Apologies for this blog being a day late. The hotel last night had very dodgy wifi and I have now learned that WordPress and bad wifi do not mix. The day started well with a relatively short ride to Barrow-in-Furness from John and Fi’s house.
In 1974 I was employed by Oxford University’s Animal Behaviour Research Group under Niko Tinbergen as a research assistant on South Walney Nature Reserve. The post would probably be described as an intern these days as I received no pay, just full board and lodgings. My role also included cooking for the group of students and others on a shoestring budget. This was my reason for coming to Barrow-in-Furness and Walney. I enjoyed my time (basically the gull breeding season) very much and learned a lot of seabird biology (not just animal behaviour) in what was then a huge gull colony of 10s of thousand pairs – mostly herring and lesser black-backed gulls. My main research role was to check around 1000 nests on a near daily basis to track the progress of each. I put colour rings on each of the chicks as they hatched (having first marked each egg as it had been laid). The gulls tended to attack intruders by swooping, sometimes bashing your head with their feet, and often dumping on you too. For these reasons we were issued with a brown lab coat (the “shoat”) and a safety helmet that we attached to the back of the shoat with a wide piece of cloth. If we had a spare hand, we would carry a bamboo in the air too.
Anne has driven down from Banchory to be with me (when not cycling) for a couple of days, so we went to Walney in the afternoon and had a look around. The first thing that struck me on the way down was the replacement of a monster rubbish tip by a large green hill. This tip used to feed quite a few gulls. The next thing that struck me was the almost total lack of gulls. We found out that between 1 and 2 thousand are all that are left, at the far end of the reserve. There have also been a lot of earthworks near the coastguard cottages to create some wetland habitat. One of the hides overlooking one pond was called the Tinbergen hide – there were no signposts for it though and we stumbled upon it almost by accident. It turned out to be a wonderful shrine to the man – and different to any other bird hide that I had been in.