Looking Back Over 2013

As the New Year turns, we’d like to take few moments to look back over the year just past.  Membership and participation in surveys continues to grow. We now have over 160 members and a further 644 volunteers who have contributed to BTO surveys over the years.

BirdTrack in particular shows some impressive figures, with over 190 volunteers contributing over 150,000 records in our region since its inception, with a number of recorders submitting over 10,000 records each.

Stonechat by Jeff Slocombe

Our year began with the core period of the Winter Thrushes Survey in full swing. We were delighted that 40 core squares were covered with a further 30 squares monitored over the full survey period running from October to April. As the year closes, we are once again in the middle of this two-year survey, which has already revealed some interesting results about the key habitats and food sources used by our passage and wintering thrush species

WeBS too has a strong winter element, though it continues all year round.  We have a great team of WeBS counters in East Glamorgan.  In 2013, a total of 35 of us counted waterbirds at 33 different sites which vary in size from reens and farm pools to Cardiff Bay and the Rhymney Estuary.  Two new sites were counted in 2013: Sully Island and Hendre Lake. Lamby Tip Pool, which was counted in 2012, can no longer be counted due to access issues.

We said farewell to some long standing counters who ‘retired’ from WeBS this year. Marie Makepeace counted Caerphilly Castle Moat for 14 years and Margaret Morgan who, along with Graham Duff who sadly passed away in 2011, counted the birds on Roath Park Lake for over 10 years. Clive Ellis who counted Parc Tredlerech (Lamby Lake) and, more recently, Cors Crychydd Reen and Lamby Tip Pool also stood down at the end of 2012. We’re all indebted and grateful to Marie, Margaret, Graham and Clive for collecting so much data about the waterbirds at these sites.

We welcomed some new volunteers too, namely Richard Facey, Rob Thomas and Heather Galliford. It was also great to welcome back Neville Davies who re-joined the team in March, taking on Caerphilly Castle Moat – a WeBS site he once covered many years ago. I’m also delighted to say that Parc Slip NR is now counted regularly for WeBS thanks to John and Margaret Samuel who volunteered for the survey towards the end of 2012. 2014 is already off to a great start with Carys Solman volunteering to count Cyfarthfa Park Lake – the first time this site has ever been counted for WeBS.

Although WeBS is about monitoring the populations of our more regularly occurring waterbirds, it is always nice when the odd local scarcity turns up during your count – and there were plenty of highlights for our counters during 2013.

A pair of breeding Tufted Duck at Michaelstone-le-pit Salmon Leaps was a nice record of a rare breeding species in Glamorgan. Bitterns were seen at Cosmeston, Kenfig and Parc Slip and a Black-necked Grebe was seen at Kenfig during the January and February counts. There was a maximimum count of 32 Common Snipe and 9 Jack Snipe at Llanishen Reservoir, where a Water Rail was also seen – the 1st record at this site since 1976! Nearby, a Green Sandpiper at Lisvane Reservoir was the first ever WeBS record there. Up to 5 Purple Sandpiper were seen at Ogmore Estuary. Undoubtedly, the wader highlight of the WeBS year was the Long-billed Dowitcher at Rhaslas Pond. This site, under threat from development, is counted for WeBS by Mike Hogan. His regular visits there have proven that Rhaslas is a fantastic place for migrating waders.

Counting gulls and terns is optional for WeBS, nevertheless some counters are more than happy to record them. A Yellow-legged Gull appeared during one count at Cosmeston and there were Mediterranean Gulls recorded at both Kenfig Pool and Ogmore Estuary. The latter site also had 3 Sandwich Terns in April and the gull highlight of the year: a Bonaparte’s Gull which was present during every WeBS count between January and April!

Moving into the breeding season, volunteers monitored 35 1km squares for BBS  locally, and the survey enjoyed its best ever season across Wales. This upturn is vital given this survey’s importance in informing a number of key conservation reports.  In a similar vein, the NRS had its greatest uplift in participation across the UK in Wales, and we both enjoyed the season, which as many of you will recall started at least a couple of weeks late after the poor weather of the spring. The survey marks its 75th year in 2014, and there’s sure to be some interesting news to mark the event.

The Wales Chat Survey concluded in the summer with its second season of surveying and BTO now have sufficient data to analyse.  Four 1km squares were allocated for Woodcock Survey, but perhaps unsurprisingly no Woodcocks were observed.

