Not Even a Coal Tit

This morning I took advantage of a break in the rain and headed for the hills to carry out my first core square count for the Winter Thrushes Survey.

Mynydd William Meyrick (SS9592) is fairly typical in these parts, being covered in part by a conifer plantation and neighbouring upland moor, so my hopes of seeing some thrushes were not high. Though there was no rain, the wind was high and not a single bird was to be seen anywhere along my chosen route.  I hope other surveyors in both Mid & South Glamorgan fair better.

Upland moor and conifer plantation, Mynydd William Meyrick
Upland moor and conifer plantation, Mynydd William Meyrick

Was this a worthwhile visit then?  No thrushes and no birds.  Yes, indeed.  Counts of zero are a useful indicator of which habitats are not or little used by birds.  Though we may have anticipated that I’d see little or no thrushes today, only actually making the effort to get there proves the theory.  Other surveyors across the UK making trips to similar locations will develop our understanding of the distribution and resources needed by our winter thrushes.

I probably wouldn’t have gone to the hills today, but I enjoyed my walk, some solitude for a short while and was reminded once again what a fabulous landscape the hills of the Valleys are.  I was surprised too at how the new Pant-y-wal wind farm has progressed, with eight turbines now looking complete and another nearly so.

Pant-y-wal wind farm
Pant-y-wal wind farm

Of course, Coal Tits are not one of the species covered by the Winter Thrushes Survey, but its not often I walk through a conifer plantation and don’t at least hear one around here.  (I did manage to BirdTrack 4 Bullfinches, 2 Magpies, a Crow and a Kestrel on the trek up to my square).

Seasonal Greetings to All Our Members & Volunteers

Good wishes to all local members and volunteers who contributed to the wide range of BTO surveys run in our region over the course of 2012! Its been a good year despite some of the challenges the weather presented over the summer.

Robin in Snow by Alaric Webster, on Flickr
Robin in Snow by Alaric Webster, on Flickr

Spring 2012, saw BTO Cymru launch the Wales Chat Survey, and we covered 29 1km squares across East Glamorgan.  We expect to run the survey once again in 2013, attempting to cover some squares missed rising from the poor weather. The Winter Thrushes Survey kicked-off in September 2012, and a number of volunteers have been actively recording thrushes across the county with their free site visits. As I write we have 27 core squares allocated for visits in the next few weeks.

We are delighted with the continued rise in volunteers taking part in two core surveys, BBS and WeBS.  These surveys provide key data that feed in to national reports of the UK bird populations.  Both surveys are at record volunteer levels locally, though we are always on the lookout for greater coverage.  Though participation was up by 30% across Wales, the recent The Status of Birds in Wales revealed 27 species have insufficient data from BBS to report on.  BTO Cymru will once again be employing a mentorship scheme, especially in mid Wales, to ensure coverage increases in our areas of lower population.

The Heronries Census is the longest running breeding bird survey in the world, and we have volunteers monitoring our 8 known heronries each year.  One of our three WBBS sites in our region was surveyed in 2012.  A healthy number of folk participating in Garden BirdWatch, which is great fun and quite addictive.

One survey is under represented in our region is NRS, the Nest Recording Scheme.  As well as helping our understanding of breeding biology, it’s an important measure of breeding success, with results published in BirdTrends. Interest in this activity is increasing, highlighted by the publication of  A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests in 2011.  We are looking at ways of encouraging participation in this scheme in our area.  Can you get involved?

It is also worth commenting on BirdTrack and the continuing development this service provides birdwatchers interested in recording their sightings.  Features include the ability to easily log precise location to OS coordinates, breeding status, complete lists or roving records all feature along with tools to display site or year lists or export records to Excel for use elsewhere.  The development of an Android app, certainly increased the number of records and users taking part and a forthcoming iOS app for iPhone users will surely see that trend continue.   There’s a lot more planned for 2013, so if you’re not already a BirdTracker, why not give it a go?

While we’re looking ahead, 2013 will see the publication of the national Bird Atlas, 2007-11.  A mammoth undertaking in terms of field work, with well in excess of 100,000 records contributed locally. We had a glimpse of some of the species maps at the recent annual conference, and the recently published BBS maps reveal some of the detail we can expect to see.

