildren have been very keen onlookers, and the ringing group would love to have the resources to buy trackers so that these youngsters could follow the movements of the birds in real time. But at around £2000 each, the cost is prohibitive, and as those involved in the project are already finding it hard to secure the funds to be able to purchase a minibus, warden and building, the scheme's future viability is by no means certain.
Colin's talk was much enjoyed, and we all benefited from his obvious pleasure in sharing his adventures, knowledge and findings with us. A Varanger ringing blog can be seen at http://varangerringing.blogspot.co.uk, and makes fascinating reading.
|2016 Montgomeryshire Bird Group Lectures & Trips ~ Reviews|
21st December 2016 - Jim Almond - "Close to the edge with wild peregrines"
We were delighted to welcome back Jim Almond, the 'Shropshire Birder' as he calls himself, knowing that we were in for an evening of exceptional photography and excellent birding stories. We were not disappointed, and it was a great privilege to share in the stories of several Shropshire peregrines whose lives have been studied and captured on camera by Jim.
Shropshire peregrines have nested in some unusual sites, including St Mary's Church in Shrewsbury - most people were delighted........other than the vicar it seems! More unusually, one pair attempted to nest in an old crow's nest for several years, but each year it disintegrated. There was help at hand though, when Shropshire birders erected a large hanging basket in place of the dilapidated nest - and this worked perfectly! This is the only tree-nesting pair that Jim has ever come across, but he wonders whether their offspring may follow suit elsewhere.
In order to take photos at the nest, Jim has a special license, and the nest site is kept secret. His sequence of photos of a particular nest took us from egg-laying to fledging, and we witnessed the adult eating the eggshell as each chick hatched. At 2 days, the chicks were, rather surprisingly perhaps, fed an adult blackbird. From an early age, sexual dimorphism showed the female chicks to be larger than the males, but both male and female chicks grew fast and by 3 weeks their true feathers started to appear. After 45 days, after several exploratory flaps, the youngsters were ready to leave the nest, although they didn't seem to think so, and hung on a little longer.
Examples of very caring adult behaviour included a female bird mantling an overheating chick in an effort to cool it down, and also some amazing footage of a young chick, close to fledging, being carried back to safety in the female's bill after it was inadvertently scattered whilst trying out its wings.
Jim explained that a juvenile peregrine can be distinguished from an adult, as it has brown 'downward' streaking on the breast, compared with the horizontal barring of the adult.
During the first half of the 20th century, the peregrine population suffered a serious decline - many birds were shot during the two world wars, as they were affecting the 'pigeon post'. From then on, a combination of egg-collecting, pesticides, persecution and falconry all contributed to a further drop in numbers. With protection, numbers are now much healthier, although there are still problems facing these striking birds of prey, including Trichomoniasis, which seems to particularly affect young birds.
Jim was pleased to report that in 2015, 20 Shropshire nest sites were occupied, 54 eggs were laid, and of the 38 chicks which hatched, 34 fledged. Although this sounds very encouraging, he also reminded us that probably only about fifty per cent of these will survive beyond 2 years.
He finished with his trade-mark musical slide-show, and we marvelled at his ability to catch the very best and most beautiful bird behaviour so perfectly on camera. Now we look forward very much to his next visit ...
19th October 2016 - Kelvin Jones - "New technology and how it's really teaching us things"
Kelvin is BTO Wales’s Development Coordinator, and his role is to develop and promote the work of BTO in Wales. As a qualified bird ringer, he introduced his talk by posing the question, "Has new technology made traditional ringing redundant?"
He first took us back to the early days of ringing, which officially started in 1909, as two schemes, one run by British Birds and the other at Aberdeen University. In the early years, these pioneers set out to answer some of the more basic biological questions of the day - where do our summer visitors spend the winter, and where do our winter visitors breed? These are still key questions for conservation, and ones for which we now know the answer for many, but not all, species. But at the time, migration routes were only known from observations of birds on spring and autumn migration, and the legend of swallows spending the winter in pond bottoms, as noted by Gilbert White in his Natural History of Selborne, was only relatively recently disproved.
