Like many local businesses, local Wildlife Tour Operator Speyside Wildlife has had to respond quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic and make sudden operational changes. Along with an already well-established schedule of wildlife watching holidays in Scotland and around the world, over the last four years, their expanding programme of wildlife related qualifications has grown in popularity. The opening weekend of this year’s ‘Wildlife Identification in the Cairngorms’ qualification was scheduled to run just as lockdown was introduced at the end of March and with 10 students signed up, Speyside Wildlife did not want to disappoint!
Just like the local Grammar School, their own classroom went virtual too. Owner, Sally Dowden explains how the course differed this year. “Rather than disappoint the students, we chose to run the first two weekends for this year’s Wildlife ID Course as virtual sessions. Each weekend would normally comprise a day in the classroom and a day in the field and this year was no different – except the classroom day was delivered remotely and the ‘field’ day was cleverly constructed from a variety of scenarios, with audio and video clips, by our trainer and wildlife guide, Roy Atkins.”
After a test run, all the students were able to tune in from the comfort of their own homes, to learn more about how to identify the birds of the Cairngorms National Park and although it could never quite match being outside together birdwatching, it was the next best thing, given the current restrictions. One of this year’s students, fed back “considering the way the course had to be delivered changed very quickly, I was very impressed how the weekend was put together, especially the use of two cameras by Roy and Rebecca monitoring the chat room – well done team!” and one of the recipients of the Cairngorms Scholarship said “The incorporation of video for a digital “outing” was really useful, it was set up in a similar way to what would happen in real life – only getting a quick glimpse of a bird passing.”
This year we have been pleased to welcome two recipients of the ‘Cairngorms Nature Identification Youth Scholarship,’ on to the course, sponsored by CNPA. Andy Ford, Head of Conservation at the CNPA said. “The natural heritage of the Cairngorms National Park is outstanding, offering many world-class opportunities for nature tourism and cutting-edge conservation for some of the UK’s top ecologists. Conserving and safeguarding the nature and landscapes requires the work and support of many people. Nature tourism, research, monitoring and habitat management are key elements to the future economy of the National Park. The Cairngorms National Park Authority is committed to supporting rural careers and ensuring that young people have the necessary skills is a vital part of that. We ran a competition in 2019 to find two young people who we could sponsor to take a place on the 2020 Wildlife ID course. The sponsorships not only benefit the winners in their careers, but also invest in the future of the National Park. At the end of the course there will be two more passionately educated people advocating and working for nature in the Cairngorms.”
Local partnership Cairngorms Connect chose to provide sponsorship for three candidates and Tors Hamilton, Communications & Involvement Manager, Cairngorms Connect explains why, “Cairngorms Connect are excited to provide funding helping these local residents to access this training to improve their skills of identification in the Cairngorms. Understanding the special and unique habitats in the area is critical to managing them for the future and we recognise the value in this course and its ability to share the knowledge of these habitats, species and good practice, which will allow these participants to communicate the importance of this area to others. Cairngorms Connect looks forward to assisting these young people in applying this knowledge through a variety of ways to help develop their new skills as the course progresses.” One of the recipients of the funding realised how valuable the course will be from the first day, “Immediately getting the sense that this will be more than just ‘what is this photo of a bird’ but far more realistic regarding the challenges of in-the-field ID by sight and song.”
Just as one ID course begins, another one ends and the class of 2019/20 took their end of course assessments earlier this week, again by virtual methods. Our students tuned in to complete their written exam in the morning, before a virtual birdwatching ‘field’ assessment with examiner Jonathan Willet in the afternoon and we are pleased to say that all of them passed the course, with three gaining Distinctions. Watching each student grow in their knowledge and ability is a rewarding part of the course for Speyside Wildlife. Heather has passed the course and reflects on her journey, “when we first met as a group back in March 2019 and were handed an A4 sheet with lists of birds to become familiar with (by sight and sound) over the year, it did seem rather daunting; but here we are a year or so later and I can’t believe how readily I can pick out the different bird songs around the house! Last year they were just a jumble of random twitterings!”
More information about Speyside Wildlife’s identification course can be found online www.wildlifeidcourses.co.uk
“Immediately getting the sense that this will be more than just “what is this photo of a bird” but far more realistic regarding the challenges of in-the-field ID by sight and song.”
“I really enjoyed our introduction to sketching birds. This is something I was feeling nervous about, but the session helped give me a confidence boost ahead of filling in our field notebooks.”
“The ID quiz to provide Roy with an idea of the levels we are all at was really useful and the ID game to test a more realistic way of ID’ing birds in the field.”
“Learned a lot which is great look forward to progressing in spring birdsong.”
“It was well organised, and I was able to hear Roy clearly. When drawing birds, the use of the second camera worked really well, probably better then if we were in the classroom!”
“The virtual birding video/ ID game was fun, as were the other quizzes and habitat game. Also going over anatomy, and how the wing folds, etc was really useful and cleared up a lot of confusion regarding ID. How the shape of the wing affects manoeuvrability, and courtship displays.”
Virtual Birding for those at Home
Since the start of social-distancing Speyside Wildlife have been running daily Facebook Live events for those who are feeling isolated at home. Their guides are using their daily exercise to film the wildlife around them using the hashtag #DailyBirdsong to bring the beautiful sound of springtime birdsong to people’s own homes. Check out Facebook by searching for #DailyBirdsong
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