Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 12:05 UK

Labour of love for Birdman of Belvoir

By Brendan Anderson
BBC News

Michael Topping sets up the telescope
The telescope is trained on a feeding station used by red squirrels

For Michael Topping, his job working for the Royal Society for Protection of Birds is a labour of love.

Every weekend, come rain or shine, from April until the end of September, he will be found outside the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Belvoir Park Forest on the outskirts of south Belfast.

Michael is a worker with the charity's Date with Nature campaign, set up to promote local wildlife.

When the weather is not too dreadful (and he has had three fine weekends so far) his workplace on the banks of the River Lagan affords beautiful views of the forest, the city and the Belfast Hills beyond.

Each Saturday and Sunday, Michael sets up a telescope and trains it on the garden in front of the headquarters.

The telescope is fixed on a feeding station used by red squirrels, but visitors are also able to watch the comings and goings of a variety of birds including a pair of nesting Great Tits.

A nest box has been fitted with a camera and erected on the front wall of the headquarters.

Pictures of the occupants, a pair of Blue Tits, are transmitted to a nearby monitor where they can be seen shaping and modelling their nest in preparation for what Michael predicts will be a happy event.

"We should have some eggs in there very soon now, because they have already mated," Michael said.

A more publicity-shy pair of Great Tits has found an old nest in a hole in the wall near the society's front door.

Michael said they had not actually moved in yet, but were in the process of renovating the nest and he had spotted them flying in carrying pieces of moss.

Michael runs a RSPB information stall where he passes on his considerable knowledge of the 180-acre estate's wildlife.

bird box with camera
A camera on the nest box follows the activities of the blue tits

He provides a variety of very collectable lapel pins of endangered animals, catalogues, booklets and free leaflets ranging from instructions on making a bird-box to how to attract the various species to your garden.

The headquarters is in an impressive four-sided building encompassing a large courtyard.

Built in the 1700s by the Hills, a plantation family, it was originally part of the estate's farm buildings.

The family house, which stood on the site of the nearby car park, fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in the 1960s.

Michael said the society, which now boasts more than one million members worldwide, including 100,000 youth members, launched its Date With Nature campaign after peregrine falcons were discovered nesting on the roof of the Tate Modern Gallery in London.

"The RSPB set up telescopes for passers-by to view the birds, so in a similar vein, 200 projects were set up in the UK and this is one of them," he said.

"We obtained permission from the Forest Service to set up this one, basically to show the public what is around them, for instance, the red squirrels over there."

The RSPB has in recent years broadened its work and has bought logging rights to a rain forest in Sumatra to protect the area's tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

Michael also revealed that the society was playing a part in the preservation of the albatross by encouraging methods of fishing which would not endanger the threatened birds.



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