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!

Rain stops play?

I was meant to be out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers today but with a poor weather forecast the task for Cheshire Wildlife Trust was called off. Disappointed I was but cutting back birch saplings and trying to burn them in heavy rain doesn’t sound like too much fun, especially when there is no good shelter on the Bagmere site.

I didn’t let a bad weather forecast force me to spend the day inside, however, and I went on a damp and blustery walk along the Cheshire sandstone ridge.  I’ve been there so many times that I must know most footpaths that cross the series of low hills.

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I set off from the far end of the hills, from the Bickerton Hill car park near Duckington.  I walked up onto the ridge and headed north-eastwards and then down into the village of Bickerton.  I stopped for a moment outside the church to listen to the Remembrance Sunday service but then walked up the road and onto the next hill towards Raw Head.

Across the top of the ridge, there was dampness in the air but no rain, the wind growing in strength and beginning to roar in the trees.  I stopped momentarily at the trig point but then pressed on towards Coppermine Lane and then on to Bulkeley Hill.  On top, low cloud was hanging in the trees giving an ominous feeling to the woodland.

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Coming down off the hill, I walked through the fields to Burwardsley and then down the roads towards Harthill.  The sky started to brighten as I walked around the small hill behind the village, with even a bit of blue sky appearing between the briskly blown clouds.

Behind that small hill I came across a newly built replica Observer Corps watchtower – looking over the Cheshire Plain towards the Wirral and Merseyside.

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After passing through Brown Knowl and making my way up the last hill, the clouds finally started to drop their rain as I neared the car. Nine miles with rain only at the very end wasn’t exactly what had been forecast.

Rain stopped play? Well, somethings are better in the dry but a threat of rain isn’t going to stop me getting outside.

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