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.

House Martin Survey 2015

My spring bird surveys are just about coming to an end with only the June breeding bird surveys to do at two Cheshire wildlife trust sites. However, I’ve a new summer survey to do this year and it’s all about house martins.

This will be the fifteenth summer I will have lived in my house and each one has been accompanied by house martins breeding under the eaves. However, last year they only built the nest and didn’t successfully breed, this year they haven’t returned at all. Fortunately, there are martins on some of the surrounding houses but mine appear to have gone.

Whilst the birds did make a bit of a mess on my drive, that was more than made up for by the chortling sounds coming in through the landing window on warm summer evenings and early each morning. I fear that those sounds won’t return. These birds live on average for only two years, so a break of two years breeding on my house may mean they never return.

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It isn’t just my house that they are failing to return to. The rapid decline of this species means they are now amber listed – of conservation concern – but very little is known about them; this is where the new survey comes in. In 2015, 2,000-3,000 randomly selected one-kilometre grid squares will be surveyed to generate estimates of the national population. In 2016, a further set of surveys will be undertaken to monitor breeding activity at individual nests.

I’m very fortunate to have been allocated the grid square next to the one in which I live; it starts about 100 metres from my house. The survey involves three visits (I’ll explain the second two in a later post) and I completed the first last weekend. This visit to the grid square was a recce to make initial investigations into what nests are present in the area.

My allocated grid square is largely rural with a couple of small housing estates and a couple of sections of residential road. I wasn’t therefore expecting to have huge numbers of nests but I only found one within the whole square. I felt somewhat cheated by this as I observed three distinct groups of house martins flying around the area in the east, south and west of the grid square. I felt even more cheated by the fact that I found other nests literally a handful of metres outside the grid square which I’m unable to include in the survey. However, it is just as important what you don’t count in the square as what you do, so even feeling slightly cheated, I must only record the one nest.

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Whilst these surveys won’t directly bring ‘my’ house martins back, I hope it will contribute to the understanding of the reasons for their decline. In due course, maybe that understanding will help to reverse the decline and, one day, I may again hear the chortling of house martins coming in through my landing window on a warm summer evening.

You can read more on these surveys on the British Trust for Ornithology’s website.

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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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:

http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/birdatlas

http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/previous-results.aspx