Ringing expeditions are not just an opportunity to see, handle and learn about new species of birds. They are an opportunity to meet new people, to learn about new cultures and immerse yourself in the local landscape and community. And in many cases it is an opportunity to give something back. In The Gambia, the Kartong Bird Observatory not only aims to study bird populations and migration but to raise community awareness and understanding of the environment and the economic benefits of biodiversity conservation.
Through strong community links the observatory team sponsors local students and a football team. Each year three or four lads help with the ringing course, carrying kit, helping to cut net lines and setting nets. At the same time the boys are taught about ringing, birds and conservation.
|Teaching Ernest and Alieu about birds and bird ringing|
For me nothing means getting involved with the local community than visiting the school. Each time I have visited Kartong as part of the ringing team, I have taken time out to go and visit the local school, and nothing beats it. The first year I visited we were surrounded by smiling faces in the playground.
|Surrounded by smiling faces (well mostly!) at the school (Photo: Laura Blackburn)|
This year they were all in class, one of which we were invited to sit in on. What a memory, 20 or so little people all clamouring for us to sit next to them, then singing, clapping and dancing their way through the alphabet. It was a privilege and honour to join in watching their little eager faces as they worked their way through a song associated with each letter.
|Singing in class!|
I left that classroom feeling elated, what an incredible experience and something I will remember just as much as ringing a vulture, pied kingfisher or any other bird.