English Winter Bird Survey 2018

This is usually a quiet time of year for my conservation volunteering activities but the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has come up with something new for me to do: the English Winter Bird Survey (EWBS).

Whilst I already do a winter survey for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, this new BTO survey is a nationally organised event on the same scale as its Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), which I also do; in fact my survey site for the BBS and EWBS are the same.

My survey site is a grid square out on the edge of the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge, with the base of Bulkeley Hill the start and the Bickerton Poacher pub right in the middle. It’s a lovely location with my two 1km transects having a range of habitats from cottage gardens and rolling pastures to fields planted to crops and steep wooded hillsides.

The methodology for the EWBS is very similar to the BBS with all birds recorded along each transect, split into 200m sections, and the distance from the transect noted (under 25m, 25m-100m or over 100m). The big differences are the way that the birds were first noted doesn’t have to be recorded (i.e. by sight, by call or by song) and the habitat has to be recorded on each visit. The EWBS also requires brown hares to be noted but I think it unlikely I will see any in my square as I have yet to do so in the past five years of BBS visits and during my numerous walks in the area over the past almost 40 years.

The BBS requires two visits to the site, one in April/May and another in May/June but the EWBS requires up to four visits covering December, January, February and March – so giving me something to do in the quieter winter months. The helpful thing about the EWBS is that it can be undertaken at any point during daylight hours, so it doesn’t require an early wake up like the BBS does.

Today I completed by second EWBS visit to my grid square and just like the first, it was a gloomy and cloudy day, perhaps more so. I have to say that there were no real surprises or birds of particular note this time, only a flock of winter thrushes, fieldfares and redwings, brought me to a longer pause, watching them forage in the horse pastures. My first visit was almost equally as quiet but it was brightened by a large skein of pink-footed geese flying overhead as I walked between the end of the first transect and the beginning for the second.

Despite the gloomy weather, I enjoyed being out in the winter countryside and it makes an interesting contrast to when I do the BBS in the spring; the land now at its lowest ebb before bursting into life in the spring. With the seemingly never-ending depressing weather at the moment, the spring can’t come soon enough for me!

A record for my BTO Breeding Bird Survey

A few days ago I did the third and final spring visit to my British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Breeding Bird Survey grid square. This was the second of the visits to undertake the survey itself, following a first visit back in March to record any changes in habitats from the same surveys last year. It was a lovely warm spring morning with the countryside full of activity, the landscape a lush green and the birds putting on a great show.

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As usual it took me about 45 minutes to complete each of the two 1km transects, recording all the species I saw or heard, including the number of individuals. I also recorded any mammals I saw or their signs. At the end of the survey, which finishes part way up Bulkeley Hill, I walked the rest of the way up the hill and then the long way around back to my car. The top of the hill gives some great views across the Cheshire Plain back towards home and it also gives nice views across the survey grid square.

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Whilst this was the second year I have done the survey of the grid square near Bulkeley, the site has been surveyed for nearly two decades. The first survey of the site was done in 1998 and the average number of species recorded each year since then, before I started the surveys last year, was 26. Last year I noted 32 species in total and this year I noted the highest ever figure of 39. Over the course of the last 18 years of surveys, 55 species have been recorded. Five of the species I’ve recorded in the last two years weren’t recorded previously (raven, linnet, meadow pipit, goldcrest and red-legged partridge).

My, now usual, busy spring is almost coming to a close with only a last osprey shift to come before the change in month brings a change in season. However, summer will also be busy and will hold more wildlife encounters.  I have a new BTO survey to do, I need to complete the surveys at the two Cheshire Wildlife Trust sites I monitor, I’m bound to have a few more trips to Glaslyn and the highlight of my year in nature is still to come – a fortnight on RSPB Ramsey Island.

Breeding Bird Surveys

On Sunday last week and Friday and Saturday this week, I did the second round of four monthly Breeding Bird Surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and my first Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

The survey at the Wildlife Trust’s Bagmere reserve, on Sunday last weekend, picked up Willow Tits again, so they are probable breeders at the site, and there could be up to three territories.  However, I didn’t pick up any water rails this time, but there are two more surveys to do (in May and June) so hopefully I’ll note them again.

The Blakenhall survey was on Friday, which was a fabulously bright but chilly morning.  There was a low mist across the field as I walked to the reserve and Spring was in full swing with the bluebells now out, or at least on the sunnier slopes around the Moss.

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Hearing the bird song was a little more difficult this time as there’s now a mixed flock of greylag and canada geese around the reserve and they were making a racket. The stars of the survey must have been the blackcaps, with eight seen around the site, including a group of three chasing each other around.

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Another highlight was seeing a pair of Marsh Tits, which I’d hoped to see last time but didn’t come across them.  Like the very similar looking Willow Tits, they are a red-listed species and have suffered 22% declines since the 1970s, although this is less severe than the decline in numbers of Willow Tits.  They are also a local rarity, so it was good to see them at Blakenhall as part of the survey – I’ve seen them before at the site when doing some conservation volunteering with the Wildlife Trust.

The BTO Breeding Bird Survey is more onerous than the Wildlife Trust version and takes twice as long.  On Saturday morning I did the first of the two surveys I’m doing in the grid square near the Cheshire sandstone ridge, centred around the Bickerton Poacher pub.  The survey requires two (roughly) parallel 1km transects to be walked making note of all the birds seen or heard.  Each 1km transect is divided into five 200m sections and the birds seen or heard are noted within 25m, 100m or over 100m.  Whether the birds were identified by song, call or sight is also noted as are signs and sightings of mammals.

The survey was done on another bright sunny morning and walking around the Cheshire countryside was a real pleasure.  There were no real species of note although the three buzzards circling above the hills were pretty special and I came across a couple of red-legged partridge.

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BTO Breeding Bird Survey – Bickerton Poacher

This week I was given a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) grid square by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and this morning I went out to complete the habitat survey for the two transects (survey routes).

The survey site is out near the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge, close to Bulkeley and just by the Bickerton Poacher pub on the road between Nantwich and Wrexham.  The BBS will require two visits, one at either end of Spring, but I’ll go into more detail about what the surveys entail in a future post.

ImageThe two survey transects are very typical of that part of Cheshire, with large pastures, bounded by hedges, with the backdrop of the low wooded hills.  Unlike much of the county, the land is quite rolling but the Cheshire Plain starts only a short distance away.

Spring really is in full swing now, with the daffodils out in full bloom, leaf buds starting to burst and the birds singing for all their worth.  This survey and the similar surveys I’ve been doing for Cheshire Wildlife Trust have given me a better ‘ear’ for bird song and picking out individual species.  I don’t think I have ever appreciated so much the sheer volume and strength of the combined weight of bird song at Springtime.  Just standing by my car at the starting point of the first transect, by the woodland at the bottom of the hills, the sound was so intense and vibrant – the countryside bursting with life!

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