DOT PUTS HER PASSION FOR BIRDWATCHING INTO NEW BOOK

BANGOR birdwatching expert Dot Blakely will take flight with her new memoir and nature book ‘Home Birds’. For the past quarter of a century, the well known North Down Birdwatching Club chairwoman has been sharing the airwaves on BBC Radio Ulster’s Your Place and Mine with presenter Anne Marie McAleese. Together they have travelled the length and breadth of Ulster, visiting an array of locations, and sharing the joy of spotting birds such as oystercatchers, fulmars, pied wagtails, buzzards, kestrels and whooper swans. The duo are thrilled to bring their birdwatching passion to life in their new book ‘Home Birds: Days Out Getting to Know the Birds of Northern Ireland’. A combination of memoir and nature writing that covers the whole of Ulster, the book is illustrated with more than 100 stunning photographs and is an uplifting celebration of the landscape and natural world. Born in Bangor, Dot has been fascinated by birds since she was a child and fondly remembers her dad taking her round Bangor Castle’s grounds as he pointed out a robin’s nest in a tree trunk and told her never to look in or disturb a nesting bird. Just as her father inspired a love of the natural world in her, Dot loves nothing more than igniting that ‘spark’ in birdwatchers of all ages, from youngsters to older enthusiasts who attend her courses held at Queen’s University and Belfast MET. Recalling her childhood birdwatching passion, Dot said: “I grew up in Bangor Castle’s grounds, this was my local patch. My dad would have shown me different birds and it just came naturally to me. Once I realised what was out there, my enthusiasm just grew and grew.” After her own family had literally flown the nest, Dot found she had more time to pick up her binoculars and revel in the wonder of the great outdoors. “Once my family grew up I thought ‘I am going to have to get a life’. I saw a peregrine falcon one day and that was it, I just started teaching myself, it came easily.” As one of the founding members of North Down Birdwatching Club, Dot is club leader in charge of field trips for their 40-strong members to enjoy. She also enjoys sharing her knowledge with students of the two birdwatching courses she has been running for many years at Queen’s University and Belfast MET. Said Dot: “I also love getting children involved, whenever they are using the scope and then somebody sees something and goes ‘oh, my word’. I love to see that spark in their eyes and they get hooked.” From dry land to life on the ocean wave, Dot’s birdwatching passion takes her from the classroom to the great outdoors as well as birdwatching trips with Bangor’s favourite boatman, Brian Meharg. Dot said: “We would have three sea trips for groups with the one and only boatman Brian Meharg and we would usually go around the Copeland Islands. The numbers of puffins are growing on Bird Island which is a fantastic success for the observatory.” Her busy birdwatching schedule has also included her regular radio shows with Anne Marie and she thoroughly enjoys engaging with listeners. “It is great when we are out together, we would be all over the place depending on the season,” said Dot. “When you are around the shoreline you are looking at waders and wildfowl. The idea is just to bring the listeners of Your Place and Mine with you and helping them identify birds. The amount of people that come back with emails after the show, it is very popular.” As to the highlights of her lengthy and impressive birdwatching career, Dot said: “Everything is the best experience. There is always something to enjoy. Earlier I was standing looking at the trees listening to the long tail tits. I didn’t have my binoculars but it was just so good. “I do work with people who may have struggled with Covid, others who may be living with depression, and it gives them a new lease of life. Even if they are not feeling good about going out, if they can just get outside, even into the back garden, close your eyes and listen. Simple stuff like that can make such a difference.” Rain or shine, Dot embraces all that nature has to offer on our doorsteps. “Hail, rain or snow, it doesn’t matter to me. I prefer to be out in the rain and the cold. There is no such thing as bad weather, there is just bad clothes,” said Dot. “The book is based on our visits to places such as Bangor, Enniskillen, Portrush and Portstewart. Everything is here in front of you, you just have to look. The more you look the more you will see. Birdwatching is not expensive, it is on your doorstep.”