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Rambling with nature; wildlife photography, bird ringing and Morgan’s Hill

February 15, 2015

Thursday 22nd January
Thursday during our Heritage Lottery funded Wildlife Skills residential training week began with a very early wake-up call and a short drive to Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Langford Lakes. The reserve, a haven for birds and birdwatchers, was the perfect setting for a frosty morning session learning about bird ringing with members of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society. As most birds are active in the morning searching for food, we arrived just in time to see the first birds brought in from the nets, which had been set up next to feeders by the lake edge. Seeing the birds up close gave us a rare chance to improve our bird knowledge, especially how to differentiate between sexes and determine age. The volunteers were all licenced and had several years’ experience handling and ringing the birds, providing data to the British Trust for Ornithology. Within a few hours, we had quite a few visitors – Robin, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Greenfinch and Chaffinch.

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Volunteers ringing a Kingfisher

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Putting to practice our new-found photography skills

After lunch and a very-much needed hot drink to warm our nearly frozen fingertips, we started a wildlife photography workshop led by Iain Green. Iain’s enthusiasm for wildlife soon became very clear, and his main tip was to get out and see as much wildlife as possible, using our traineeships as a real advantage. This could not have been realised sooner – an announcement from one of the bird ringers that they had caught a Kingfisher in one of the nets!

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A surprise visitor and a rare chance to photograph a Kingfisher up close

Back to the workshop and we were then given a chance to practice what we had learnt. Not short of wildlife inspiration, we spotted Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneye and Pochard from the bird hide. With Iain’s tutoring tailored to each of our abilities and cameras, we all found that by the end of the day we knew much more about our cameras!

A fantastic evening meal made by Wiltshire followed (with beef from Dexter cattle that graze some of the reserves) and talk soon turned to the next, and final residential. Welling up with tears, we soon remembered that there were card games to be played and the rumour of a swimming pool on the Somerset residential pushed those thoughts to the back of our minds.

Friday 23rd January
Our final day of adventure and scrabble games started with everyone trying to find their belongings. A week away from home is not complete without forgetting something. So a buzz of activity and eating cereal one handed while trying to remember if you packed your socks or not began the day off.
Our final activity was a walk on Morgan’s Hill a SSSI reserve taken care of by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. The day started off cold with numb fingers and toes but as we walked along the path the sun was shining and we soon got warmed up. Our pack began splitting up as some of the trainees stopped to inspect a dead shrew. It had been very cold the past week and some had devised that this poor shrew had died from it. We did see wildlife that was alive such as Yellowhammers in the fields and Stonechats on the fence.

Cold and windy walk up Morgan's Hill

Cold and windy walk up Morgan’s Hill  Photo: R Janes

We continued our walk towards Lansdown Monument a giant stone obelisk built in 1845 stood atop the hill like a giant wind turbine, it was not hard to miss. It was here that we stopped for lunch sitting beneath the stone structure and trying not to eat your own hair because of the wind. Some of my crisp got blown away but it was OK because so did everyone else’s.
With half our lunch down the bottom of the hill we ended our walk by following it. Our final reward was a view of the Cherhill White Horse the third oldest chalk horse in Britain. So a farewell to Wiltshire the coldest place on earth.

written by Tom Oliver and Frances Williams

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