“I’ve got an endoscope, and I know how to use it!” – Tales of a BTO Nest Record Scheme training weekend
I’ve been birding for a long old time, 35 years in fact. During that time I’ve gone on a few twitches, I’ve been on birding trips all over the UK and I’ve enjoyed taking part in several BTO surveys. But, over the last few days, I’ve been bitten by a new bug which has added a totally new dimension to my birding . . . over the Bank Holiday weekend I became a ‘nester’.
Wayne and I had booked on to a BTO Nest Recording Scheme training course and last Friday evening (May 3rd) we met up with 6 other trainees at the BTO’s HQ at Thetford in Norfolk. Over the next couple of days our trainers (Dave Leech, Carl Barimore and Mike Toms from the BTO) passed on a whole load of fascinating tips about how to track down a variety of species (some of whom can be a real challenge) as well as the simple tools of the trade you need to go nesting.
First of all of course, it was impressed upon us that the welfare of birds should always come first and that BTO nest recording is based on a Code of Conduct, which is a protocol designed to ensure that monitoring a nest does not influence its outcome.
Next up were the tools of the trade. The good news is that you don’t need many: a stick to ‘tap’ vegetation in your search for birds; a mirror-on-a-stick is useful to look into nests above head height, a notebook to record your data and a pair of bins. And that’s pretty much all you need.
There are a variety of ways of finding your nest. It very much depends on your target species. In a nutshell though, the methods split into two ways of working: ‘arsing’ and ‘legging’. ‘Arsing’ involves sitting on your . . . erm, arse, and watching birds back to the nest as they carry nesting material or food. Having nailed the vicinity of the nest you can then ‘hot search’ for it.
‘Legging’ calls for a bit more action, where you actively search for nests (‘cold searching’), narrowing your odds by searching in suitable habitat. So, no matter what type of birder you are, there’s a method of nesting to suit you. In reality of course, you end up doing a bit of both.
Dave, Carl and Mike were clearly passionate about NRS and were brilliant trainers. With their help we managed to find the nests of a nice variety of birds: Dunnock, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Jackdaw, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Greylag Goose, Coot, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Red-legged Partridge & Pheasant. The highlights were finding a Treecreeper and a Woodlark nest (Dave Leech had a Schedule 1 licence to go looking for the latter) but, personally speaking, learning how to use Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers intriguing off nest behaviour to find their nests was the most rewarding experience. To find out what I mean, you’ll have to become a Nest Recorder!
So why should you volunteer to contribute your records to the NRS? ‘Nesting’ has become a bit of a dying art in the UK since legislation was quite rightly passed in 1954 to make it illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds. But, tracking the fortunes of birds’ nesting attempts is vital to collect data which are used to produce trends in breeding performance. These data help identify species that may be declining because of problems at the nesting stage. After years of decline there’s been a recent upturn in the number of nest records being submitted to the BTO. But far more are needed and there’s a real ‘call to arms’ for more people to take up nesting, particularly here in Wales where more nest data are desperately needed.
Anyone can be a nest recorder and it’s entirely up to you how much time you want to dedicate to the Scheme. Some people watch a single nest box in their back garden, while others spend hundreds of hours finding and monitoring nests in the wider countryside.
Of course, you don’t have to take part in a training weekend to take part in NRS. You can learn a lot about nesting through trial and error, and most birders will have a good knowledge of which areas of habitat will host particular species of nesting birds. If you think you might be interested in taking part please visit the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme website. Or you’re more than welcome to contact either Wayne or myself for an informal chat. We’d be delighted to hear from you.
During winter, Woodcock may be the most numerous wader in Wales, but what is the extent of our breeding population? The breeding distribution covers much of Britain, though a considerable reduction in range has been indicated, and it is now amber listed as a bird of conservation concern.
Woodcock is our only wading bird adapted to breed in woodland, both broad-leaved and coniferous. Nocturnal habits and a cryptic nature make it difficult to monitor the breeding population using traditional surveys. A special survey method therefore, has been devised which uses counts of territorial roding flights, undertaken by males at dusk and dawn, to estimate the number of individual males present.
The first breeding Woodcock Survey, undertaken in 2003, estimated a breeding population of 78,000 males in Britain, providing a baseline against which to assess future population change. The results of the 2013 Woodcock Survey will be crucial in determining the extent of changes to the breeding population size and distribution.
In our region we have been allocated two 1km survey squares, but there is scope for us to cover additional ones. Please get in touch if you’d like to get involved. You may discover some Nightjars during your visits too.
tel: 01443 430284
It’s as if somebody’s flicked the ‘Off’ switch this week in my back garden in Whitchurch, Cardiff. Up until last weekend I could almost guarantee seeing a bird or two out there if I was willing to wait no more than around 5 minutes. But now, it’s almost completely deserted for most of the day. It may be brass monkey weather out there at the moment, but hopefully this is a sign, in the birds’ minds if not ours, that Spring has arrived.
I’ve been lucky enough to get 25 species in the garden since the beginning of December, averaging around 15 different species a week. Sounds as if I should get out more? Probably. But, I’ve got a good idea of what’s being going on because of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch (GBW). Not to be mistaken with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place over one weekend every year, the BTO’s GBW is a weekly survey which takes place throughout the year. I’ve been doing it since January 2010 and it’s given me a real insight into the movements of birds in and out of my garden over that period – subtle seasonal changes which I probably would hardly have noticed if I hadn’t been taking part in this survey. And it’s all online so you can have access and explore your personal records at the click of a mouse.
