Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Behind the Birdfair

I’d guess for most visitors to the British Birdfair it consists of a day spending money and dodging rain in far too hot and humid marquees. For BirdGuides the Birdfair began several months ago preparing a grand total of 4 (!) new products for release. For me it started on Wednesday, up in a ‘sunny’ town somewhere near Sheffield. Here with Andy Hirst I was to load around 300 copies of Rare Birds Where and When, around the same for Lee Evan’s Ultimate Site Guide, a large quantity of Breeding Birds DVD-Roms, MP4 guides, Frontiers in Birding and Finding Birds in... books, several display boards, a TV, a monitor and two boxes of every DVD we had in stock into a hired van. It was a stiflingly hot day and the van was airless making packing very hard work.
Loading and then unloading all those boxes is like a very expensive game of jenga, especially after four sharp turns, trying to open the door to the rear of the van and not get crushed under the weight of 600 or so falling books. By 6pm Andy and I have set up the backbones of our display and head back to our hotel.

Today was the behind-the-scenes bit that not many birders get to see. Having erected the skeleton of our stand yesterday, today was fleshing it out, setting up display boards with all our product information on, going under tables to plug in extension leads and wrestling with Ikea stands. Halfway through this Pete Ellison, the BirdGuides technical support wizard, turned up with a computer and a briefcase full of MP3 and 4 players and proceeded to drill holes in tables and use copious amounts of fishing line to make them secure. It was now 2pm and time to lift the masses of books and DVDs out of the van, sort them by product and number and then place them on the display. One of the embellishments for the stand is a rather funky scrolling digital message display thing, that I’m informed managed to turn up with the instructions for the first time ever. However the instructions weren’t actually any help at all, so Andy set about trying to program it to say “BirdGuides better birding through technology” whilst I was doing all the manual labour.
After a horrendous journey Fiona and Dave Dunford arrive, whilst the semi-legendary Dave Gosney popped around with his new DVD and book to stock the stand with. The whole day (I think) goes fairly smoothly, which is great for stress levels but less so for writing!

The first few minutes of today were spent panicking, making sure the computers were still working and smartening out the stand. Max arrives and phones for my help. There is a slight problem, he’s in blue car park and I have no idea where that is. I ask a person on the gate who directed me towards the wrong car park, before I find the right track to blue car park. Which is a very long track. Eventually I find Max who needs help carrying 2 boxes and a widescreen TV. We got some dodgy looks carrying that through the fair.
My specific job was to show and sell BWPi, BBi and Breeding Birds. After an hour where no one showed any interest at all in BWPi, except for one person who came to talk to me because I looked bored, Fiona gave me a ‘tutorial’ on how not to scare customers off. So with my new friendly approach I got blamed for Vista and Dell. After a while and a surprise visit from Connor Rand I finally managed to sell a copy of Breeding Birds. For the rest of the day I varied my job between selling BWPi, restocking, talking to people about DVDs and attempting to explain MP3, MP4 and the differences to a cross section of interested people. Other people I met included James and Simeon Grundy, Richard Bonser, someone called Lee Evans and Alan Tilmouth (who caused me some confusion because he looks similar and was wearing the same colour shirt as the man who designed the BirdGuides catalogue, who I’d just been talking to.) On the way out one of the semi-plastic Ospreys flew high over the van.

After a slower start to Saturday I was allowed an hour to leave the stand to go around the fair with my Dad who’d just arrived with my AS level results. To my horror the only second-hand copy of Alula going on the Fair Isle stand that I had been eyeing up since they put it there on Thursday had been bought. But I enjoyed the rest of my brief run around the rest of the Birdfair, Marquee 1 in particular (The Sound Approach, Dutch Birding, second-hand books etc.) being a very expensive place to walk through.
By the time I was back on the stand it had become very busy with stock flying off the shelf, a long line forming in front of Lee Evans and David Lindo hanging around the stand.
At this point I was wondering if the heat and dehydration had got to me, or weather I really did just see Nick Baker dancing with an inflatable shark being followed by a badger in flippers over on the Wildlife Trusts stand. The scary thing is, I think that actually happened. The afternoon went well with a steady stream of customers, all seemingly either buying or happy with our products or service.

