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A New Generation of Nest Recorders: BTO Glamorgan Nest Recording Day 2017

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.

Taster Day - Blackbird Nest

Blackbirds near fledging – our first active nest of the Taster Day (Photo: DJJ)

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.

Ceri Jones - showing the art of tapping

Ceri Jones and Nia Howells trying out the art of ‘tapping’ for the first time (Photo: Andy Bevan)

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!

Taster Day 2017 - lunch

A break from ‘nesting – Taster Day lunch on Rudry Common (Photo: DJJ)

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.

Tara - Willow Warbler Nest

Willow Warbler nest on Rudry Common (Photo: DJJ)

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!

Tara's Coronation

Tara Okon’s coronation as New Nest Finder of the Day (Photo: Rob Williams)

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

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May 21, 2017 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

National Nest Box Week 2017

14 February marks the start of the 20th annual National Nest Box Week, organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Putting up a nest box or two during the week can provide not only a nesting site for a number of species but, if you also spend a little bit of time monitoring the outcome of your occupied boxes, even just one box, you could also make a valuable contribution to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme.

Many of us will have at least one nest box in our gardens and, if we’re lucky enough to have it occupied, we delight in watching the adult birds tirelessly feeding their young. Best of all is seeing newly fledged chicks from the box and feeling that you have helped nature in some way. Thanks to the support of the Glamorgan Bird Club (GBC) I’ve been able to take this one step further and erect several nest boxes in areas outside my own garden.

nestboxes-on-floodplain-003

Erecting nest boxes near Radyr (Photo: DJJ)

Coinciding with National Nest Box Week, GBC holds a nest box making session at Kenfig NNR every February using timber kindly donated by Topstak. The Club donates these boxes to various bodies including local schools, Welsh children’s hospice Tŷ Hafan and, since 2014, it has kindly given a number of boxes to me. These boxes, in addition to those donated by RSPB Cymru, have enabled me to establish a small ‘nest box scheme’ in Coryton and Radyr near Cardiff.

GBC will be holding a Nest Box Making Workshop at Kenfig NNR on Saturday, 18 February at 9 a.m. If you want to build a box for your back garden or you already have, or want to create your own, nest box scheme why not go along?

I’m delighted to say that birds clearly admire the GBC’s and RSPB’s carpentry skills with the last three years having the following occupancy rates: 14 of 15 boxes (2014); 15 of 16 (2015) and 23 of 24 (2016). As you’d expect, the occupants are almost always Blue or Great Tits, although a Nuthatch did fledge 6 young from a box in Coryton in 2016.

I monitor each box for the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) which gathers vital information on the breeding success of Britain’s birds, always adhering to the Scheme’s strict Code of Conduct to ensure that I do not affect the outcome of the nest. This means that I visit each box c.4-6 times a season to ascertain its history: whether it was successful or not (and, if it was unsuccessful, at what stage did it fail); the date on which the first egg was laid in each box; the maximum clutch size; the maximum number of chicks hatched and the number of chicks fledged.

blue-tits-in-a-box-cropped-djj

A healthy brood of Blue Tits (Photo: DJJ)

Even though I’ve only been monitoring these boxes for three years, the information gathered is fascinating. I’ve extracted some of the data for Blue Tit and placed them in the table below. (*A “successful nest” is one which fledged at least on juvenile).

Blue Tit
Year
Occupied boxes
Successful nests*
Earliest egg date
Total no. of eggs
Av. no. of eggs per box
Total number of pulli
Total number fledged
Av. no. fledged per nest
2014
8
5
7 April
77
9.6
67
43
5.4
2015
9
6
10 April
76
8.4
65
50
5.6
2016
9
5
14 April
69
7.7
59
39
4.3

 

Even from such a small sample, it appears that Blue Tits have had some challenging breeding seasons locally between 2014-16. The species only has one brood a year (rarely 2) and lays on average 8-10 eggs. As you can see, the egg totals in my boxes in 2014-15 are within that average range, but numbers in most nests were below average in 2016. What is worrying is that the fledging rate is so low: an average of only 4.3 juvs in 2016. One thing I have noticed is that there is a very fine line between success and failure. Just a day or two of wet weather at the wrong time can lead to significant chick mortality and nest failure. I saw this happen in 2014 and again in 2016 and it’s remarkable how my records at a local level were replicated across the UK.

The BTO’s preliminary report on the 2016 breeding season shows that, during the critical period when several bird species were nesting, temperatures were low and rainfall high, affecting the availability of the caterpillars and grubs they rely on to feed their chicks. The number of chicks produced by Blue Tits nationally in 2016 was down by 31% relative to the five-year average (2011–15).

Why not give it a go?

