A first bird survey of the year

For the past five years I have been doing a winter bird survey for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust at its Bagmere reserve. This has entailed at least one visit in November or December and a further visit in January or February each winter. The process involves walking the length of the site recording each species of bird, the number of individuals and which part of the reserve they were seen within. The site is divided into a number of different areas based on the type of habitat – grassland, woodland and fenland. The winter survey complements the breeding bird survey I also do at the site in the four months from March each year.

The spring surveys are lovely, giving me the opportunity to observe the progress of the season with the increasing number of bird species appearing with each visit. In contrast, the winter survey visits, like the one I did today, are often cold, damp, cloudy and fairly bleak. The birds were quiet and subdued, waiting out the worst of the weather until the rush of spring and the time to breed again. However, while a little less than the spring surveys, I managed to find 19 different species today including two new ones for the site; sparrowhawk and kingfisher. The latter was a real surprise as there is little open water in the area through which the survey is conducted, although there is some further into the fenland part of the site.

There was also a bit of relief to todays survey with willow tits found again. These are a red-listed species and are becoming increasingly rare, with Bagmere one of the last locations in Cheshire to have them. Over the last few years of surveys they have appeared less and less, and they weren’t recorded at all during my spring visits last year. Therefore, to find two of them today, identified by their harsh alarm calls (play the second of the recordings here)

Since 2014, I have record 68 species at the site with the number climbing up a little each year. With the work the Wildlife Trust has been doing on the site, including clearing a lot of the willow scrub, it will be interesting to see how the range of species changes in the coming years.

A first trip of the year

On the 2nd January I had my first trip out of the year and visited the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Martin Mere Reserve. I’ve been visiting the reserve for many years and usually make a trip in the autumn to see the large flicks of pink-footed geese that pass through on the way to their main wintering grounds in north Norfolk. However, largely due to the amount of weekend working I did over the autumn, I missed that chance and this was the first time I’ve been for well over a year.

The weather was cold but very bright and a big change from the recent mild but gloomy stuff we’ve been having and it made the visit all the better for it. There was plenty of wildlife on show as I walked between the various hides from one end of the reserve to the other. I saw over 40 different species; perhaps not the most comprehensive list for the site and I’m sure I would have seen more had I stuck around longer. However, the best sights of the day were a barn owl hunting in daylight and three distant marsh harriers.

Of particular note was the relatively low number of whooper swans. It might just have been the particular day but there were only around 800 present when at this time of year previously I might have seen double that figure. I also learnt that the number of Pink-footed geese that passed through in the autumn was lower than usual. I suspect this may simply be down to the mild weather we have had over the autumn and winter so far and the birds are staying further north. However, there is a bread in me that there is more to this.

Towards the end of the day, I made a quick visit to RSPB Hesketh Outmarsh to see if there was much about. Whilst is was quiet I did get a nice sunset…

Looking forward to 2019

I’ve woken on the first morning of the new year hoping to pull back the curtains and see a bright, sunny day but instead there’s more gloom, just as we’ve had for almost the whole festive period. However, I awoke with bright hopes instead of fulfilled plans for the year ahead. The new year brings a clean slate but one which is already being scribbled on.

Just as 2018 was, I’m hoping 2019 will be a year full of time spent outdoors, both locally, further afield in the UK but also abroad. My first trip will be to Botswana in March, returning to the country I first visited in 2017 but this time to the Kalahari desert to spend a week on a camping safari. No doubt I will also have a trip to Sweden to visit family, probably in August, and I plan to have a third foreign trip, potentially in the autumn but I’ve yet to decide where but maybe Eastern Europe.

I’ve also got a return trip to the Isle of Harris which I visited in 2018; this time I’m hoping to get to St Kilda and, possibly, the Shiants too, something I failed to do last year due to the weather. I also hope to have some long weekends away, too few of which I had in 2018, including a trip to Norfolk and possible some of the hills in the South West.

More locally, I will mix cycling, both on road and dirt tracks, walking and running with conservation volunteering, mostly with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers but also doing bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology.

However, it’s unlikely that I will be doing many, if any, osprey or peregrine protection shifts as the main time for this volunteering will coincide with my biggest plan of this year.  Since 2012 I have spent two or three weeks per year volunteering for the RSPB on Ramsey Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire. When I was there this last September I was asked whether I could do a three-month stint in 2019. Well, I couldn’t refuse (after getting approval from work), so I will be spending late spring and much of the summer on the island.

With all this planned, I can’t wait to get the year started!