The Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report No 59 (2019) is presented in B5 format and contains 98 pages reviewing the birding year in our region.
As ever, the bulk of the report is taken up by the species accounts, commentating on the fortunes of resident, migrant and rare birds observed during the year. Of note are confirmed breeding of Golden Plover and Marsh Harrier, but the absence of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker for the first time. Rariities include Citrine Wagtail, Red-rumped Swallow, Serin and Shore Lark.
Also included are ringing reports from Kenfig NNR, Flat Holm and Cardiff Bay highlighting species and numbers caught. A report on Hawfinch monitoring at Fforest Ganol is included for the first time. Other features are a report on the year’s weather, migrant dates and BTO news.
Line drawings and photographs continue to highlight the talents of our region’s local birders. Among others the Caspian Gulls, Siberian Chiffchaffs and Great Grey Shrike.
Many of us, I’m sure, over the last few weeks, have seen birds carrying nest material or even food for those early broods of chicks. It’s a fantastic sight, isn’t it? This spring, in my garden in Cardiff, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pair of Dunnocks and Blackbirds nesting. I usually have Blue Tits nesting in my garden too but, although a pair comes to my feeders every day, they have chosen not to use my nestbox this year. It appears I have been gazumped by my next-door neighbours and their new box.
With my usual birding excursions ruled out this spring due to the Covid-19 social restrictions, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending more time than usual watching these nesting birds going about their business. I have also been closely monitoring the progress of their breeding attempts. I try to establish whether a nest was successful or not. Carefully visiting the nest at different stages, I record the contents. For example, how many eggs, how many chicks, and how many chicks fledged – and I submit this information to BTO.
Helping to build a picture of breeding success
Monitoring the fortunes of birds nesting in our gardens like this helps build up a picture of bird breeding success and what may be affecting it. Many species we have nesting in our gardens also nest in the wider countryside and monitoring them can help build a picture of how they’re faring in different habitats.
The good news is that by following a Code of Conduct it is possible for every one of us – beginner or experienced birdwatchers – to enjoy a privileged and intimate insight into the lives of birds, and to help the BTO build up this picture, without impacting the nesting attempt.
To help gather and record this information, the BTO has recently launched a garden-based project called Nesting Neighbours. If you have one or more pairs of birds nesting in your garden, please consider taking part in this enjoyable and very rewarding project.
Unless it’s in a box, it all starts of course with finding a nest of course. This involves watching the behaviour of birds in your garden and is an interesting exercise in itself; have you seen a Robin carrying moss or a Blackbird with worms? Piece together the clues and, following the Code of Conduct at all times, search for the nest and, once you’re successful, you’re ready to start.
Whether you have Blue Tits in a nestbox, a Blackbird in a hedge or Robins in some ivy, all you need to do is check the nest at regular intervals and then send your records online to the BTO.
Monitoring both successful and unsuccessful nests
It’s wonderful when a nest is successful and we see the fledged juveniles being fed by their parents. But as we all know, a lot of nests are unsuccessful due to predation, bad weather, or unfertile eggs. It’s essential we know about these nests too so, if you take part, please follow the breeding attempts through the season and let BTO know what happens, whatever the outcome. Finally, please try to keep an eye out until at least August. Birds like Robin, Blackbird, and Collared Dove will often have two or even three nests over the spring and summer.
For more information, please visit the Nesting Neighbours website. Seeing as they’ve tempted the local pair of Blue Tits over to their side of the fence, I’m off to have a word with my own neighbours to get them registered for the project.
I’m sure, like me, during this period of great uncertainty you derive great comfort from birds and nature and want to continue recording useful information about them. Many of us who are lucky enough to have gardens are turning to them more than usual to enjoy nature and to be outdoors, to learn, and to improve our well-being. I can’t tell you how much pleasure I’ve had watching the activities of a pair of Blackbirds nesting in my garden this spring.
If you do have a garden, and you’re not already taking part in them, you may be interested in two garden-based surveys the BTO are promoting at the moment: Nesting Neighbours and Garden BirdWatch. We’ll have a look at Nesting Neighbours – a survey which records the fortunes of any birds you may have nesting in your garden – in the next blog, published shortly. But let’s have a look at Garden BirdWatch (GBW) and why it’s so special.
It’s now free to take part in Garden BirdWatch
GBW is normally run as a membership, with an annual fee of £17, and includes a book and regular magazines. This generous financial support allows BTO to carry out its work monitoring garden wildlife and its scientific research. However, the BTO wants to enable more people to get involved in garden wildlife recording under the current circumstances; to discover an enjoyable purpose in garden birdwatching and to feel part of a community all working on the same project. Therefore membership of BTO Garden BirdWatch is being offered for free during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Why take part?
Gardens are, of course, important for their wildlife and becoming more important as our landscape becomes more urbanised. For the past 25 years, a community of citizen scientists has recorded the birds and other wildlife visiting their gardens as part of the GBW survey. They’ve enabled researchers at BTO to answer important questions about garden wildlife: investigating the links between changes in wildlife populations and factors such as how we manage our gardens, food, weather and urban structure. The more we can understand about how wildlife uses garden resources, the more we can improve our cities, towns, villages and individual gardens for nature.
How to take part
Keep a list of the different birds that you see using your garden over the course of a week. Only record species that you are confident you can identify correctly; if you can’t identify the less common birds or wildlife in your garden, it’s ok to leave them off.
You can optionally record the maximum number of each species you see together during the week (e.g. three Blackbirds seen together at one time).
You can optionally record other wildlife (mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, bumblebees and dragonflies).
Submit your records online via a simple webpage.