Monitoring these nestboxes for the NRS has been absolutely fascinating. It has added a new dimension to my birding and given me a real insight into the lives of Blue and Great Tits. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to do it for many years and be able to learn so much more from comparing my records over a longer period of time. I’d recommend to all birders marking National Nest Box Week by erecting a nest box or two and monitoring them, no matter what your skill level. The BTO really does need the records from your nest boxes. You don’t have to visit them 4-6 times in a season. Even records from two visits provide the BTO with useful data.  If you’re interested, please visit www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nrs for more information or get in touch with me. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Dan Jenkins-Jones

February 12, 2017 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

Wetland Bird Survey 2015 – East Glamorgan Review

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda / Happy New Year to you all. Although I have to say, my greetings are a bit premature. In the world of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) the corks pop and the fireworks fizzle at the stroke of midnight on June 30th. That’s because the WeBS year runs from July>June. Nevertheless, I thought it would be useful to look back at how our team of East Glamorgan WeBS volunteers got on in 2015.

Last year, that team consisted of 37 volunteers who made counts of wetland birds at 39 sites. They submitted a combined total of 2,657 records of 69 species and a total count of 71,281 birds. Pretty awesome!

East Glamorgan WeBS: Top 20 Most Commonly Recorded Species

Species Combined total of records Combined total of counts
1 Mallard 315 10,372
2 Moorhen 234 1,384
3 Coot 197 5,839
4 Mute Swan 146 3,217
5 Herring Gull 132 5,437
6 Canada Goose 131 5,006
7 Lesser B-backed Gull 130 6,362
8 Grey Heron 120 186
9 Black-headed Gull 119 14,625
10 Cormorant 108 932
11 Little Grebe 101 618
12 Tufted Duck 94 3,256
13 Teal 69 1,325
14 Great Crested Grebe 68 617
15 Grey Wagtail 59 158
16 Kingfisher 47 66
17 Pied/White Wagtail 36 175
18 Reed Bunting 32 98
19 Water Rail 29 68
20 Dipper 28

63

Unsurprisingly, Mallard was the species most commonly reported across East Glamorgan and, although the counting of gulls is optional for the survey, our WeBS counters still recorded a combined total of 14,625 Black-headed Gulls.

Mallard occupied the top spot (RSPB Images)

Mallard occupies the top spot for 2015 (RSPB Images)

Amongst the scarcer birds to be recorded were single records of Bittern, Woodcock, Whimbrel, Glaucous and Yellow-legged Gull, two records of Garganey and four records of Lesser Scaup (at Cardiff bay of course).

Perhaps the most striking thing is the noticeable absence of Pochard from the Top 20. This species languishes down at number 32 with only a combined total of 17 WeBS records of 108 individuals throughout 2015.

Pochard - becoming scarcer in East Glamorgan (RSPB Images)

Pochard – becoming scarcer in East Glamorgan (RSPB Images)

Nevertheless, this does reflect what all birders living in East Glamorgan already know: that Pochard are becoming scarcer in the region unless boosted by a prolonged spell of cold weather. That’s not surprising given that the data in the 2007-11 Bird Atlas shows that there has been a 21% contraction in the winter range of the Pochard in Britain & Ireland since the last atlas, which covered the period 1981 to 1984.

WeBS is a great survey to undertake if you’re new to bird surveying. If you’re interested in taking part in 2016 please have a look at the East Glamorgan WeBS page and feel free to get in touch get in touch for a no obligation chat.

January 10, 2016 at 9:43 pm 1 comment

The 2014 BTO Nest Record Scheme Season in Glamorgan

I’m delighted to say the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme (NRS) is growing in popularity in Glamorgan.  This Scheme gathers vital information on the breeding success of Britain’s birds by asking volunteers to find and follow the progress of individual birds’ nests. Anyone can be a nest recorder, and by carefully following the NRS Code of Conduct, monitoring does not influence a nest’s outcome.   Some people submit only one or two records a year while others find and monitor nests of a whole range of species. Even the Blackbird or Blue Tit nest in your garden can provide valuable data for conservationists.

In 2014, the NRS’s 75th anniversary, 18 volunteers submitted nest records from Glamorgan – up from 11 volunteers in 2013. Between them they submitted a total of 781 records for 48 species (2013: 421 records for 51 species).

Song Thrush Nest (Photo: Dan Jenkins-Jones)

Song Thrush Nest (Photo: Dan Jenkins-Jones)

There were some notable nest records in 2014: both Cuckoo and Kittiwake were new species for the Glamorgan NRS database, the latter bursting on the scene with a total of no fewer than 91 records during the year; the 10 nest records for Barn Owl and 3 records for Great Crested Grebe almost trebled the number of records received from Glamorgan for these species in the entire history of the Scheme, and the 4 House Martin records doubled the number or records on the Glamorgan database.

Glamorgan Nest Record Totals 2014

(Species marked * are BTO Priority Species / species marked with a ‘+’ are on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and require a licence to be obtained before monitoring).