By the 1930's, the Aberdeen scheme had ended, and the BTO had been founded, and today the British and Irish Ringing Scheme continues to be organised by the BTO. Over 900,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by over 2,600 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers.
These days, we are eager to learn much more about not only where migratory birds breed or spend the winter, but also how long they live, their survival and productivity rates, and what we can find out about why populations are changing. Conservation can be more effective if information relating to these questions can be generated.
Although much information has already come to light, there is still so much more to learn. The wintering areas of declining species such as Swift and Pied Flycatcher remain a mystery, and although we know much about Swallows, we know very little about where House Martins overwinter, with just two recoveries south of the Sahara (in Senegal and Nigeria).
These days, in addition to ringing, our understanding of migrants is being revolutionised by tracking technology, which the BTO is using to study a range of species, from small passerines to seabirds, that have historically been difficult to track once they leave their breeding colonies. This technology is allowing ringers to fit ever smaller and more sophisticated satellite tracking devices which are revealing exciting new details about the amazing journeys that birds undertake – the BTO Cuckoo tracking project is a prime example of this. A Welsh cuckoo, 'named' David, has been tracked since 2012, and at almost 6 years, is currently the oldest cuckoo in the satellite tracking scheme - the record age for a cuckoo is 7! Since first being monitored, he has travelled 70,000 miles. At the time of the talk, David's tracker showed him to be in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it is likely that he will return as usual next spring to a garden in Tregaron. Many of the audience were already aware of the wealth of data received from the Dovey ospreys' trackers in recent years, and have followed their migrations with interest.
State-of-the-art solar-powered GPS tags have been successfully fitted to lesser black-backed gulls, goshawks and great skuas. Downloading remotely, they give unprecendented detail on the position, speed and flight altitude of these species. This project has already produced useful results on birds' movements and behaviour in the breeding season, over winter and on migration.
Although tags using GPS technology are still too large and power hungry to be suitable for tracking many birds, other much smaller and lighter devices, such as geolocators weighing less than 1gram, have been successfully used on swifts, nightjars, whinchats and nightingales, filling in many gaps in current knowledge.
Other monitoring techniques include dye-marking, wing-tagging (red kites), and colour rings (dunlin, twite and curlew). These have the advantage of being easily visible and photographable, without recapturing the birds, as is generally necessary with traditional rings.
In conclusion, Kelvin explained the pros and cons of the new technology compared with traditional ringing. The new technology enables individual birds to be traced, and gives highly detailed data regarding movements at any hour of the day or night, but it is expensive and training is needed in order to implement it. On the other hand, traditional ringing is cheap, easy and can provide long-term data, but it is labour intensive and may sometimes be considered intrusive.
Not surprisingly, it seems there is a place for both - and we, as the general public, can all help by reporting any ring numbers, colour ring sightings and wing-tags we might see or be able to photograph. The more detailed our knowledge of birds becomes, the better able we will be to understand the complex challenges facing wild birds at a time of great change in the environment.
Thanks to Kelvin, for a fascinating insight into today's ornithological data-gathering.
17th April - Field Trip to the Coed Llandegla
Getting up at 3 am is not everyone's choice of the best way to start a Sunday - and a cold one at that - but the lure of a live (rather than a filmed) Black Grouse Lek made the early start seem easier at the time. We were led by Ken Gascoigne, the MWT Bird Group Secretary, and joined a party of nine others at the RSPB's "Ghosts of the forest - black grouse watch".
The RSPB's guides met us in the car park at Coed Llandegla Forest Visitor Centre at 5.15 am and led a walk over forest tracks to reach the hide at 5.30. The audio feed from the lek was quickly switched on, so as well as seeing the Black Grouse at some distance, we could also hear their bubbling call. There was a clear view of only one female, which remained very still and appeared to be looking away from the posturing and fluttering of the displaying males.
