A fine May morning in South Wales, beautiful countryside filled with birdsong and a full house of enthusiastic participants sharing together the highs of finding new nests containing eggs or chicks, and the lows of coming across newly predated nests. These are the headlines from this year’s BTO Glamorgan ‘Nest Recording Taster Day’ held on 14 May at Rudry Common.
Monitoring the success of our nesting birds is of huge importance to their long term conservation. It’s great to see that the numbers of birders taking part in the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme (NRS) across the UK is on the up. But, despite this recent increase, far more volunteers are needed and there’s a real ‘call to arms’ for more people to take up the fascinating art of nest recording, particularly here in Wales where more nest data are desperately needed – whether that’s submitting one record from your garden nestbox or 100+ for the really ambitious ‘nesters’. Every record of every species has value.
Volunteers for this important scheme, now in its 78th year, find and follow the progress of individual birds’ nests across the UK, collecting vital 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, and they can also help measure the impacts of factors such as climate change on our bird populations.
Of course, you can learn how to find nests and monitor them safely on your own with help from the BTO website or from books. But it’s much easier, and considerably faster, to learn from more experienced nest recorders.
On our home patch of Glamorgan, there are currently only around a 10 active nest recorders, submitting c.800 records annually. Keen to increase those numbers, to share nest finding knowledge and to put the Scheme on a more sustainable footing in the county, Trevor Fletcher (Rudry Common Trust), Wayne Morris (East Glamorgan BTO Rep) and I trialled a Nest Record Scheme Taster Day at Rudry Common, north of Cardiff, in 2016. Encouraged by our experiences of that event, we held another ‘Taster Day’ at Rudry on May 14th this year. Best of all, we were joined by two of last year’s participants, Andy Bevan and Graham Williams, both of whom have already gathered 60+ nest records this year, as our co-leaders.
A full house of 9 participants gathered at Rudry Parish Hall at the beginning of the day but, such was the level of interest that we could have almost doubled that number. The number is limited to enable us to work through the various habitats whilst staying close to each other, reducing disturbance and making it easier to share any hints and tips on how to find the nests of various species as a group, rather than separately as individuals.
After a short indoor session, where we presented the participants with their free hazel ‘tapping stick’ and ‘mirror on a stick’ (both essential tools of the nest recorder’s trade which they learnt to use during the day), introduced them to the NRS Code of Conduct which ensures you don’t impact upon the outcome of a nest, and to some basic nest finding techniques, we were soon out in the field for 6 hours .
We spent the morning working through woodland, finding a number of nests: a Blackbird nest with chicks close to fledging; an active Goldcrest nest and, later, a predated one; Great Spotted Woodpecker with chicks; Song Thrush and a Wren on eggs; a Woodpigeon nest which had sadly failed at the chicks stage; a Blue Tit in a nestbox and Coal Tit and Great Tit with chicks nesting in natural cavities, both of whom enabled Trevor to show off his skills with an endoscope.
Late morning, we left the woodland and moved out onto to Rudry Common in search of a suite of different species. However, the first nest we found was a Blackbird on 4 eggs, found by Tara, one of the participants, whilst tapping some dry Bracken. Brilliant!
A Linnet nest in gorse, which contained chicks a few days before the Taster Day, was sadly empty, probably lost to predation. Nevertheless, it enabled the participants to get a feel for where to find their own Linnet nests in future. A beautiful Long-tailed Tit nest with chicks, also in gorse, was the next species added to our list.
The highlight of the day for most was probably a Willow Warbler nest with eggs, described by one participant as a ‘nest on its side’. It’s such a simple, yet beautiful, construction and superbly camouflaged. Finding one is always a thrill, and yet, with the right fieldcraft and knowing how the female’s off-nest call will help you, finding a Willow Warbler nest can be quite easy.
It wasn’t all plain sailing during the day though. We were led a merry dance, as always by Stonechats, Whitethroats and Meadow Pipits. The latter’s nest can be a real challenge to find. Nevertheless, we had one Meadow Pipit nest which we’d staked out before the Taster Day. Sadly, it had already failed but it still contained 4 eggs and, yet again, gave everybody a feel of where to look for Meadow Pipit nests and how well concealed they are.
The day was rounded off with another short indoor session at Rudry Parish Hall, where we shared information on how to plan nest visits and complete nest records and had a quick game of ‘whose nest is this’. We also ‘crowned’ Tara as the New Nest Finder of the Day: she found Coal and Blue Tit in natural cavities, Great Spot and Blackbird nests. Tara went on to justify her ‘crown’ because, back on Rudry Common immediately after the event to try and find a Garden Warbler for her Year List, she found another Willow Warbler nest on her own!
An enjoyable day all round and fingers crossed that some, if not all of the participants turn out to be fully fledged nesters in years to come. We’d like to thank the Rudry Common Trust for its support and last, but not least, the event also raised money for the BTO from the participants’ entry fees. We’ll probably hold another Taster Day in May 2018 and we’ll promote it nearer the time on this blog. If you’re interested, please get in touch – book early to avoid disappointment!
Dan Jenkins-Jones, Asst. BTO Rep, Mid & South Glamorgan