Blue Tit 232
Great Tit 149
Kittiwake* 91
Swallow 65
Blackbird* 45
Song Thrush* 25
Nuthatch 22
Pied Flycatcher* 22
Coot 12
Barn Owl + 10
Wren* 8
House Sparrow 7
Redstart* 7
Robin 6
Woodpigeon 6
Dipper* 5
Linnet* 5
Long-tailed Tit 5
Canada Goose 4
Dunnock* 4
Goldfinch 4
House Martin 4
Willow Warbler* 4
Blackcap 3
Great Crested Grebe 3
Mute Swan* 3
Tawny Owl 3
Treecreeper 3
Chaffinch* 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Meadow Pipit* 2
Tree Pipit 2
Bullfinch 1
Buzzard 1
Chiffchaff 1
Coal Tit 1
Collared Dove 1
Cuckoo 1
Goldcrest 1
Goshawk + 1
Grey Wagtail* 1
Magpie* 1
Reed Bunting* 1
Reed Warbler 1
Skylark* 1
Spotted Flycatcher* 1
Stonechat 1
Swift 1

For more information about nest recording and how you can take part please visit the BTO’s Nest Recording webpages. You can also search for all Glamorgan’s nest records between 2007-14 by going to Online Nesting Reports page.

November 1, 2015 at 4:38 pm 2 comments

Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report, 2012 Published

The latest annual bird report from the Glamorgan Bird Club has just been published.  It is the 51st report for our region, and the 4th under the guidance of the Glamorgan Rarities Committee.

Easter Glamorgan Bird Report, 2012The Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report No 51 (2012) is presented in B5 format and contains 83 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.  A Kumlien’s Gull at Cosmeston has been accepted by the Welsh Rarities Panel and becomes the first for our region and just the third for Wales.  A number of other records including Richardson’s Canada Goose, Balearic Shearwater and Glossy Ibis await decisions from their respective rarities committees.  Iceland Gulls, Waxwings and Yellow-browed Warblers were present in good numbers.

Also included are a report on the status of species over the last decade in a Cardiff suburb, a county ringing report along with accounts from Kenfig NNR, Flat Holm and Cardiff Bay highlighting species and numbers caught.  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 an Osprey pair squabbling over a fish, summer plumage Black-necked Grebes, Short-eared Owl, Waxwings and Great Northern Diver.

The Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report is free to all members of the Glamorgan Bird Club.

Copies may be purchased from John Wilson:

John Wilson
Editor of the Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report
122 Westbourne Road
Penarth
Vale of Glamorgan
CF64 3HH

tel: 02920 339424

December 12, 2013 at 9:10 pm Leave a comment

East Glamorgan WeBS: June 2013 Summary

The Core Count Period for the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is September through to March. But, I’m delighted to say that most of our volunteer WeBS counters in East Glamorgan clearly enjoy taking part in this survey so much that they continue to visit their sites during the rest of the year too!

Naturally, the Spring and Summer months are a quieter time in terms of the number of wetland birds recorded, but there’s always something to see and all data are a valuable contribution to this important survey.

WeBS is about counting, once a month, the numbers of wetland birds present at a site. Counters aren’t specifically asked to record breeding evidence. However, many do add notes on breeding birds seen during each count.

Michaelstone-le-pit Salmon Leaps (Photo: DJJ)

Michaelstone-le-pit Salmon Leaps (Photo: DJJ)

June Highlight

The highlight of the June WeBS counts in East Glamorgan was undoubtedly the breeding record of Tufted Duck at Michaleston-le-Pit Salmon Leaps (Mike & Chris Dunn).  On average, we only have breeding records from 3 or 4 sites a year in our recording area.

Other breeding records

The following species were recorded breeding at the following locations:

  • Canada Goose: Caerphilly Castle Moat; Kenfig NNR; Parc Slip.
  • Coot: Caerphilly Castle Moat; Clydach Vale CP; Cors Crychydd Reen; Parc Slip.
  • Great Crested Grebe: Caerphilly Castle Moat.
  • Mallard: Caerphilly Castle Moat: Clydach Vale CP; Cors Crychydd Reen; Lisvane reservoir; Michalestone-le-Pit Salmon Leaps; Parc Slip.
  • Moorhen: Cors Crychydd Reen.
  • Mute Swan: Caerphilly Castle Moat; Cors Crychydd Reen.
  • Grey Wagtail: Caerphilly Castle Moat.
Curlews back on the coast - Autumn's on its way. (Photo; Jeff Slocombe)

Curlews back on the coast – Autumn’s on its way. (Photo: Jeff Slocombe)

Other highlights

Dippers were recorded at both Taf Bargoed Lakes and on the River Taff between Radyr Weir and Llandaff. A Mediterranean Gull was at Ogmore Estuary, where there was a whiff of Autumn in the air with the return of both Curlew & Redshank. 2 male Pochard recorded at Lisvane Reservoir also suggests that ‘Summer’ is over – did it really begin?!

Many thanks to all our WeBS counters for contributing to the survey. Your efforts are really appreciated. If you’re new to bird surveying WeBS is an excellent place to start. Please get in touch if you’d like to volunteer or for a no-obligation chat.

June 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment

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

December 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm Leave a comment

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