We stayed for about an hour, during which time we also witnessed a magnificent sunrise, then followed up with a welcome breakfast at the Visitor Centre. Some of us made the return trip via the narrow road from New Brighton (not the one in Wirral!) over the moors to World's End. This afforded views north to Llandegla Forest and Cyrn y Brain and we saw Kestrel, Buzzard, numerous Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, as well as 3 Black Grouse in flight. A good morning!
March 16th - Peter Bowyer - Whixall Moss
On 16th March the MWT Bird Group enjoyed a talk by Peter Bowyer, Reserves Manager at Whixall Moss reserve. Whixall is one of five mosses which lie near the Wales/ England border and is managed by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. It is not only a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but also a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, as well as having National Nature Reserve status. A team of 4 staff manage and warden the site, including 2 ex-peatcutters who obviously know it really well. In addition, over 100 volunteers support the staff and are a much-appreciated extra workforce.
Pete explained the interesting ancient origins of the moss. After the last glaciation, the retreating ice gouged out depressions, and the deeper of these became meres. But the shallower depression in the Whixall area, filled with meltwater about 9000 years ago and was gradually colonised by swamp and fen plants. With the added invasion of sphagnum moss, the groundwater was acidified and the decay of plant remains was halted. Consequently, this pickled vegetation built up to form a large dome of peat, or lowland raised bog / moss– a very special habitat indeed. The water of a moss is very acid with a typical Ph of around 3, and for life forms to thrive in such an environment they need to be specialised.
Peat cutting has taken place at Whixall since at least Medieval times, and indeed continued until very recent times. In addition to this form of habitat destruction, two miles of the Llangollen Canal was constructed across the moss in 1807, and the Cambrian Railway followed some years later, built on birch bundles to float it over the bog. When drains were installed during these developments, the bog collapsed, and the now well-drained outer areas were converted into farmland, whilst the central area continued to be cut for peat. Few areas remained uncut, and dry abandoned areas were colonised by woodland, which in addition to extensive military use, moss gathering and afforestation, led to severe damage of the Moss. By the late 1980’s, almost 300 hectares of peat a year were being cut commercially, and the Moss was almost completely destroyed. Fortunately a campaign to save the site for its internationally important wildlife led to its gradual restoration. The centre of the area was acquired by Natural England and NRW, and with the help of locals, a programme of forest and woodland clearance coupled with the damming of ditches to restore bog water tables to the peat surface was undertaken. Gradually the irreplaceable record of the past stored in the peat has been restored again, and rare boggy biodiversity is thriving once more. Thankfully, the vast store of peat carbon has been re-pickled to counteract climate change.
One of the very valuable features of the site is its habitat diversity. As well as a large area of mire and bog, which was the main objective when restoration began, the site also includes both dry and wet heath, as well as fen, wet woodland, scrub, wet grassland, neutral grassland and limestone grassland.
175 bird species have been recorded here, including large numbers of waders and wildfowl, such as breeding teal, shoveler and lapwing, as well as numerous overwintering snipe, and steady numbers of curlew. Birds of prey seen regularly include short-eared owl and hen harrier, both of which occur in what seems to be suitable breeding habitat, although disturbance may be a factor in their not having bred to date. Merlin, buzzard, kestrel, red kite, marsh harrier, osprey, peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk are all to be seen, and hobbies are a ‘speciality’ – a couple of pairs have bred here, and many more individuals pass through, sometimes in surprisingly large numbers – on one occasion 36 were seen in one day! For anyone wanting to hear and see cuckoos, this is an excellent place to visit, as they arrive in good numbers each year. Nightjars have also been recorded for a number of years now, and at least two pairs arrived last year. Even common cranes have turned up fairly regularly since around 2008, and although they haven’t been seen for the last couple of years, there was a confirmed breeding attempt in 2012.
As well as birds, an impressive plant list is another of the reasons for the site’s importance nationally, and includes bog rosemary, lesser bladderwort, white beaked-sedge, cranberry, cloudberry, as well as many mosses such as waved fork-moss, golden bog-moss and 23 species of sphagnum moss!