Great Tit Nest by Wayne Morris
Great Tit Nest by Wayne Morris

Our neighbours, the Gwent Ornithological Society, played host to the year’s Welsh Ornithological Society conference in November. A number of enjoyable and informative talks were delivered, many of which held BTO survey work as a central theme from establishing population size and movements of Hawfinches through ringing, nest recording Honey-buzzards through to the long-term importance that long-term datasets delivered by amateur WeBS counters help the conservation cause in the Severn Estuary or the Greenland White-fronted Goose on the Dyfi.

A packed weekend at BTO’s Annual Conference at Swanwick offered a varied plate of talks and meetings, from a second helping of Honey-buzzards, through Buzzard success in Northern Ireland, Sand Martin monitoring at home and Senegal, seabird feeding patterns off the Scottish coast, monitoring House Sparrows and Reed Warblers.  The back-drop of course, was the yet to be fully digested results delivered by the recently published national Bird Atlas. This remarkable publication will undoubtedly set the tone for future survey work and research over the next decade.

Thanks to all members and volunteers who have contributed to BTO surveys past, present and future.

Good birding in 2014!


Wales Takes 2013 BTO Annual Conference by Storm

Wayne and I have just returned from Swanwick in Derbyshire where we’re delighted to report that Team BTO Cymru had an absolute stonking 2013 BTO Annual Conference.

It all began on Friday night with an excellent and very entertaining opening talk by Welshman Steve Roberts entitled Honey Buzzards: up close and personal. Amongst the stunning photos and video footage of the buzzards he’d subtly included a photo of Alex Cuthbert scoring a try against England at the Millenium Stadium earlier this year.  A cracking start!

Later, at an informal gathering of Nest Recorders, we were informed that in 2013, Wales achieved its highest ever total of 1km squares surveyed for the Breeding Bird Survey, as well as achieving the most pronounced uplift of all the BTO’s countries/regions in numbers of nests recorded for the Nest Record Scheme.  The Welsh contingent of BTO members and representatives celebrated by raising a glass or two in the bar later that evening.

The social side of the conference is just as important as the series of talks.
The social side of the conference is just as important as the series of talks.

On Saturday, Anne Brenchley, Clwyd (East) BTO Regional Representative and one of the authors of the newly published North Wales Breeding Atlas,  won the prestigious BTO Bernard Tucker Medal  “for outstanding service to the Trust”. Many congratulations Anne!

Ian Newton stood down as BTO’s Chairman at this conference where he was described by Andy Clements, the Trust’s Director, as “the greatest living ornithologist”. No pressure there then on Tony Fox who was elected as the new Chairman! Tony is Professor of Waterbird Ecology at Aarhus University in Denmark. Later that evening (again at the bar) we discovered that, despite being born in Surrey and now working in Denmark, he’d spent 12 years at Aberystwyth University and that he still considers Wales to be his home. An honorary Welshman if ever there was one!

Mark Avery and Tony Fox debating during the 'Ask the Panel' session what the future has in store for the BTO.
Mark Avery and Tony Fox debating during the ‘Ask the Panel’ session what the future has in store for the BTO.

And then, the cherry on the (Welsh) cake at the very end of the conference, Wayne’s numbers came up in the raffle and he won top prize of a pair of 8×30 Swarovski binoculars!!! You couldn’t make it up.

But, of course, this conference was about far more than a cause for Welsh celebration. It was a celebration of the study of birds, the joy that that can bring and its importance in a world where nature is under so much threat.

The talks programme was packed with speakers who inspired the audience with tales of their areas of study. But, what makes the BTO Conference so special is that both professional and citizen scientists share the same stage. My personal highlights of the weekend were talks by Eimear Rooney on ‘Why buzzards are doing so well’, the RSPB’s Ellie Owen on tracking seabirds (which included footage of ‘Gannet Cam’ research being conducted at Grassholm – Wales again!) and Richard Bland’s wonderfully understated, yet very moving, Jubilee Medal acceptance speech. A Question Time/Ask the Panel session at the end of the conference with Tony Fox, Jenny Gill, Mark Avery and Ian Owens which focused on the future of the BTO was also excellent.

Wayne about to take his Swarovski binocular booty back over the border to Wales (note the big grin on his face).
Wayne about to take his Swarovski binocular booty back over the border to Wales (Note the big grin on his face).

But the conference isn’t all about talks either – the social side of the event is just as important.  Bung some birders in a bar and you’re bound to have a good time, and this annual gathering is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends, make some new ones, to share birding tales and new ideas.

If you’ve never been to a BTO Annual Conference before, clear your diary for the first weekend in December 2014 and book your places early because, on current form, it will be another sell out.  Next year though, it’s my turn to win the Swarovskis.

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.