A last task of spring?

With only 11 days to go until the summer solstice my visit yesterday to my Breeding Bird Survey gird square really seemed to mark the change from spring to summer. The weather was warm and dry, the landscape in its prime and the birds plentiful in the fields, trees, hedgerows and woodlands. The early freshness of spring has now worn off the countryside with deeper greens setting in but there are new flowers coming out replacing those earlier blooms.

I’m really lucky to have this particular grid square. It is a mixture of fields and woodlands on and just below the hills of the Cheshire sandstone ridge with the start point for the survey being in the village of Bulkeley and the route crossing over the Nantwich to Wrexham road and passing the Bickerton Poacher. These hills are my favourite part of the county so when I was offered the square five years I go, I didn’t hesitate to accept it.

Over the course of the two visits this year, I recorded 39 species, the second highest number recorded over the 18 years since 1998 that the square has been surveyed (it wasn’t surveyed in 2000, 2001 and 2013). Since I took over the square in 2014, I’ve seen an average of 37 species compared to 26 before. In total, 63 species have been recorded over the years and I’ve added 14 of those. This year I added garden warbler and hobby to the list.

Wandering around the countryside surveying the bird life is a lovely way to spend a morning but it’s made even more lovely by the countryside itself, and I even have a favourite little spot. Towards the end of the first of the two one kilometre transects is a small meadow and yesterday it was looking beautiful with the grassland flowers really starting to show well.

I do have one more survey to do, at my Cheshire Wildlife Trust survey site, but that will have to wait until the last weekend of the month – I just hope the weather allows me to complete it.

Easter day survey

A breeding bird survey seemed like the great way to start off Easter Day. I went to my Cheshire Wildlife Trust survey site for the second time this spring and walked from one end to the other recording the birds in each separate area. The Bagmere reserve has a mixture of (very) wet pasture, woodland and fen, providing quite a variety of habitats for different birds.

The weather was just about perfect, with clear, sunny skies, no rain and a very light wind. However, the temperature was in single figures and I can’t quite believe that I still had to go out wearing thermals to do a survey in April! The birdlife also showed signs of the cold weather with the calls and songs still subdued. The only possible spring migrants were chiffchaffs but these could be wintering birds. In the distance, off the reserve, several curlews made their haunting, wild calls; they should be moving up to the  moors but at present will be kept at lower levels by the recent snows.

Again, the willow tits were absent, which is a shame but I’ll just have to see if they appear, along with all the migrants, when I do the last two spring surveys in May and June.

At the end of the survey, I stopped and stood overlooking the fen in the sunshine, listening to a sky lark sing high up in the air above the reserve – just about a perfect 10 minutes of spring.

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Great early spring day

I was up early today and out of the house an hour after dawn to do the first of four breeding bird surveys at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Bagmere reserve. I’ve been doing the surveys at the site for a few years now and it’s always nice to get started with them – one of the first tasks in my spring and summer of conservation volunteering.

The morning was chilly at first but the temperatures started to rise quickly and with a watery sun adding to the relative warmth, spring appeared to have sprung as I made my way into the reserve. The spring was also evident in the birds, even before I started the survey. There were some displaying lapwings looping over a nearby stubble field and there were plenty of birds singing the dawn chorus in the surrounding woods.

Into the reserve and there were a good number of birds to record with many of the usual species flitting or flying around the meadows, woods and fen. Of particular interest were a couple of water rail, a nice mixed flock of siskins and redpolls, some singing reed buntings and a few snipe flushed from the wet ground.

The scene was set at Bagmere for the spring migrants to arrive, making the intensity of the dawn chorus even greater and bringing even more vibrancy to the reserve.

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After the survey, I went to volunteer with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers at Wybunbury Moss and spent the morning and early afternoon clearing and burning trees from the woodland edge. This work will help other migrant birds by providing better breeding conditions in the thick cover than will grow in the space left behind.

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Not finished for the day, I then went out on my bike for 20 miles, peddling around the Cheshire countryside on the last light of what felt like the first proper weekend of spring – it can only get better from here (hopefully!).

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A stunning spring morning

I woke very early this morning, not much later than my usual weekday time. With clear skies and no wind, I took the opportunity to do the second of my two March breeding bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. This time at their Blakenhall Moss reserve.

Heading out it was a cold and frosty start but with no wind, it was quite comfortable outside and the spring sun soon warmed me up, hitting my dark waterproofs with strengthening rays.  


