May Breeding Bird Survey at Bagmere

As the month has turned, I did the first of my two May Breeding Bird Surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust on Friday. This time is was the turn of the Bagmere reserve. It was a bright sunny morning for the survey although a chilly breeze didn’t make it completely comfortable. After working at the site last Sunday with the Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV), I had high hopes for recording some new species (or at least new to records). On Sunday, we noted a very clear grasshopper warbler and I had a probable garden warbler but unfortunately neither were present when I did the survey yesterday. It was also disappointing not to record willow tit, which have now not be seen or heard for the last four survey visits and at least two CNCV tasks.

I took my SLR camera with me in the hope of getting some nice shots of some of the birds but none were particularly obliging although this reed bunting did allow me to get quite close.

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When I visit sites to do the bird surveys I usually also record other wildlife too and yesterday again saw a couple of brown hares, which are a regular sight for the reserve. When we visited with CNCV in the winter, there were hare prints in the snow all over the fields surrounding the site.

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With one survey visit left to Bagmere for this year’s Breeding Bird Surveys, I’m only four species behind the total for last year. With the new species seen last sunday, the species list for the site has now grown to 53 since January last year.

Perfect weather for misery but there’s a glimmer of hope…

As I head out it seems that the brief summer-like weather of a over a fortnight ago has gone for good and it’s already raining heavily before I cross the border into Wales. The wind is getting stronger too but I only notice from inside the warm cocoon of my car when the caravan in front gets buffeted sideways as we break out from behind the shelter of a hill. The fresh greens of the trees and fields are subdued by the thick cloud cover but there is a flash of bright colour as I pass a carpet bluebells beneath a roadside wood. Climbing into the mountains the temperature falls, getting closer and closer to freezing. The heavy rain starts to be dotted with white flakes and I decide to continue on the main road rather than taking the moor-top route.

The weather worsens further as I get closer to the Glaslyn but as I turn onto the wooded track I still open my windows to let the sounds of the valley in (and the rain!). It’s hard to hear the usual chorus above the rattling of drops on the roof and splashing of tyres through the puddles. A thrush and robin are there but everything else is drowned out. The track is getting darker by the day, shaded by the greening canopy, made more so by the monotone clouds. I’m used to being guided by a wren or blackbird as I progress but today it’s a sheep, stuck on the wrong side of the wall and now herded by a big black metal sheepdog.

The wet meadows are now sodden as I reach the open air away from the trees. Across the river and over the bund, the round home at the top of the fir tree now has two bedraggled occupants. They stand there, backs to the wind and the worst of the rain, looking miserable and dejected. However, at last, despite the weather, maybe there is new hope in the nest and possibly this won’t be a barren year after all.

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As I arrived today, up in the nest was a new young male keeping the Glaslyn female company. He’s been around for a few days and has been attentive to her, bringing fish. They mated at least three times in the first hour of my shift; well, attempted to at least – he fell off on one occasion. He’s a fine looking lad, rather like the previous Glaslyn male (11/98) and, in my opinion, the best looking of her suiters so far this year – maybe she’s just picky and the others weren’t her type. He’s an unringed male, so no one knows where he’s from but perhaps he’s a Scot as the larger numbers of ospreys up there means that a smaller proportion are ringed.

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A fourth egg of the spring was laid yesterday but there was no sign of it when I arrived this morning. The new male disappeared for a couple of hours and then half-way through my shift he brought back a sea trout and she immediately snatched it from him and started hungrily devouring it. However, she did stop for a mid-fish snooze and he twice tried to mate with her while she was still eating. He made a right mess of the first attempt but on the second occasion either he had got the hang of it or he seemed to think it normal just to sit on her back for a while. In total, they mated at least nine times during the eight hours of my shift, which is hopefully a good sign.

I learnt my lesson of last week, when I froze for most of the day in the protection caravan (spy cave). Today I brought warmer clothes and a sleeping bag, and also popped into Port’ for a cooked breakfast before I started my shift – the sausage bap last week obviously didn’t do the job.

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I was looking forward to a quick wander in the woods this week to see if the bluebells had come out further and to take some shots but the heavy rain put paid to that idea. Instead, I stayed curled up in the caravan for the day, longing for the rain to stop, clouds to part, wind to drop and for that summer weather to come back. During a lull in the rain, I had a short wander around the site and soon noticed a good sign of just how cold it was with a fresh blanket of snow on the upper slopes of the surrounding mountains.

Maybe, just maybe, next week the good weather will have returned and eggs will be being incubated in the nest – but I’ll happily settle for the latter!