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.