A personal experience of GBW
I started as a BTO Garden BirdWatcher in 2010 and have submitted my weekly lists for most of that period. Yes, life does have a habit of getting in the way and there’s nothing wrong with skipping weeks every now and then, although the more lists you can submit the better of course. I’ve focused mainly on birds, but I have occasionally recorded butterflies and mammals . . . mainly Grey Squirrels! As each week goes by you build up a body of information and get to know the rhythms of the seasons and when you’re likely to see certain species turning up in your garden.
Thanks to GBW, since 2010, I know that I’ve observed a total of 45 species in my garden in north Cardiff. As well as being able to explore Welsh and UK data, the GBW webpages also enable you to explore and examine your own records. One of the most interesting and fun things to look at is the ‘sunburst’ diagram it generates for you about the recording rate for different species visiting your garden. Here’s my latest one below.
What else have I found out about my garden’s birds through GBW?
Thanks to GBW I know that the Top 3 most commonly recorded species in my garden are Greenfinch (recorded in 95% of weeks) and Blackbird and Blue Tit (both recorded in 93% of weeks).
I know that my least recorded species – recorded on one occasion only – are Garden Warbler, Grey Heron (yes, one landed briefly in my garden), Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher.
Incredibly, I’ve seen more Willow Warblers (4 records) and Reed Buntings (3) in my garden than Mistle Thrushes (1). Thanks to GBW I know that: Greenfinch numbers are beginning to recover in my garden; Collared Doves, once reported almost weekly here, have now disappeared; I record more Sparrowhawks than Wrens, and that Song Thrushes are also rarely seen in my garden – only 22 records since 2010. GBW has also helped me track the annual arrival and departure of wintering Blackcaps in my garden.
In our East Glamorgan region, there are currently 56 active Garden BirdWatchers. If you have a garden of any size, why not take up this special offer and help us bump up that number? I can guarantee that participation will really help you get to know your garden and its wildlife much better whilst helping inform BTO science at the same time.
The free offer will include access to the BTO’s online recording system and the regular GBW e-newsletter which has the latest news on garden birds, what to look out for, and gardening tips. The free membership will be valid for one year, after which it will expire as normal. To find out more, please have a look at Garden BirdWatch.
Each ‘WeBS year’ runs from July to June – and it couldn’t have been produced without the amazing dedication of 3,290 volunteers who visited 2,846 wetlands across the UK. The team of WeBS volunteers in our East Glamorgan region (which currently has 50 members), submitted a combined total of 3,257 records of 59 species of waterbirds, gulls, terns and domestic/hybrid wildfowl and a total count of 72,480 birds. Incredible totals and we’d like to say a huge ‘diolch/thank you’ to each and every one of them.
Once a month, a network of volunteers goes out to wetlands and coastal areas across the length and breadth of the country to count the waterbirds present for this long-running survey. Data have been collected for over 70 years, providing vital information on which sites are the most important for waterbirds, leading to their designation as protected sites. WeBS counts also capture notable changes in the numbers of waterbirds present, flagging-up issues that may require further investigation.
On a positive note, this latest WeBS Report shows that Shelduck had its strongest winter since 2010-11. Declining species, such as Pochard and Goldeneye, fared slightly better in 2018-19, although remain down by more than 35% in terms of the 25-year trend. The introduced Mandarin Duck was again noted at record levels, while Gadwall was at its second-highest level.
The report however, also shows that more than a third of the waterbird species that use our most important and protected wetlands have declined by 25% or more. Some of these declines are because of large-scale changes in global waterbird distributions due to climate change e.g. we may be seeing lower numbers of wintering birds in Great Britain & Northern Ireland as they are able to spend more of the period closer to their breeding grounds, with mild conditions on the Continent. Other changes may be due to local problems at individual sites.
Here are some figures from the counts made in our region . . .
Combined total of records
Combined total of counts
Lesser Black-backed Gull
WeBS: top 10 most commonly recorded species in East Glamorgan 2018-19
Unsurprisingly, Mallard was the species most commonly recorded across East Glamorgan and, although the counting of gulls is optional for the survey, our WeBS counters still recorded a five figure count of Black-headed Gulls and four figure counts of Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls.
Amongst the scarcer or more unusual birds to be recorded during the 2018-19 WeBS year in our region were Pink-footed Goose, Black Swan, Mandarin and Wood Duck, Slavonian and Black-necked grebes, Little and Yellow-legged gulls, Little Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Arctic Tern and Great White Egret.
WeBS is a great survey to undertake if you’re new to bird surveying. If you’re interested in taking part in 2020, please have a look at our East Glamorgan WeBS page, and feel free to get in touch for a no-obligation chat.
Enrich your experience, gain confidence in your skills and add value to your birding
Would you like to join a team of almost 3,000 volunteers across the UK who help monitor the fortunes of our most common and widespread breeding birds? The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is designed to be a simple and enjoyable birdwatching exercise. It involves three visits a year to an allocated 1-km square to count all the birds you see or hear there. You don’t need to be an expert to take part, but you need to be able to identify the birds you’re likely to encounter in your square by sight and sound. Why not find out more about taking part by joining us on this training event at Rudry Parish Hall, near Caerphilly, on Sunday, 15 March?
During the course you will learn and practise the survey methods for BBS. The day will combine indoor and outdoor sessions and focus on improving your confidence and skills to encourage you to participate in the survey.
The aim of the day is to provide you with the following:
guidance on carrying out the BBS from experienced surveyors
confidence in planning your visit to your survey square
experience of recording very basic habitat types
an opportunity to practice the BBS to improve your observation and recording skills.
Please note: this course will not cover bird ID, in which participants should already be proficient.
This course is specifically targeted at increasing BBS coverage in Glamorgan and Gwent and therefore we are able to offer it at no cost to participants.
Refreshments will be provided. You should also bring binoculars and suitable footwear and warm/waterproof clothing for the outdoor sessions.