The reserve is out in the Cheshire countryside near to Wybunbury but isn’t open to the public. I’m very lucky to be allowed to spend a little bit of time there.  However, it isn’t all fun…the site is getting more difficult to get around due to the bramble cover in places and the higher water levels, brought back up to help restore the Moss. I won’t let a bit a water or a few scratches put me off though and after an hour or so I had completed my walk around the site and recorded a good number of species. 


There were two new species recorded for the site, meadow pipit and shelduck, and it was also good to record pairs of marsh tit and lapwing. Despite the lovely springlike weather, there were still some winter migrant species about with a good sized flock of teal still about and a small group of field fare passing purposely overhead.  In total, in recorded 31 species and the two new ones brought the long term reserve list to 64.


For me, this was a perfect early spring morning – bright blue skies, warming sun, a slight frost on the ground, and spent wandering around the countryside listening to and watching wildlife.

Starting a busy spring

Spring and early summer is without doubt the busiest part of my year. I fill weekends with bird surveys, raptor nest protection shifts, some practical environmental tasks, cycling and walking, and my evenings have more cycling thrown in too. With the warmer weather arriving, I also take more holidays during these months, either volunteering or travelling to new places.

My busy spring really kicked off this weekend. On Saturday I attended a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) training course run by the British Trust for Ornithology. I was meant to go to it last year but the worst bout of flu I ever had put paid to that plan. I’ve been doing the BTO version of the BBS since 2014 and have a lovely grid square out near the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. Despite now having some experience of the survey, I thought it would be worth having some formal training, if only to check that I was doing everything correctly…and it appears that have been, which is a relief.

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This morning, I was up early and out to Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s (CWT) Bagmere reserve to undertake the first of four BBS visits. The methodology for CWT’s BBS is different to the BTO’s and collects more detail including recording the behaviour of the bird species noted. When I arrived at the site I almost came straight home again as the wind had picked up and the rain was starting to fall. However, after waiting a little while the rain went away and after walking down to the reserve I could confirm that the site was somewhat sheltered from the breeze and it wouldn’t interfere with the survey by masking bird sounds.

The survey recorded a good number of species and the bird activity is really starting to pick up with the chiffchaffs being a great sign of the new season having arrived. There are still plenty of species to return to the site and there were also winter visitors still in the area with a flock of fieldfares passing overhead. There was also a new species for the site; I flushed a noisy oystercatcher as I walked across the first field into the reserve. However, there was disappointment as again I didn’t record willow tit; a species which has suffered from significant declines nationally and I have noted with decreasing frequency at Bagmere.


Next weekend I hope to make the first BBS visit to my other CWT site, Blakenhall Moss, but this is all dependent on the weather. I will also have another of the fortnightly Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers task on the Sunday, heading out to a site at Oakmere to do a habitat improvement task. The following weekend I’m off on holiday (more posts about this soon) and when I return, over the following weekends will be my first peregrine and osprey nest protection shifts.

I’m going to be busy, but I can’t wait!

Mr Angry disturbs bird survey

This morning was perfect for my first Breeding Bird Survey of the spring for Cheshire Wildlife Trust (CWT).  With a milky sun peeping through the cloud, a light breeze and (relatively) warm air, I set out to count the birds at the Trust’s Bagmere reserve.

After two years of doing both Winter Bird Surveys and Breeding Bird Surveys for CWT, there’s a bit of a change this spring. The Trust has been developing an amended methodology, so things are a little delayed this year.  Instead of having one transect at Bagmere (and the Blakenhall Moss site that I also survey), it is divided into compartments of different habitats.  Bagmere is divided into several grassland, woodland and fenland compartments, in which the birds are recorded separately to show what birdlife the different habitats support.  This morning was my first outing with the new methodology and it worked well and clearly showed some differences between the various areas.

As I’ve written before, a bird survey on a spring morning is an idyllic way to spend a bit of time, wandering through the fields and woodlands, listening to the birds singing in their breeding prime.  Today was as good a morning as there has been when I’ve done a survey and Bagmere was lovely with the flowers starting to show and the leaves beginning to unfurl on the trees.

All was peaceful…apart from this whitethroat who called out in alarm as I passed on the way out and the way back.  He seemed to see me as a great threat and flew from bush to bush berating and scolding me until I was outside of his territory.

Common Whitethroat

 

A spring survey at the end of a wintry week

This morning I went out to the middle of the Cheshire countryside to undertake my first of two visits to my grid square for the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Breeding Bird Survey.  It’s the third year I’ve done this survey and it’s always a pleasure to spend a couple of hours out in the green fields and wooded hillsides observing nature and listening to the calls and songs of the birds.

