A first bird survey of the year

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.

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.


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.


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.


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!).


Finished with winter

Looking at the weather forecast for the next few days, winter hasn’t finished with me but I’ve certainly finished with it! With only two days of February left, that means only two days left of meteorological winter, I can’t wait for spring to take over.

My last task of the season was on Saturday when I did a final winter bird survey at Bagmere Fen, the Cheshire Wildlife Trust site I monitor. Unusually for recent weekends, Saturday (and Sunday for that matter) was picture perfect – bright, clear blue skies, with a light frost firming up the soft ground beneath. The survey only takes around an hour but its a lovely way to spend a bit of a morning, wandering through a nature reserve looking for the sights and sounds of wildlife.

The survey brought no surprises but winter was much in evidence in the species I saw, with fieldfares and redwings moving through, visitors from Scandinavia for the colder months, and a few groups of starling. I have heard that there’s sometimes a starling mumuration at the site but I’ve yet to see it despite a handful of dusk visits to a nearby watchpoint.

There was disappointment as I haven’t recorded willow tit at the site again, in either of the winter visits I’ve made over the last few months. It’s a key species for the site but I only seem to record it once a year or so over the course of my six annual visits. This is quite a contrast to my recent visit to south-east Poland where these birds and their marsh tit cousins were some of the most frequently seen species.

Well, just two more days of official winter and my busy spring will begin. I’ve got more surveys at Bagmere to do plus another lot out on the Cheshire sandstone ridge, osprey and peregrine nest protection shifts, plus some trips out into nature around and about.

…but I must also remember to push through on my resolutions to do more photography and mountain biking…I’m just hoping the winter weather gives way to springlike conditions soon! Now I must go and find my snow shovel!

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.


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!

The Subdued Life of Winter

It’s a month now since the shortest day and slowly, almost unseen, the nights are drawing out and the mornings, at a slower pace, are getting lighter. However, we are yet to reach what should be the coldest part of the year; the two weeks that span the change of month from January to February. It’s below freezing as I write this on a dull Sunday morning, with a light snow shower laying a few flakes on frozen surfaces.


I was out at Bagmere yesterday morning; Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s small reserve between Sandbach and Congleton. As I have been for the last few years, I was again wandering around the site doing a survey of the birds I could see and hear. As I walked across the wet and frozen ground, there was a hush over the land, just the background rumble of distant roads and the occasional airliner passing overhead. It was as if nature was hiding, the dormant life just a whisper on the cutting breeze passing between then willows and rustling the rushes and brambles. The birds were there but few in number and subdued in movement and song.

As I walked around the reserve, first across the damp and muddy, marshy grassland and then into the old and new woodland, only a few different species were present. There were the usual wrens hiding down in dense clumps of grass and robins occasionally singing from a low branch. There was a small mixed flock of tits moving through; long-tails, blues and greats. There was an occasional overflight of crows, jackdaws and black-headed gulls. A great-spotted woodpecker alarmed from a high vantage point and at the far end of the woodland a pair of treecreepers made their soft calls as they jerkily moved amongst the trunks and branches. However, again, there were no willow tits on the reserve, a disappointment but not unexpected. The highlight, instead, was a water rail calling from one of the ditches, hidden in the long grass.

The subdued life on the reserve yesterday can be contrasted with how Bagmere will be in only a few short months. When I return to do the breeding bird surveys at the site, in March, April, May and June, the grassland and woodland will be alive with the vivid and raucous spring chorus. Those same birds, and those that will have arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa, will be in their prime and life will be at its fullest.

A fine morning for a bird survey

For a Sunday, I woke unusually early this morning, so I took advantage of the opportunity and went out to do the first Breeding Bird Survey of the year at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall Moss reserve.


Unlike other Wildlife Trust reserves, including the Bagmere site I also survey, the methodology hasn’t changed for Blakenhall this year, so it was out to do a familiar route, recording the bird species seen and the most ‘breeding-like’ behaviour observed.

The morning was bright and almost cloudless, with a strong sun but not quite as warm as it looked.  However, I soon warmed up as the route is a bit of a struggle in places, either wading through water or pushing through undergrowth.  The work by Cheshire Wildlife Trust to return the Moss to a raised lowland bog has left the site much wetter (intentionally) and where water isn’t lying, the woodland understory it much thicker than it was.  However, it was less tough than I thought it was going to be and after an hour or so I completed the survey and sat for a while on an old tree trunk, taking in the sun and watching the wildlife.

The birdlife was much as I expected, 29 species recorded in all, but there were a couple of new ones for the site, reed bunting and oystercatcher. Overall, that’s 62 species recorded at the reserve since I did the first reserve survey in early 2014.  I also saw my first spotted flycatchers of the year, three in all; these are one of my favourite of our summer visitors.

Walking around the Moss, there were signs that spring is moving on; the blue bells have nearly finished and the hawthorn is out in blossom, showing that summer can’t be far away.

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


An uplifting break in the weather

It seems a long time since I was out in the sunshine, so this morning when I woke to a blue sky, I went to Bagmere to do the final Winter Bird Survey for site this season.  After all the miserable weather and the dark mornings and evenings, a bit of sun can really lift the spirits.

Whilst the sun was shining, the wind was close to being too strong to allow me to do the survey.  However, when I got down into the shallow bowl in which Bagmere sits, it was sheltered from the worst of the wind and I could more than easily hear all the birds in the surrounding area.


There wasn’t a great deal of bird activity and I didn’t get a particularly great list of species.  Unfortunately, willow tits were again missing from my records; after seeing them at Bagmere last time out there, I hoped I’d get them again.  Some nest boxes were put up for them last year and hopefully these will encourage them to breed.  The breeding bird surveys at Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss (both Cheshire Wildlife Trust reserves) start again next month, so I’ll soon see!


Not long after returning home, the clouds came across and it started to pour with rain and hail – usual service had resumed!