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.

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!

Two visits to Bagmere

Last Sunday I went to Bagmere with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV) to work for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. We got on with our usual task of fighting back the encroachment of tree saplings onto the fenland landscape and burning what we cut.  Unfortunately, the wood has to be burnt on site due to inaccessibility for vehicles and the distance from the road.  However, it’s no hardship for most of us and some (well me, actually) always look forward to the colder months when we can have a big fire – there’s no better way to finish a task than sitting around a fire in the last of the day’s sun, as the flames die down and the last of its heat keeps you warm – marvellous!


I returned to Bagmere on yesterday to start my winter bird surveys for the season.  Like the breeding bird surveys I do for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, I visit the Trust’s Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss reserves to record bird species.  Unlike the surveys in spring and early summer, the winter versions are simpler as I only note the number of individual birds of each species I see.

Walking around the reserve on Saturday was lovely, the sun had broken through the early morning fog and a bright blue sky emerged.  I spent just less than an hour walking from one end of the reserve to the other and recorded 22 species altogether.  I didn’t find anything unusual but it was good to start the surveys with a reasonably good list.

Unfortunately, as with the four breeding bird survey visits between March and June and last of the previous winter bird surveys in January, I didn’t record willow tits, a red-listed species.  This means that I haven’t recorded them at all so far this year across all the survey visits and several tasks with CNCV.  The Wildlife Trust installed some nest boxes for them in the early spring, in the area of the reserve where I had last recorded them and I spent some extra time in that area to see if they were around.  It would be a depressing finding if they have disappeared – this is only the second full year of surveys I have done at the reserve, with my surveys being the first ever undertaken at the site.


Lacking inspiration…

Maybe it’s the winter blues or the need for a bit of a change but I’ve been finding it hard to motivate myself recently when it comes to my usual interests.  However, over last weekend I did push myself out of the house to do a Winter Bird Survey at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall Moss reserve and had a walk around Wybunbury Moss.

Blakenhall Moss

The survey was almost as atmospheric as the December visit to Blakenhall but the lack of sun, made the view much more dull.  The fogginess and general murk certainly made the place feel like it was at its lowest ebb of the seasons.  However, I saw one of the first signs of spring with the bluebell shoots starting to emerge from under the leaf litter; maybe a little early this year.  I was also cheered up by recording a couple of marsh tits during the survey; these are an important species for the site, are a nationally red-listed species in serious decline and are not well-recorded in Cheshire.

Bluebell shoots

Out at Wybunbury Moss, I took advantage of the new section of footpath recently designated and opened close to the church tower and behind the Swan Inn pub.  This new path enables a complete circular walk around the Moss without having to use the footway alongside the road through the village, which altogether provides a nice, quiet wander of around 45 minutes.


Unlike at Blakenhall, I didn’t see any signs of spring at Wybunbury and even the birds seemed subdued.

Unlike me, it appears others have had more motivation than me recently, as I found the results of the work put in by my volunteering colleagues the previous weekend.  They (Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers) had spent the day clearing an area of small ponds and undergrowth within the woodland surrounding the Moss and had also laid more log pathway to make it easier to walk along the permissive path through the site.

With the first signs of spring starting to appear, I’m hoping the first ‘greenshoots’ of motivation and inspiration will also start to grow – I certainly need something to give me a bit of a kickstart to the year!

Bird surveys start again…

Yesterday I started another round of bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Following the Winter Bird Surveys (WBS) and Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) I completed for both the Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss reserves earlier this year, it’s now time to start the winter surveys again.

The WBS is much simpler than the BBS undertaken in the spring of each year. The former involve walking the same fixed route but only the species and number of individual birds are recorded. The BBS requires the noting of behaviour to assess whether each recorded species is indeed breeding on a particular site. In addition, the winter surveys can be done at any time during a day, but it should be dry and with little wind.

The winter surveys are undertaken on two separate visits, one in November/December and the other in January/February. Whilst only two visits are required in total for each site, if I get time I will hopefully be able to do four, one in each month. Very little data has been collected on birds at the Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss sites; essentially data is limited to that collected through the surveys I have undertaken this year. Therefore, I hope a little extra effort will help to build up a greater depth of information and therefore understanding of birds at the two sites.


I started the November/December surveys with a visit to the Trust’s Bagmere reserve. It was a very clear day with bright blue skies and almost no wind – after being in the Falklands for most of the last three weeks, having so little wind was very different to what I have become used to! There was clearly been a lot of rain while I was away as the site was more wet than I can remember it being over the three years or so I have been visiting.

After a rather quiet start to the survey with very little activity, the number of species started to pick up and I ended with a half-descent list. In fact, I noted more species than either of the two visits last winter and only one short of the combined total for those visits. However, of the 21 species recorded, five were flying over rather than being present on the site. The species recorded included: blackbird, black-head gull, blue tit, bullfinch, carrion crow, chaffinch, great tit, jay, linnet, magpie, mallard, moorhen, pheasant, pied wagtail, redwing, robin, song thrush, starling, water rail, woodpigeon and wren.

Of those listed, the most interesting is the water rail which is a local rarity. While I recorded it during the BBS visits to the site earlier this year, it didn’t appear during the last winter surveys. However, it was disappointing not to record willow tit at the site as it was recorded at Bagmere during the BBS and has been noted on a number of visits I have made to the site while working with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV). The willow tit is also a local rarity and has declined in population nationally by 80% over the last 20 years. Furthermore, this was the only Cheshire Wildlife Trust site to record this species during the last round of WBSs. Hopefully, with more visits to be made to the site over the course of the winter, including with CNCV, I’ll be able to record its presence.


As usual, it was a lovely way to spend a spare hour – wandering quietly around the countryside, immersing myself in the sounds and sights of my surroundings, although as it is approaching the end of the year, the sounds are nothing like the cacophony I listen to during the early morning Breeding Bird Surveys.