The 2000+ invertebrate species recorded on the site also make it of particular significance, and a number of rare species occur. One such, and a key species for the site, is the white-faced darter, a rare dragonfly confined to bog pools. The white-legged damselfly is another success story here, particularly as it is normally found in southern England.
Of the 32 butterfly species recorded, the ‘star’ is the large heath butterfly, which is a very local species in peat bogs and wetlands, and confined to only a few sites nationally. Almost 800 moth species have also been recorded, including several that are nationally scarce, such as Manchester treble-bar, purple-bordered gold and argent and sable.
Adders, common lizard, slow-worm and all three British newts are here, as are fairly steady numbers of water vole, which in many areas has been in serious decline, and seven species of bat.
All in all, a real success story, told with great enthusiasm and expertise by Pete, for which we thanked him. We now look forward to visiting Whixall Moss in the not too-distant future, and to sharing in the wealth of birds and wildlife that it has to offer. It is good to know that despite this inevitably being a very long term project, tangible results can already be seen in the resurgence of so many species of fauna and flora. Many congratulations to all concerned!
March 10th - Field Trip to Burton Mere and Parkgate
As a follow up to Colin Wells’ excellent talk on Burton Mere Wetlands in February, a field trip to Burton Mere and Parkgate was arranged by Ken and Jenny Gascoigne for Thursday, 10th March when the tide promised to be particularly high at Parkgate.
Nine members travelled up in a very comfortable Border Garage minibus which had the added advantage of a huge luggage space at the back where we could all leave our rucksacks, walking poles, boots etc.. Malcolm and Sue drove the 20 miles to Welshpool from their home in Clatter and met Ken and Jenny at the garage at 8.30 am. We then collected Sheila on the outskirts of Welshpool, Clive, Sandra and Pam in Guilsfield and Dennis at Four Crosses. We arrived at Parkgate at about 10.15 and parked in the free car park at the far end where about 100 birdwatchers eventually congregated next to an RSPB information stand. We were lucky as the car park became full just after our arrival. First things first so most of us walked back to town for a toilet stop and/or a coffee.
The weather was surprisingly mild with no wind which, unfortunately, meant the water was rather low as you really need more wind plus low pressure to aid the high tide. However, we had good views of various birds including Marsh Harrier, Pink-footed Geese, Great and Little Egrets, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk. Two members had brought telescopes which they very kindly made available to the rest of us. High tide was at noon so at about 12.30 we drove to the other end of Parkgate to ‘The Old Quay’ pub and enjoyed a very reasonably-priced carvery lunch, where we had plenty of time to socialize.
We then drove to Burton Mere, which was free for RSPB members, and where the glass-fronted Reception building houses toilets, tea/coffee machine and free use of various telescopes and binoculars. The building overlooks Reception Pool and the Scrapes where we saw many species including Shelduck, Teal, Avocet, Shoveller, Redshank and Lapwing. The group then split up but bumped into each other again at the various viewing places such as Reedbed Screen and Marsh Covert Hide, where we saw more Teal , Tufted Duck, Coot, Heron and the ubiquitous Canada Geese. The Burton Mere trail was closed off due to nesting herons and Egrets, which you could still see in the trees.
Inner Marsh Farm Hide which overlooks Centenary Pool seemed to offer the best views that day. There were about 16 Avocet sweeping their bills through the water plus Shoveler, Black-Tailed Godwit, Redshank, Dunlin and several Ruff. We left at 5 pm when the reserve closes and, after dropping off people, were back in Welshpool at 7 pm. Everyone agreed that the day had been a great success and thanked Ken for driving and both him and Jenny for organising the day with such attention to detail. We all look forward to future similar trips such as the Black Grouse Lek on Sunday, 17th April.
February 17th - Colin Wells - 'Burton Mere Wetlands'
Colin has worked for the RSPB for over 30 years, on several reserves including Leighton Moss and Bempton Cliffs, site of the famous Yorkshire seabird colony. He is currently the warden at Burton Mere Wetlands on the Dee Estuary, a large and impressive reserve on the Flintshire/ Cheshire border which was once part of Gladstone's Burton Manor Estate. Together with Morecambe Bay, and the Ribble and Mersey estuaries, the Dee forms part of Europe’s most important wetlands network for migrating birds, hosting almost a million every year.
