I had the pleasure of speaking to David Reese and Nicholas Mitchell of Birdwatch Ireland West Cork recently. This is an entirely volunteer-run group, the members of which have one common interest – birds. It is one of around 20 branches of Birdwatch Ireland nationwide and some are more or less active than others. The West Cork branch is one of the busy ones – hosting between 20 and 25 events each year.
‘We cover West Cork, which is Kinsale westwards. The furthest north we go which is slightly out of our area would be the Gearagh and Kilcolman Nature Reserve.
The Cork group covers the rest of the county – they’ve recently reformed,’ Nicholas explains.
‘There’s a real blurring of the lines so if you’re involved with the West Cork branch and you want to go on outings and activities of the Cork branch then that’s absolutely fine. We’re not protective of our own patches. We don’t work like that,’ David adds.
Nicholas outlines that their aim is to provide an opportunity for people in West Cork to learn primarily about birds, but also about other wildlife. ‘We don’t ignore anything else that’s going on,’ he adds.
The committee members are, needless to say, all keen bird watchers themselves and have built up an extensive knowledge. David is chairman and Nicholas is secretary; treasurer is Karl Woods; webmaster Laura Woods; Peter Wolstenholme, a founding member in 1993 when it formed out of the Cork branch; Michael Cobley who joined Peter shortly after and Chris O’Sullivan completes the committee. Peter Wolstenholme is a very keen bird watcher who has been involved in the iWebs survey for 15-16 years in which David, Nicholas and Karl are also involved. David who is an ecologist has work that’s closest to the Birdwatch Ireland. Nicholas on the other hand is a semi-retired accountant.
‘I only took an interest in birds to this extent when we moved to Clonakilty – I always wanted to learn more about them,’ Nicholas says. Following an advert for counters for the iWebs survey he met Peter. That was in 2006-’07.
‘The attraction for those coming on our outings is that there are people there who can show them things and point out difference between certain birds,’ Nicholas explains. And they do that very well – making a point of talking to everyone on the outings, pointing out sightings and inviting questions.
In recent years they’ve bought binoculars for the group so that people coming on the outings don’t need to acquire any specialist equipment beforehand. There are also telescopes available.
‘There’s always a really nice, friendly, cooperative atmosphere on the outings. I think people who get involved in these events enjoy sharing the experience with other people,’ David says. ‘It’s also a chance to show off,’ he laughs.
Events are open to everyone – beginners, experienced bird watchers and even non-members – with the exception of boat trips where insurance is required. They do encourage membership however.
Nicholas describes a recent outing which David ran in Clonakilty Estuary where he didn’t need to move very far! ‘He got to the Model Village, the tide was coming in so the shore birds, wading birds moved closer to everyone so they just were able to stand still and Dave and Co were able to point out and identify those birds,’ he says.
Pelagic trips or sea trips are arranged for those keen on observing sea birds. An outing on Kinsale Head also looks at seabirds without requiring a boat trip. This and Cape Clear are among the iconic places for birdwatching. ‘Cape Clear is always really popular,’ Dave adds.
The aim is to show the typical birds of Cork County and to instill in people a sense of how great the county is for bird watching.
One of West Cork’s most popular events is the dawn chorus, where the group regularly get between 35 and 50 people in attendance. ‘Every year it amazes us that so many people get up at 3.30am to be at the event by 4am,” Nicholas says. This annual event is held in different places across the county including Skibbereen, Manch and Timoleague. Run nationally by BirdWatch Ireland all branches hold events on that same weekend. As Derek Mooney usually goes to Cuskinny Marsh for dawn the Cork branch do a dusk chorus at the same location.
As most of the committee happen to be from around Clonakilty they are mindful to spread the events throughout the area including Bantry, Skibb and Ballydehob. ‘We try to make the events accessible to people throughout the area that we cover as well,’ David says.
The group is always on the lookout for feedback and tips on new venues and events and hope to include Beara and Dursey at some stage. They also plan to step up fundraising for the organisation.
Nicholas says people keep tabs on wildlife in many different ways these days – for example Birdwatch Ireland has over 5000 Facebook followers; BBC’s Spring and Autumn Watch and Colin Stafford Johnson on RTÉ – but it’s hard to beat getting out there and experiencing it for yourself.
Upcoming events include the third annual talk at the Cork International Airport Hotel (a joint event with the Cork branch) on January 30th at 7pm which this year will be given by the witty, entertaining and incredibly knowledgeable Anthony McGee who has his own slant on birds. ‘He’s worth following on Facebook is you have any interest in birds,’ David concludes.
For more information, go to www.birdwatchirlwestcork.ie or Facebook: Birdwatch Ireland West Cork Branch.