This past weekend has been, in turn, the most fun, creative, bizarre, eye-opening, informative and inspiring weekend I’ve had in a long time. To describe it another way I spend Saturday and Sunday at Birdfair.
Birdfair is an annual event that occurs at Rutland Water and is a celebration of everything to do with birds and the natural world whilst raising money for global bird conversation. It is a major highlight of the birders year and this year was the 25th birthday of the event.
I was lucky enough to be asked to help out A Focus on Nature with the running of their children’s art mural at the event; just one of the two projects that AFON had on the go over the weekend. Whilst five of us were overseeing the painting another team of AFON members were busy asking attendees what the Birdfair means to them for a video. One of my favourite parts of the weekend was being able to meet these other AFON members face to face. We’ve all chatted online, discussed ideas, gazed in envy at photos of projects and read each others blogs but nothing beats talking to that person in the flesh. We’re all a part of AFON because whether we’re writers, artists, scientists or even chocolatiers we all have a passion for the natural world and it was lovely to spend so much time with like minded people.
Every year at Birdfair the professional artists all come together to create a mural. This year AFON offered all the children that attend the event a chance to take part in their own. They were presented with a background of a tree, grass, a lake and sky, asked to paint something that was preferably a bird but a least nature related and let loose. The end results were fantastic. We had a skateboarding guinea pig called snowy, a polar bear with purple ears, a rabbit in a hot air balloon and the loch nest monster alongside flocks of beautiful birds. All ages took part; we had tiny toddlers to teenagers and there were many adults who would secretly liked to have a go if there had been space on the mural for them. The imagination and enthusiasm of all the children who took part was really lovely to see. Many had to be pried away from the mural by their parents so they could go and see other things and more than a few faces made an appearance numerous times over the weekend. The board was nearly full by the end of Saturday and by Sunday afternoon we were having to hunt for empty spaces in which they could paint. Next year I think a bigger board will definitely be needed. The adults all seemed to enjoy it too, stopping on their way past to admire the art. Everything I heard about the mural was positive; the parents were so happy the children could be involved in something like this and that they were given the freedom to do what they wanted. It was a really fun way to spend the weekend. Even if I looked a little bizarre on the train home in my leopard print wellies covered in paint it was definitely worth it.
As there were the five of us on the mural it meant that we didn’t have to spend our whole time there; there was plenty of time to wander around, look at the stands and attend some of the talks. With a huge number of marquees; eight for all the stands, three lecture ones, an events tent, an optics marquee and an art marquee as well as many outdoor displays and smaller tents, there was plenty to do and see. I couldn’t quite decide if being a poor recent graduate without a job was a blessing or a curse; there was so much stuff there I wanted to buy, mostly books or some of the absolutely beautiful artwork that I just couldn’t afford it but if I had had the money I don’t think I’d have got all my purchases home. I’m going to start saving for next year now. It was still lots of fun to wander around and talk to everyone; whether they were on a stand or just a visitor everyone was so friendly and happy to chat.
One of my highlights happened early on Saturday. I can’t have been there for longer then half an hour when the lovely Rob Lambert, who I was chatting to, whisked me off to introduce me to Nick Baker. I was ever so slightly star struck and may have started the conversation by comparing meeting him to being my equivalent to meeting one direction for other girls! I obviously didn’t make too much of a fool of myself as after Rob told him that I’d studied zoology we ended up having a conversation about stickleback armour. That is going to be a moment that I will tell anyone and everyone about for a long time to come. I was also lucky enough later on to very quickly meet Bill Oddie and shake his hand, though there was no time for stickleback conversations as he was on his way to host Birdbrain. I was also very nearly introduced to Jonathan Scott (from Big Cat Diaries) but he was just about to go on stage for a talk so I had a peek around from backstage instead. Maybe next year!
The rest of the AFON members and I found that over the weekend we used the phrase ‘only at Birdfair’ rather a lot. There were plenty of things that, if they happened elsewhere, would have been really rather strange but because we were at Birdfair were normal (or at least nearly normal). I walked into a conversation halfway though, just in time to hear the words ‘a lemur hit my face’ and whilst the locals of Oakham were strutting round the town in their glad rags on Saturday, I was strolling around with others of the team in my wellies and waterproof, hunting for some food. I won’t even mention the conversations that we had once the food was found; they were related to conservation and the natural world but in rather weird and warped ways. The people of Oakham must really wonder what is going on once a year when all these birders descend on their town! For the best example of ‘only at Birdfair’ google Marcus Coates and Dawn Chorus. As part of the Saturday night party, The Birdfair effect, Marcus stood up on stage and started to sing along to wren song that had been slowed down about 20 times. Everyone was trying, and failing rather badly, not to laugh as he moaned and whooped and whistled. He then sped up the recording and played it back; lo and behold it sounded just like a wren! It was brilliant. He then showed us the video he had created where he had convinced a choir to sing along to slowed down birdsong in their ‘natural’ habitats. The choir members were sat in offices, eating their breakfast or in a waiting rooms and all happily twittering away like birds! My favourites were the lady lying in the bed (how her husband keeps a straight face through it all I have no idea) and the old man sat happily in his arm chair who suddenly lets out a pheasant call! Go search for it on youtube; I really can’t explain it as well as it deserves. It was completely and utterly bonkers but also absolutely brilliant.
So I now have my first Birdfair under my belt and I can say that I will definitely be there again next year, and the one after that, and the one after that… Everyone was just so wonderfully lovely, happy to chat and genuinely interested in anything you had to say. As much as there is so much to do and see it really is the people that make Birdfair and so I want to say a big thank you to everyone who made my first Birdfair such a success. I can’t wait for next year already though I hope it isn’t that long until I see everyone again.