For the past five years I have been doing a winter bird survey for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust at its Bagmere reserve. This has entailed at least one visit in November or December and a further visit in January or February each winter. The process involves walking the length of the site recording each species of bird, the number of individuals and which part of the reserve they were seen within. The site is divided into a number of different areas based on the type of habitat – grassland, woodland and fenland. The winter survey complements the breeding bird survey I also do at the site in the four months from March each year.
The spring surveys are lovely, giving me the opportunity to observe the progress of the season with the increasing number of bird species appearing with each visit. In contrast, the winter survey visits, like the one I did today, are often cold, damp, cloudy and fairly bleak. The birds were quiet and subdued, waiting out the worst of the weather until the rush of spring and the time to breed again. However, while a little less than the spring surveys, I managed to find 19 different species today including two new ones for the site; sparrowhawk and kingfisher. The latter was a real surprise as there is little open water in the area through which the survey is conducted, although there is some further into the fenland part of the site.
There was also a bit of relief to todays survey with willow tits found again. These are a red-listed species and are becoming increasingly rare, with Bagmere one of the last locations in Cheshire to have them. Over the last few years of surveys they have appeared less and less, and they weren’t recorded at all during my spring visits last year. Therefore, to find two of them today, identified by their harsh alarm calls (play the second of the recordings here)
Since 2014, I have record 68 species at the site with the number climbing up a little each year. With the work the Wildlife Trust has been doing on the site, including clearing a lot of the willow scrub, it will be interesting to see how the range of species changes in the coming years.
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!
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.
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.
The 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!