Towards the end of the day the crowds tailed off, enabling me to talk to David and Viv from the BTO who had been on our stand promoting the nest record scheme and have a talking to from Lee Evans. I finally left for home at 5pm having enjoyed my utterly exhausting time at the Birdfair.

Me selling BWPi. Spot Max.
Me in action at the #birdfair yesterday. on Twitpic
Oooof - we have arrived! Twitterings tomorrow if mobile recep... on Twitpic

Sunday, 23 August 2009

BirdGuides and BTO Plans Hatch at the British Birdwatching Fair

Just back from a hectic and enjoyable couple of days at the British Birdwatching Fair. The event is an intoxicating combination of the Grand Bazaar in Istambul, a Turkish bath, a mega twitch in October and Tescos on Saturday morning. And why, oh why, does almost everyone go around with at least one pair of binoculars dangling round their neck?

The BirdGuides stand featured a fine display of body piercing. Pictured is Dave Leech, head of the BTO's Nest Record Scheme sporting rings in both ear lobe and nostril. And lower down is Lee Evans, wearing a fine crucifix earring, imparting words of wisdom to Alan Tilmouth (kneeling in homage) of Dusted Off Bins fame.

Both Dave and Lee were with us to show off new titles launched at the Birdfair. Dave Leech and his colleagues at the BTO have provided extensive input to our interactive guide to Breeding Birds, presenting almost 9,000 photographs collected over several decades by Peter and Richard Castell.

Lee Evans was signing copies of his new book: The Ultimate Site Guide to Scarcer British Birds. This 3rd edition has been extensively expanded and revised. It has been almost 10 years since the previous edition was published, and the new edition was in great demand.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Last of the Summer Hairstreaks

One of the delights of pursuing butterflies is the way that different species come and go as the great wheel of summer turns. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are five different species of hairstreaks in Britain and Ireland, each named after their vaguely predominant colour. The last of the hairstreaks to appear, peaking in the middle fortnight of August, is the Brown Hairstreak. In fact orange or gold might be a more appropriate epithet for these beautiful insects, certainly the most attractive and quite possibly the laziest of this enigmatic band of butterflies (the name comes from the faint while lines on their underwing). Both sexes spent almost their entire adult lives resting invisible at the tops of tall trees, feasting on honeydew and keeping themselves strictly to themsleves.

Recently we returned to Steyning in West Sussex to have another crack at filming Brown Hairstreaks using the new macro lens on our HD camera. Guess who we bumped into... yes of course, none other than Butterfly-meister Neil Hulme from the Sussex branch of Butterfly Conservation. It was Neil who first guided us to film Brown Hairstreak in 2008. He has not lost his touch. Within an hour he had located a female BH in fine fettle. She had descended heavily pregnant from the inaccessible treetops to flit among the blackthorn bushes at human level, laying the occasional egg. We were able to keep up with her for the best part of an hour, adding some wonderful footage that will be incorporated in our forthcoming butterfly video guide.

That is a project that will keep me busy in the cutting room this autumn. I'd like to have it ready in time for Christmas. The format will be similar to our 16-hour long Video Guide to British Birds. The running time will be shorter of course (61 as opposed to 270 species) but there is now a huge amount of gorgeous material to edit down and write commentaries for.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Great Yellow in the Can

The more I film bumblebees, the more I discover I don't know about their identification. That's why we are hard at work planing an interactive guide to the 20 or so British species. One of the rarest is Bombus distinguendus... or the Great Yellow Bumblebee to give its unscientific name. These beautiful creatures used to be quite widespread in the UK, but now are sadly confined to the very north of Scotland, including parts of the Outer Hebrides. That is the best place to go to film them and I am pleased to say that a trip there last weekend delivered the goods.

The preferred habitat of the Great Yellow is machair. This is exquisite flowering coastal meadow, that yields a succession of different nectar sources through the season. Currently knapweed is fairly widespread and the bees are feasting on it. Although few and far between, there was little problem identifying B. distinguendus: yellow bottom, mostly yellow top apart from a thin black stripe across the thorax.

Other bumbles remaining on the target list include B. jonellus and B. soroeensis. These are MUCH less easy to identify, being only subtly different from much more common species such as B. lucorum. Fortunately our friends at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust have generously offered to scrutinize the footage and pronounce on ID.

Watch this space.