Learning to use binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve

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It was a proud day for Rob and I – taking our boys to Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham to teach them to use their binoculars and the basics of bird identification.

The last time we visited the reserve was before we got married and long before the children arrived. We used to go to Attenborough often as it is a particularly good reserve for wetland birds and was on our Nottinghamshire doorstep before we moved to Cornwall. We have missed the days of easy bird watching where you can just pick up your coat, binoculars and scope and head on out. Those of you with children will appreciate the mammoth task of simply getting three little ones out the door, let alone being prepared for quiet time in hides and long walks along muddy paths.

Keeping quiet is important and a major reason we haven’t taken them before now. It’s not easy for kids to keep quiet and other bird watchers don’t appreciate it if your kids scare all the birds away! Luckily we didn’t have Orla with us (she was at home with Grannie).

Learning to use binoculars is no easy feat for adults or children as it takes practice to continue to look at the desired bird/animal etc. whilst bringing your binoculars to your eyes. Scanning around with them is even harder. So we were pretty impressed with how easily they both picked it up. I had imagined more frustration for them trying to focus and keeping them still. Patrick successfully focused on a moor hen and identified it from the field guide by looking at the colour on it’s head, bill, legs, wings and tail. Alfie identified a coot. We also saw lovely tufted ducks (pictured above) and great crested grebes as well as cormorants, Egyptian geese, pochard and a redwing amongst plenty more.

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Alfie mastering his binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve

Although they did well and showed perseverance with the binoculars and prolonged interest in identification, they are just five and three years old and it did occur to us that our wildlife spotting and bird watching are going to be significantly limited to short bursts when we reach the states. An hour is about absolute tops… but that’s fine… we are a family and a team, and a team travels at the pace of it’s slowest member. We can work around the challenges by taking it in turns with one child each and other techniques for dividing and conquering. Mixing activities up helps too… Alfie found some big dog prints and tracked them along the path for a bit!

The visitor centre at Attenborough is really good too. In addition to a shop supplying all your birdwatching needs there is a children’s learning area which is engaging and interesting. The boys enjoyed the interactive activities and we bought activity sheets for them to do as well.

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Patrick at one with the geese… I swear he can converse with animals!

Wetland reserves like Attenborough are great places to ignite an interest in nature and wildlife as they are generally accessible with good paths and flat terrain and the birds there are so interesting. Wetland birds are great ones for amateurs to start with as they are all pretty distinctive and interesting looking, easy to spot on the water and a good size. The boys were both full of enthusiasm and chatter about the birds and binoculars on the way back to Derby.

Attenborough Nature Reserve is open daily from 7am until dusk and the visitor centre is open 9am-4pm daily. Parking is £1.50 donation for upkeep and there is good public transport links to the reserve.

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Black headed gull (in winter)

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