Finally, and in keeping with the trend across the UK, membership continues to grow locally. Thank you all for your support and we wish you a Merry Christmas and a bird filled New Year.

Wayne & Dan

The State of Birds in Wales, 2012

Drawing heavily on the wide range of BTO surveys undertaken by volunteers in Wales, the latest edition of The State of Birds in Wales has been published.  It marks the milestone of 10 years of reporting the fortunes of our bird populations.

sobiw2012BBS indices for 1995–2010 show that of the 51 native species widespread enough to be reported on individually, 16 had increased significantly, while eight had declined. Changes in the remaining 27 were too small to be statistically significant.  Starlings and curlews grab the headlines for the wrong reasons, but house sparrows and black grouse are fairing relatively well, and great spotted woodpeckers have increased by a remarkable 192% over that time.

Could you take on a BBS square and help improve our data for those 27 species where we have insufficient data?

Guillemots are doing well, feeding on shoals of sprats off our coastlines which is contributing to good survival rates in contrast to other parts of the UK.  Breeding is now 10 days earlier on Skomer than in 1995, which is thought to be a reaction to climate change.  The internationally rare Balearic shearwater is observed in Welsh waters in increasing numbers.

The annual Beached Bird Survey shows a continued decline in dead birds found with no oiled birds noted in the last 3 years.

All this and much more, including section on weather, bird and climate change, golden plovers, devolution  and some commentary on the future make for essential reading for anyone with an interest in birds in Wales.

Copies may be downloaded free of charge in  English and Welsh.

Do Blackcaps Visit Your Garden in Winter?

Though noted as a summer migrant, Blackcaps that breed in central Europe are spending the winter with us in increasing numbers, benefitting from garden bird foods.  What exactly are they eating, and is their aggressive reputation true?

On New Year’s Day 2013 the BTO launches its Garden Blackcap Survey, a behavioural study of Blackcaps in gardens. Participants will choose one day during January to make their observations, and can also choose the duration over which they record on that day. Those wishing to take part will log the number of Blackcaps seen, the sex of these birds (males having black caps and females brown caps) and the foods eaten.

Mrs Blackcap by Laura Whitehead, on Flickr
Mrs Blackcap by Laura Whitehead, on Flickr

In addition, participants will help the BTO to work out where Blackcaps sit in the pecking order of garden birds. Blackcaps have a reputation for being particularly bolshie, frequently shooing other birds away from feeders, but is this a fair assessment? Householders will record the outcomes of any aggressive interactions between Blackcaps and selection of other, similar-sized garden birds, including Blue Tit, Goldfinch, House Sparrow and Robin.

Each year, the Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report shows that Blackcaps are present in our region during each month of the year.  Are they present in your garden during winter?  Why not take part in this short survey, and help us learn more about this wintering warbler?

Successful Swanwick

The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick
The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick

Over the weekend I was:

  • Motivated by tales of individuals committed to adding to our knowledge of birds through conducting their own ‘citizen science’.
  • Moved by the story of the demise of the curlew in Ireland (now down to fewer than 200 pairs)
  • Entertained by predictions of birding in 20 years’ time.
  • Amazed at the dedication of some birders who went on extreme expeditions to the remotest corners of Scotland to get records for the Bird Atlas 2007-11.
  • Surprised at how little I really knew or, to be honest, how little we all know, about how birds use different habitats.
  • Informed on the very latest news of the ups and downs of UK bird populations by having exclusive views of the new 2007-11 Atlas maps.
  • Delighted to be given an opportunity to see the birding world through the eyes of articulate 16-year-old, Alex Rhodes.
  • Gob-smacked by the high-adrenalin challenges and sheer exhaustion experienced by the team who are trying to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from extinction.

This is just a small sample of the presentations Wayne and I enjoyed at the BTO’s Annual Conference at Swanwick on 7-9 December. Add in good company, good food, good beer and a good excuse to get away from the Christmas preparations and you have to ask yourself why you weren’t there too?!

Wayne and Geoff Gibbs (Caernarfon Regional Representative) comparing who got the most questions right in the bird quiz.
Wayne and Geoff Gibbs (Caernarfon Regional Representative) comparing who got the most questions right in the bird quiz.

If you’ve never attended the BTO Annual Conference before we would urge you to give it a go in December 2013. Warning: you’re highly likely to come away inspired to take on all manner of BTO surveys!

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