The Early Bird …

… has its feeding patterns affected by light and heat pollution during cold winter mornings.  Is this true?

This is what the forthcoming Early Bird Survey will investigate.

Breakfast time for Robin by fintbo, on Flickr
Breakfast time for Robin by fintbo, on Flickr

Birds require extra energy to keep warm, especially during long winter nights. To cope, they lay down extra fat reserves, though small birds quite often only lay down enough for a single night. Longer nights not only affect the amount of energy a bird uses, they also reduce the amount of time that birds can feed in. Birds, therefore, have to make the most of the daylight hours to replenish their energy reserves before it gets dark.

Building on observations from the Shortest Day Survey, the Early Bird Survey will investigate what effect, if any, light and heat pollution have on the feeding patterns of birds during a cold winter’s morning.

The  survey takes place on 9 January 2014 (submissions from days between the 6 and 12 January will be welcome too) and requires people to get up just before dawn, watch their garden feeding stations and record what time they see the first 10 different species arriving; some additional information on the local environment will also be recorded.

Can you take part in this survey?


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).

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?

Tracking Winter Thrushes

Redwings have already been seen in East Glamorgan this autumn, and it won’t be long before the familiar seep-seep call of migrating parties are heard overhead during our darkening nights.  Fieldfares will soon be here too, raiding our hawthorn and berry bushes.

In 2012-13, BTO will be running a Winter Thrush Survey.

Redwing by oldbilluk, on Flickr
Redwing by oldbilluk, on Flickr

This winter, we want to encourage volunteers to help us prepare for the 2012-13 survey by recording in BirdTrack as much information as possible about the Redwings and Fieldfares you see.   For example, you can record a count, activity and note about habitat.

For over-flying birds (arriving migrants or birds moving about within the country, rather than birds making local movements to or from feeding areas) the direction of flight can be recorded too.  A measure of effort will also be very valuable so observers are asked to include a start and end time for any species lists submitted.

Further information and help on what to record here is available.

Atlas Winter Records Deadline

With the final Winter recording period for the Bird Atlas now over, the deadline for submitting the records is now approaching.

We have had good coverage in this final winter period, despite the poor weather before Christmas.   Species numbers in some of the more remote areas in the northern reaches of the region have also been boosted.

Please try to submit your data, TTV and Roving Records, either online or send in your completed paper forms to Wayne by 31 March.

Waxwings by markkilner, on Flickr
Waxwings by markkilner, on Flickr

End of Atlas Winter Surveys in Sight

Fieldwork for the final winter of the Atlas comes to a close at the end of February so we have just over two weeks to complete our late visits to tetrads (TTVs) and to fill in gaps in species lists through Roving Records.

Birdwatching by Morinoko, on Flickr

We would like to thank you for making a special effort to help with fieldwork, especially during the very bad weather in November and December. We are delighted with the winter coverage so far.

The priorities between now and the end of February are:

We encourage you to enter your records promptly as we are continually assessing coverage and making plans to fill in gaps over the final couple of weeks.

As always, there is a wealth of local information to be found in the Regional Results.

  • fill in gaps in species lists.  The 10-km squares requiring most help are shown in the Roving Gaps.  There are still species to find even in 10-km squares that have been fairly well covered. The ‘Priority Squares’ feature (accessed by logging in to Bird Atlas and viewing ‘Data Home’) lists species which have been recorded around your home 10-km square but not in your square.  Are there any species that might be able to find in the habitats in your 10-km square?
  • complete your late winter Timed Tetrad Visits. If you think you will not manage this please inform Wayne immediately so the tetrads can be reallocated.