Bird surveys start again…

Yesterday I started another round of bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Following the Winter Bird Surveys (WBS) and Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) I completed for both the Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss reserves earlier this year, it’s now time to start the winter surveys again.

The WBS is much simpler than the BBS undertaken in the spring of each year. The former involve walking the same fixed route but only the species and number of individual birds are recorded. The BBS requires the noting of behaviour to assess whether each recorded species is indeed breeding on a particular site. In addition, the winter surveys can be done at any time during a day, but it should be dry and with little wind.

The winter surveys are undertaken on two separate visits, one in November/December and the other in January/February. Whilst only two visits are required in total for each site, if I get time I will hopefully be able to do four, one in each month. Very little data has been collected on birds at the Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss sites; essentially data is limited to that collected through the surveys I have undertaken this year. Therefore, I hope a little extra effort will help to build up a greater depth of information and therefore understanding of birds at the two sites.

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I started the November/December surveys with a visit to the Trust’s Bagmere reserve. It was a very clear day with bright blue skies and almost no wind – after being in the Falklands for most of the last three weeks, having so little wind was very different to what I have become used to! There was clearly been a lot of rain while I was away as the site was more wet than I can remember it being over the three years or so I have been visiting.

After a rather quiet start to the survey with very little activity, the number of species started to pick up and I ended with a half-descent list. In fact, I noted more species than either of the two visits last winter and only one short of the combined total for those visits. However, of the 21 species recorded, five were flying over rather than being present on the site. The species recorded included: blackbird, black-head gull, blue tit, bullfinch, carrion crow, chaffinch, great tit, jay, linnet, magpie, mallard, moorhen, pheasant, pied wagtail, redwing, robin, song thrush, starling, water rail, woodpigeon and wren.

Of those listed, the most interesting is the water rail which is a local rarity. While I recorded it during the BBS visits to the site earlier this year, it didn’t appear during the last winter surveys. However, it was disappointing not to record willow tit at the site as it was recorded at Bagmere during the BBS and has been noted on a number of visits I have made to the site while working with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV). The willow tit is also a local rarity and has declined in population nationally by 80% over the last 20 years. Furthermore, this was the only Cheshire Wildlife Trust site to record this species during the last round of WBSs. Hopefully, with more visits to be made to the site over the course of the winter, including with CNCV, I’ll be able to record its presence.

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As usual, it was a lovely way to spend a spare hour – wandering quietly around the countryside, immersing myself in the sounds and sights of my surroundings, although as it is approaching the end of the year, the sounds are nothing like the cacophony I listen to during the early morning Breeding Bird Surveys.

Breeding Bird Survey – Getting back more than I put in…

Today, I completed the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) for Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Bagmere reserve.  The site is located at the centre of a triangle formed by Sandbach, Holmes Chapel and Congleton and is only a short drive from where I live (well it should be if I hadn’t been caught in rush hour traffic today!).  The survey has involved visiting the site once per month during March, April, May and June, and recording the species of birds seen, the number of each species and their behaviour.  Now at the end of the four visits, I can assess what birds are possibly breeding, probably breeding or confirmed breeding on the site.

Over the course of the four visits, I have noted 41 species at the site. A number of these have been flying over Bagmere and therefore are unlikely to be breeding there (e.g. Lapwing, swallow and jackdaw) but many of the others are either possible or probable breeders.  I was quite excited that in the earlier visits I had recorded both Willow Tit and Water Rail but these species have not put in an appearance more recently but I think I can put the former down as a probable breeder at least. Today I saw young Blue Tits and Great Tits, so these are likely to be recorded as confirmed breeders for the site.

One thing that has struck me over the course of the four visits is how Bagmere and the birds have changed as the Spring has progressed.  During my first visit, the trees were bare, the temperatures were low and there were still some avian winter visitors around (Fieldfares and Redwings).  When I did the surveys in April and May, the grass was starting to grow, the trees were coming into leaf and the migrants gradually started to arrive. My visit today found the reserve in its prime; all of the summer migrants had arrived, the grass was almost too long to walk through, the trees were in full leaf and the flowers were blooming.

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While undertaking the surveys I have also noted the other fauna I have seen within the reserve and today I saw both Spotted Wood and Meadow Brown butterflies (pictured below).  I also saw two brown hares during the May visit to the site – for me, a lovely moment and highlight.

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One of the things that makes this task so special is that I’m the first person to do a full BBS for the site and my list of species is the first complete one done for Bagmere (I think so, anyway).

I have gained so much through doing these surveys. I don’t think I have ever noticed the seasons change as much as I have this year.  I have always thought I was in touch with the changing of the seasons but these surveys have taken it to a whole new level. The surveys have also improved my ear for birds and I now seem to be able to cut through the general cacophony of the modern world and pick out a single bird singing amongst the trees or undergrowth.

I started doing these surveys to help Cheshire Wildlife Trust with its work but I have received far more than I have put in – I think I have really learnt and grown by doing them – I just hope I can continue to do the surveys for the years to come!