For instance, I can quickly see that I haven’t seen a Goldcrest in the garden since October 2012, and that my highest count for Greenfinch was 20 back in September 2010.
Starlings, after being virtually absent for a couple of years, returned this winter in numbers comparable to those seen in 2010. Chaffinches always appear around the beginning of October and depart before the end of March, and are very rarely seen at any other time of the year. Feral Pigeons, which used to be present every week, have surprisingly crashed from an average maximum count of around 10 in 2010 to no more than 2 or 3 in recent months – and there were several weeks in 2011 when I didn’t seen any at all.
Best of all, you can work out the Top 10 for your garden! Here’s mine:
It’s too easy to dismiss your garden bird records as being not that important in the overall grand scheme of things. But gardens are becoming ever more important refuges for certain species of birds which are under so much pressure in the wider countryside. The collection of such records is incredibly useful and, if carried out in a systematic manner, these weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.
BTO Garden BirdWatch enables you to collect this information in a standardised way alongside similar information from many thousands of other garden birdwatchers. In effect, you are a ‘citizen scientist’ working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain.
If you haven’t considered taking part in the Garden BirdWatch survey, please consider giving it a go. Consistency of counts is the important thing, but rest assured, the BTO certainly won’t mind if you miss the odd week here and there!
The Cardiff Blackbird Project was established in April 2012 to examine the ecology, behaviour and demography of urban birds using Blackbirds as a model.
The Blackbird has many traits that make it ideal as a model species. It is common, making for large data sets. It is a relatively large species, meaning it is easy to observe. Blackbirds are also widespread, which allows comparison between populations in different habitats and geographical scales.
The project is based around developing a long-term monitoring programme, contributing to the Retrapping Adults for Survival scheme, on which a number of more detailed research projects examining Blackbird ecology in a suburban environment will be based. Currently the study site for the project is the northern part of Pontcanna Fields, in the area which includes the allotments and Cardiff Riding School.
The success of these projects relies on having a large population of individually marked birds that can be followed throughout the year. Unique plastic colour-rings are fitted so that individuals can be recognised through binoculars or a telescope, avoiding the need to capture birds multiple times. The colour-rings in use are yellow with black letters and are placed on the left leg. A standard BTO metal ring is on the right leg.
If you see a colour-ringed Blackbird, the team would love to hear about it, by logging your records online, or by contacting:
Last year a number of intrepid volunteers took part in a Wales-wide survey of our chats – Stonechat, Whinchat and Wheatear.
The season however, was the victim of atrocious weather making visits to squares impossible for many cases. As a result, we did not quite attain the coverage needed to make meaningful scientific analysis possible.
In order to achieve our necessary target of between 300-400 surveyed squares across Wales, we will be running the survey again this spring, with some new squares to visit and some of last year’s squares which were defeated by the weather.
In our region, we have been allocated a number of new survey squares in the Valleys and uplands, which is hopefully more typical of the habitat these species frequent.
You can find out more or sign up to take part and select a 1km survey square, or contact:
h: 01443 430284
m: 07890 528926
Would you like to participate in the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in Wales but just need that extra boost to your confidence or skills? If so, help is at hand!
Following the success of last year’s initiative, coverage of BBS squares was increased substantially. Thanks to the generous support of the Countryside Council for Wales, BTO Cymru is again employing a small team of professional ornithologists to provide courses and one-to-one training of potential BBS volunteers on unallocated BBS squares around Wales.
There are a number of courses planned for March, which can be followed up by our trainers visiting a BBS square with you and walking you through your first visit, explaining how to record habitat data, how to record birds in different distance bands, recording mammals and how to enter your data online.
These sessions are completely free and are available to members and non-members of the BTO.
If you’ve got good identification skills for common birds and would like to take advantage of these training sessions, simply complete the form below and our training coordinator will contact you shortly.
Courses are currently planned for:
- 9 March – Welsh Wildlife Centre, Cilgerran, Cardigan, SA43 2TB (map)
- 16 March – Plas Dolerw, Milford Road, Newtown, Powys, SY16 2EH (map)
For further details or to express an interest contact:
t: 01248 383285, or
visit this website to express an interest.
Of course, if you are interested in taking part in BBS in East Glamorgan, then please get in touch with:
h: 01443 430284
m: 07890 528926
This little beauty plopped down on my doorstep a couple of days ago. The new edition of Birds in Wales includes the 25th Welsh Bird Report, which summarises bird records from across the country for 2011.
What I like about this report, published by the Welsh Ornithological Society (WOS), is that it enables you to put our Eastern Glamorgan sightings into a Welsh context. I found the wildfowl section particularly interesting because it takes it a step further and examines the Welsh counts from a UK and an international perspective.
As well as a Systematic List of bird species and records it also includes: a report, written by Peter Howlett, on bird ringing in Wales in 2011; a summary of selected ringing recoveries and an article by Nick Moran about BirdTrack.
You can buy a copy of the Welsh Bird Report from WOS for £8. But, a far better idea would be to join WOS (£15 pa for individuals), because you’ll then receive two issues a year of Birds in Wales, one of which includes the annual Welsh Bird Report. You may also choose to receive the WOS bi-monthly e-newsletter as well as get a discount on attendance of the Annual Conference. A bargain!