Another day, another survey

After yesterday’s lovely spring morning, today was much cooler and cloudier but I still ventured out reasonably early to complete the last of this months bird surveys.  Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall Moss reserve was the focus again and I completed the survey in just over an hour; it may take longer on the last two surveys in May and June as the undergrowth increases in the woodland.

Over the course of this survey and the visit last month, I recorded a total of 39 species; that’s four more than the total over all four Breeding Bird Survey visits last year.  This visit also took the complete bird list for the site to 56 with the addition of shoveler, red-legged partridge and grasshopper warbler.  Both the shoveler and partridge appeared to be in pairs, so are probable breeders on the site.  This is almost certainly the first time breeding on the site for shoveler following the woodland clearance and re-wetting work that has been done over the past couple of years.

The grasshopper warbler tested me a bit as I have only heard one once before (close to where I leave my car on the mainland when I stay on Ramsey Island) and only when the particular bird was calling in full flow – a constant, long grasshopper-like call.  Just as I was completing the survey I heard a short, three or four second long low trilling coming from some brash but I couldn’t see the creature it was coming from. Several more short bursts came from the undergrowth, moving a couple of times but I still couldn’t get a view.  After waiting quite a while, I left for home and checked the call on xeno-canto bird sounds library, suspecting that it was one of these warblers. I turned out to be right and it seems these summer visitors don’t give their full call when they first arrive, starting off in bursts before building up to the constant insect-like sound.

These birds are red-listed after significant long-term declines in their populations, although more recent times have seen promising increases.  Checking my copy of the brilliant BTO Bird Atlas, the birds are relatively scarce along the Welsh border from south Cheshire all the way down to Gloucesteshire.  Therefore, finding one at Blakenhall, if it stays, could be good news.


It wasn’t just the birds that were showing well this morning, there were other signs that spring is here.  There were flowering marsh marigolds and the first few bluebells starting to bloom in the woods ringing the Moss and the blackthorn has broken out into blossom in hedgerows across the area.


The power of volunteers

I have a few large posts in the offing but I just wanted to highlight two great examples of volunteering and what can be achieved by many people putting contributing a little (and in some cases not so little) of their time.

Late last year, the British Trust for Ornithology, Birdwatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologist Club released the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas.  This is an amazing book that details the breeding and wintering ranges of all bird species in the British Isles and not only is it a scientific marvel, it is a lovely ‘coffee table book’ too (if fact it’s almost as big as a coffee table!).  The book importantly also highlights how bird populations have changed over the past few decades and, in many cases, is quite a depressing read.  However, it’s an extremely helpful aid to the work of conservation organisations and fascinating for those of us who like wildlife, statistics and maps!

The most startling thing about it, is that 40,000 people helped to create it by collecting bird survey data and they’re all named in the back – it’s just a pity my name’s not in there and it will be many years until the next one comes out.

ImageThe other great example of volunteering is one that is much better known – the Big Garden Birdwatch. The results of the 2014 survey came out today and again it makes for interesting reading.  Nearly half a million people took part in the survey (sadly down from last year) and 7.27million birds were counted.  The annual survey has now been going for 36 years and data collected over that period can provide very good insights into the state of Britain’s birds.

You can find out more on the Bird Atlas and the Bid Garden Birdwatch at the following locations: