Thursday 3 April 2014

Bird watching with children

We had a ticket to use at a Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve so the two younger children and I went to try out Rainham Marshes.

Rainham Marshes is a nature reserve on the North Bank of the Thames, close to the Dartford crossing. It has been used as an army reserve in the past and still has buildings from this use. The building with numbers on the roof was used for gun practice. Small targets were placed on top of each number.

We had a warm and rather polluted day although that didn't cause us any problems.

Rainham Marshes are designed with board walks over a two and half mile round trail along which are various hides and places to sit and watch. It was flat, easy walking although very close to the water. I was glad that my youngest is five: a couple of years ago, this would have been seriously scary. 

There were various members of staff around who were enthusiastic about the animals to be seen. One let us use his binoculars to look at a nesting lapwing and explained the loud noises that I wouldn't identify were the marsh frog. 

For the children, the highlight was seeing a nesting swan.

I was pleased to have seen a little egret. Sorry-no photos as my camera really isn't up to smallish birds at a distance.

We didn't just see birds; there were plenty of butterflies, bumble bees, teasels

 and bullrushes. We were probably too noisy but other visitors saw grass snakes.

So bird watching with children? 

These are my thoughts:

  • Younger children aren't as quiet as adults and have shorter attention spans so it isn't possible to see quite as much as in an adult group.

  • On a similar vein, I've always found hides a bit nerve racking. It is difficult to keep little children completely quiet and they tend to be filled with people looking like retired headmasters. Plus, hides often have ingenious methods for opening windows which are just asking to be tried. The latter was true at Rainham but the retired headmaster types were friendly and it is easier to keep a five year old quiet than a two year old.

  • My seven year old loved the trip and said that it was so much better than she had anticipated. My five year old was happy to be outside but less excited about the things that he had seen. I suspect there is a maturity factor.

  • The proximity of water would have been a problem with toddlers.

  • If a child doesn't seem interested, check their sight. As a child, I could never understand why anyone would want to watch black dots in the sky. Being able to see properly makes a tremendous difference!

  • Carrying a sticker book with common wildlife helped keep up interest.
Do you have any recommendations for bird watching with children?

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  1. When my son was younge (5-7 years old), we used to participate in the annual Big Bird Watch, and started by watching birds in our garden. At that age, he wasn't able to be quiet or still for a long time in nature to make full use of the time outside for observations so it was better for us to stay at home and do what we can.

    1. Yes, I've had children who weren't able to do the whole hour for the Bird Watch!

  2. Yes, it's a challenge to go bird watching with little ones, but they can have so much fun with it too!

    Your world looks so spring-like! We had snow flurries today, but it will be warm tomorrow so the white fields can continue to melt into the ditches.

    1. We haven't had any snow this winter. My children were really hoping for some but I suspect that it is too late here, now.