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All aboard a RSPB bird watching boat cruise on the Boston Belle in Lincolnshire





What could be more perfect on a sunny day than a cruise down a river with the wind in your hair?

Well, that’s what passengers can experience on a RSPB Seal and Birdwatching Cruise aboard the Boston Belle.

These have been taking place for a little over 20 years — the first had just 18 seats available.

The Boston Belle
The Boston Belle

This year cruises run until October, each with 50 seats, and on May 2, the boat and the weather were in tip-top condition for the fully booked first trip of the season.

Jeremy Eyeons, who lives in Boston, has been volunteering on the boat for more than a decade. Armed with an impressive camera he points out birds and other wildlife to passengers from his position at the front of the boat.

The first birds to be spotted on the shoreline were a grey wagtail, and a cormorant resting on a sign, while peregrine falcons could be picked out through binoculars on the spire of the Boston Stump.

Grey wagtail
Grey wagtail
Volunteers Jeremy Eyeons
Volunteers Jeremy Eyeons

As the boat slides down The Haven towards The Wash, Jeremy also points out landmarks including a railway bridge built in 1844, Custom House, the Boston Barrier and the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial. Sand martins are spotted weaving about, along with swallows.

A retired estate agent, Jeremy is scanning the shores in particular for a lapwing, a favourite species of his.

“It was the first bird my dad pointed out to me, in 1965. I’ve been been bird watching ever since,” Jeremy said.

Little egret
Little egret
Avocet
Avocet

“The best thing about these cruises though isn’t the birds, it’s the people. It’s nice to see people enjoying themselves. I enjoy the whole experience.”

Pleasingly, the lapwing is among the birds spotted, and some of the guests have travelled from as far afield as Rutland, a near-50-mile journey.

“It’s my first time, I’m really enjoying it,” one tells me. “It’s just a lovely, lovely day out.”

The Boston Stump
The Boston Stump

The most unusual birds Jeremy has seen while volunteering on the cruises are gannets and two puffins out in The Wash. Puffins usually nest in burrows on rocky islands or on sea cliffs, and the closest location to Lincolnshire for birders to spot them is RSPB Bempton Cliffs in Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

While puffins are few and far between around the Boston Belle, there is an abundance of avocets, which is appropriate because the distinctive, elegant bird features on the RSPB logo.

A hare
A hare

At one point, a hare runs alongside the boat, appearing to want to keep up, but eventually his energy runs out and he stops to watch us continue along The Haven.

As the boat approaches The Wash, Jeremy prepares for the elements, swapping his cap for a beanie hat. For those feeling the cold, bacon baps and hot drinks are available. Even on a sunny, spring day, the temperature drops as the boat reaches the point where mouths of The Haven and the River Welland converge and it becomes a little choppy, despite advertising for the Belle claiming “we’ve never had a case of seasickness”.

Several of those who help with the cruises also volunteer at nearby RSPB Frampton Marsh.

Volunteer Eleanor Thornton
Volunteer Eleanor Thornton

Eleanor Thornton, a keen birder who lives in Sleaford, is one of them. She plans to take another journey this year, but as a passenger with a friend.

“The cruises are one of the extra things the local group does,” she said.

“I enjoy the experience of being on the boat - it’s a different way to see the birds. The weather is fantastic today but people see out at the front, no matter what.”

“There must be hundreds of people in the county who don’t know about the cruises. I wish everyone could experience it once.”

Fellow volunteer John Wright, who lives in Moulton, near Spalding, agrees.

“Every time you come out on the boat there’s something different to see and experience. That’s what bird watching is all about - even if you don’t see what you want to, it’s the experience and that element of surprise.”

Common seal on the RSPB cruise on the Boston Belle. Photo: Jeremy Eyeons
Common seal on the RSPB cruise on the Boston Belle. Photo: Jeremy Eyeons

As well as birds, passengers on board can also spot common seals that loll on the shores, barely even looking up as the boat passes.

The South Lincolnshire RSPB Group formed in the late 1980s as a way for like-minded people to meet and enjoy the hobby.

“The RSPB put on a film show in Boston and about 200 people came including me and my wife,” recalls treasurer Mike Skinner, who worked in finance before retiring.

“They decided to hold a meeting to see if there was interest in setting up a local group and about a dozen people came along. The rest is history.”

Many of the guests are repeat visitors and among them on this trip was Nicholas Watts, who owns Vine House Farm in Deeping St Nicholas.

Whimbrel the RSPB cruise on the Boston Belle. Photo: Jeremy Eyeons
Whimbrel the RSPB cruise on the Boston Belle. Photo: Jeremy Eyeons
Oystercatcher on the RSPB cruise on the Boston Belle. Photo: Jeremy Eyeons
Oystercatcher on the RSPB cruise on the Boston Belle. Photo: Jeremy Eyeons

Although he’s not a member of the local RSPB group, Nicholas has a keen interest in birds and developed his Vine House Farm Bird Food business as a result.

He also helps to count birds locally and has seen the numbers of wading birds on The Wash and up towards Hunstanton in Norfolk grow from 250,000 in the 1960s to 400,000 today

“I’d like to see a swift today as I’ve not seen one yet this year,” said Nicholas.

“There is a good collection of waders on The Wash and it is always a good trip. I last came about three years ago but my sister is visiting from Scotland, so we’re having a family day out.”

Among his first spots off the boat was a greenshank.

The Boston Belle is available for private hire and Nicholas, now 80, hired it to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Nicholas Watts aboard
Nicholas Watts aboard

Another guest on board is Neill Murray, who won his place on the trip. The group recently ran a crowd-funder to pay for a couple of refurbished disability scooters for visitors to Frampton Marsh to use and Neill donated to the fundraising campaign, knowing he would be able to make use of the scooter to make his journey around the reserves more comfortable.

“Winning tickets on the cruise was win-win really,” said Neill.

Neill Murray and his guests won the cruise
Neill Murray and his guests won the cruise

“Every time we go to Frampton we see something new, so we hope the same will be true today.”

Skipper Rodney Bowles, 82, has owned the Belle for 22 years. Built in 1949, it spent its early years on the River Thames before moving to the Devon area.

Rodney also owns the Prince George, which is used for river cruises towards Lincoln.

“I do like birds,” he said.

Owner and skipper of the Boston Belle, Rodney Bowles
Owner and skipper of the Boston Belle, Rodney Bowles

“I don’t quite know all of them but I always find these cruises interesting and see new things.”

One of Eleanor’s tasks is to run an on-board raffle, with prizes including a bottle of wine, a bird book and bird seed. The money goes into local group funds.

A marsh harrier
A marsh harrier
A kestrel being mobbed by a crow
A kestrel being mobbed by a crow

Bird highlights on the May 2 cruise included marsh harriers soaring above the grasslands and a kestrel fighting with a crow mid-air, as well as whimbrel, a first for many of the birders on board.

Over a journey lasting just under five hours there were 47 different species of birds spotted, as well as seals, hares and a muntjac deer who popped out of a hedge as the boat returned to Boston.

The birds spotted on the May 2 cruise
The birds spotted on the May 2 cruise

The next cruise sets sail at 11.45am on Friday (May 17).

Tickets can be purchased from the Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre in Boston, by calling the box office on 01205 363108, or visiting www.ticketsource.co.uk/blackfriars.

Bookings close at 1pm on the last business day before the cruise.

As well as May 17, there are eight further dates this year.



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