Colin's task when he was first appointed, was to 'create scrapes which will attract rare waders to the site'. This is exactly what he set about doing, and his fascinating talk demonstrated that he has most certainly more than met his brief. This has involved a great deal of planning, and it has taken many years of hard work to restore reedbeds, fenland and farmland, and to create lagoons, hides and a visitor centre, incorporating what was Burton Mere Fisheries and land to the south-east of the original Inner Marsh Farm Reserve. The new reserve opened officially in September 2011, and now attracts some 40,000 visitors annually, testament to the very wide variety of wildlife to be found there.
Regular breeders include Lapwing, Redshank and Little Egret. Avocets first bred there in 2006 and are now very well established as are very many other species of waders. The site also attracts many rare species and the following have been noted: Scarlet Ibis, Long-billed Dowitcher, Great White Egret, Wood Sandpiper, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Cattle Egret, Spotted Crake and Red -necked Phalarope, to name but a few.
Another recent improvement was the installation of 4300 metres of rotary ditching together with the construction of a reservoir to ensure the ditches remain damp for the birds during dry periods.
Recent bird sightings have included Ruff, Marsh harrier, Hen Harrier and Merlin, as well as Short-eared Owl, Water Rail and a much sought-after Long-eared Owl. 4000+ Pink-footed Geese have also been seen on the marsh from Burton Point - quite a spectacle!
It's not just birds either - animal life on the reserve includes Water Shrew, Water Vole and Common lizard, as well as 25 species of butterfly and 300 species of moths.
As Iolo Williams said at the opening of Burton Mere Wetlands “This nature reserve is a brilliant example of a place which is not only fantastic for wildlife but is now a great place for people to come and visit and get excited about nature”. We very much look forward to visiting as a group later this year. Thank you, Colin, for whetting our appetites and introducing many of us to this amazing reserve - and many congratulations on all that you have achieved.
January 20th - Brayton Holt - 'Coast'
The highly respected local bird expert Brayton Holt started his talk by informing his audience that he was introduced to birds when he was evacuated from Merseyside to Towyn during the Second World War. Here, in Towyn School, his teacher set up a Nature table, and his lifelong interest began. After the war he moved back to Wales and began to explore in greater detail. The coastline of the British Isles is apparently 11072 miles long (O.S. have worked it out!) and offers a wide range of habitats which attract many bird species.
Brayton then took us on a visual journey around this diverse landscape starting in North Wales with the terns and puffins of Anglesey, the oyster catchers and ringed plovers of the Little Orme and the various waders which frequent the big salt marsh near Rhyl. We saw various species of gulls in some detail, from the little gull to the great black backed gull - as big as a goose. "Honorary" seabirds were also discussed, the cliff dwelling choughs and peregrine falcon. We were taken around the Point of Ayr and up to Burton Marsh to see black tailed godwit, greenshank and snipe.
On then to Lancashire and the famous reserve of Martinmere, a great place to see ruff amongst a throng of mixed waders. North then to Barrow, Mull and the Inner Hebrides to see the magnificent white tailed sea eagle. North West Scotland gave us the arctic skua and the great skua or "bonxie".
Coming down the East coast we saw the throng of gannets on the Bass Rock and Bempton Cliffs, where razorbills and guillemots were their neighbours. An aerial photo of Spurn Head illustrated its ideal positioning as the first 'landfall' area for Scandinavian migrants, such as red-backed shrike.
Down the coast we arrived in Norfolk with its wide open salt marshes, estuaries and big skies which attract vast numbers of seabirds, waders and geese during the Autumn and Winter. Moving southwards along the coast we saw Minsmere reserve and the London Wetland Centre, a great place for birds directly under the flight path of Heathrow Airport. The cliffs of Devon and Cornwall, the Bristol Channel and back home to Wales for Red Kites and Osprey.