It’s certainly been a strange spring week with the temperatures dropping and snow appearing on a couple of days.  However, the season is still progressing towards summer with the daffodils on the roadside verges having lost their flowers, the bluebells starting to bloom and the grass growing brighter shade of green. The leaves are coming out on the trees but could they be a little late this year? Some trees are barely showing any signs of leaves at all – it’s May tomorrow!

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The day started cold but bright and as we set off on the first of two one kilometre transects I had to check exactly what I had to do – the long winter has obviously dulled my memory. However, I soon got into the swing of it, for once aided by my assist (thanks Dad – he did the map reading), and started to get the sightings down on the record sheets.

The first transect went without a hitch and the second went well until the penultimate section when winter intervened; the heavens opened and down came a heavy spell of hailstones.  We waited under the shelter of the woodland and halted the survey until the downpour had completely finished, leaving it a little while longer for the birds to re-emerge from wherever they had been sheltering.  It wasn’t long until the birds were singing their spring songs once more and we completed the remaining section of the survey in the dry.

Nothing particularly notable popped up during the survey but all the usual summer migrants were present including the first swallows and house martins I’ve seen this year.  I’m hoping the house martins that nest on my own house return soon – or at least at lot earlier than the did last year – as I’ve got the BTO’s nest survey to do this year.

A conclusion to survey season

Last weekend I did my last bird survey of the breeding season, having had a busy few months of recording since the beginning of March. This year I’ve been doing surveys at two nature reserves for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, I’ve completed a Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in a grid square near Bulkeley, I’ve taken part in the BTO’s House Martin Survey and I did a bit of surveying for the RSPB when I stayed on Ramsey Island.

The surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, at its Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss reserves, were done once a month during March, April, May and June, and this year the overall bird lists for the sites increased further. Over the course of the four visits to Bagmere, 39 species were recorded and this was two less than last year. However, I also made a note of species when I spent a day there with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers and that visit brought the total up to 45. It was disappointing not to record willow tits at Bagmere this year, a red-listed species, particularly as some nest boxes have now been put up for them; I haven’t seen them at the site since December last year. However, it was good to hear water rail on each visit and to add some new species including garden warbler and grasshopper warbler. This year I didn’t record any confirmed breeding species at Bagmere but I did record 19 probables and 12 possibles.

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At Blakenhall, the transformation from woodland to wetland continues to increase the species seen at the reserve. Up until a couple of years ago there would have only been woodland species but now there is a range of both wintering and breeding wildfowl. In total, 47 species were recorded, up from 35 last year and there were five species confirmed as breeding including blue tit, great tit, Canada goose, greylag goose and treecreeper. In addition, 12 probables and 22 possibles were recorded. There were some new species at Blakenhall too including grasshopper warbler, spotted flycatcher, swallow, shoveler, tufted duck and little owl.

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I’ve now completed two years’ of Winter Bird Surveys and Breeding Bird Surveys at Bagmere and Blakenhall, and these have set a baseline for the sites as they were the first surveys of birds done by the Wildlife Trust at the reserves. I’ve now recorded a total of 53 species at Bagmere and 59 at Blakenhall.

The House Martin Survey is being undertaken for one year only, to help to assess the state of the house martin population in the UK. My second visit to my allocated grid square added another nest to the one recorded during the previous visit in June. However, it was only the first one that appeared to being used, with adult birds visiting to feed chicks. Fortunately, there are more house martins in the area, with colonies just outside my grid square. It was also nice to see a good dozen or more floating around in the evening sky last night when I was at a BBQ only a couple of hundred metres from the boundary of my square.

My hopes were raised that the old house martin nest on the side of my house might still be used this year as I saw birds making fleeting visits over a couple of days and I found droppings beneath the nest when I came back from my two weeks on Ramsey Island. However, those hopes have gone as the birds’ interest didn’t last long and it’s now too late for a pair to breed in the nest. Maybe next year!

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I really enjoy doing the bird surveys, not only because I’m doing something practical to support conservation efforts, but also because it’s lovely to spend a couple of early hours on spring mornings wandering around nature reserves. However, I have to say that the bird survey I helped with on my first day on Ramsey Island was the most fun and memorable of the year. The seabird survey by jet boat in warm summer sunshine was spectacular and a world away from the freezing cold March morning at Bagmere when I crunched my way around the hushed, snow coated reserve with my fingers, toes and nose being nipped by the frost.

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.