Advertiser Life We’ve loved every single
THE volunteers are Martin Mere’s wings. Across the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust there are 1,000 – and without them the charity’s grand ambitions would never be met.
One of their current longest serving volunteers is Dave Walsh, 73.
He has been helping out at Martin Mere near Buscough for over 20 years.
Dave and his wife Estelle, 73, took up an interest in birds when their children flew the nest.
Fascinated by migratory birds, Dave would note their movements, becoming a vital asset to the reserve.
Now a whooper swan research volunteer, Dave has devoted much of his time helping to monitor the welfare of thousands of birds that spend the winter there.
Here Dave shares what he’s learned over the years.
WE started here around 1994/5. My wife and I began coming here, after our children grew up and left the family home, to take up bird watching.
I was fascinated by the migratory whooper swans.
Back then, there were also Bewick’s swans as well.
We started noticing that some of the birds were ringed and at the back of the Raines Observatory, there used to be a list up of all the swans that had been seen.
I was captivated by how some swans were regular visitors here and at other centres.
We started taking the numbers down and one day we happened to be in the Kingfisher Hide when one of the wardens saw me noting down the numbers and asked me what I did with them.
I said ‘nothing really – it’s just a bit of a hobby’ so he asked if I would let him have them.
I made a list so they could add it to their database. From there on it snowballed. He was keen that we didn’t have uniform on as he said that people would stop and talk to us and that we wouldn’t be able to do our work – ringreading and researching.
This went on until 2007 when the BBC’s Autumnwatch came here and we were approached by Slimbridge who asked us to help identify swans for their team.
Back then there were only a couple of us doing it. For a long time it was just my wife and I observing the whoopers.
On that particular week there were hardly any swans here. But the second week, they started to arrive and we were interviewed by Kate Humble.
Then they realised we needed uniforms.
In the winter, my duty – I don’t call it a job – is to go around the reserve and find the flocks of whooper swans and note down any ring numbers, and also ascertain whether that particular bird has a mate. Is the mate ringed? How many cygnets have they brought back? Are they the same pair that were here last year? Is it the same mate? My favourite part of the day is from 3pm onwards when most of the swans come back for their feed.
It’s the best time for research work as I can study families and individual pairs and so on.
You get to know certain birds. You get to know pairs so if you see one, you know the other will be nearby.
We have one swan in particular that we’re all looking out for. She’s our superswan, a swan named Virginia.
We’ve been following her since the year after she was ringed here – that’s over 20 years. We think she’s 26 years old.
At the time of writing she hasn’t arrived but days.
Sometimes she doesn’t appear until after Christmas. It’s not unusual.
Virginia has also been seen at Welney, the WWT site near Wisbech. She was caught and ringed as an adult so we don’t know her exact age. She’s quite a star.
She turns up unexpectedly. You’ll be packing up late in the afternoon and she’ll suddenly show up. You think: ‘where the heck have you been?’
Sigrunn is another famous visitor who was first ringed in December 2002. His ring cracked in 2010 so they replaced it and let me keep the old one.
Another favourite was a bird called Marty. He was one of the reasons that I got into this. I’d seen him at WWT Caerlaverock in Dumfriesshire where he was ringed.
He had a partner called Merrytown who had been ringed at Martine Mere.
I remember seeing him here in 1997 and the following year I visited Caerlaverock and lo and behold, he came out of the it’s early water. They knew him well.
A week later I saw him at Martin Mere.
When they first started ringing birds here, he was one of the few birds they could recognise without a ring.
He was a big bird with a distinctive look. You couldn’t miss him. He flew into a pylon and died in Iceland so that was very sad.
I think he would have probably been in his early 20s.
He was quite an age when we started noticing him.
There was a swan called Ainsdale that we adopted. Quite a few people adopted her. She was one of those birds that you could guarantee you’d see.
There used to be a couple from Yorkshire that only came