Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Birdwatch Update

Did you take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch? You can still send in your records until February 4th. I believe it's quite important.

Down here in our part of Cambridgeshire we notice that some birds such as mistle thrushes, lesser spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches have gone missing in recent years. Greenfinches seem down but sparrows are coming back. Where are our wintering stonechats and goldcrests?

These national counts give us a better impression of what is really happening from year to year. Did you know that volunteers count wildfowl on all our lakes each month, or that these counts are done throughout Europe and beyond to get a better picture of where waders and ducks go in winter?

A team of bird ringers runs a "constant effort" ringing site here in the summer. The idea is to use the same length of net for the same number of hours, in the same place, every year. That way you can compare one year's catch with another. This scheme has proved that water rail and goldcrest breed with us and shown us where a lot of our birds migrate to and from, but it has also shown the boom and decline in some scrub species, with an increase in woodland species. We are going to have to manage the ringing area to regenerate some young scrub.

On two early mornings in summer each year, we send out volunteers to cover every inch of the Reserve and the Quarry. Using base-maps, we try to record absolutely every bird on the site in order to get an idea of how many pairs of each species breeds here. You can use the results to compare with previous years, but weather can seriously influence the results.

I think the weather will have influenced the RSPB's count this year although I hear that more people than ever have taken part, some of the birds may have been too wet to bother!

Bosham Harbour in the rain.
After my count from 9 to 10 am on Saturday I used the RSPB's on-line application to try and enter my data but it was so busy that the server had crashed. Part of the problem is that each recorder has to stay on line for quite a long time to complete the form, thus cluttering up the RSPB's bandwidth. I managed to send my details in on Sunday night.

Eleven species visited my garden during the hour, which was better than last time. However, the weather just got worse and worse as the day wore on and that night everyone had gales (or worse) and flooding too. On Sunday I visited an RSPB Reserve near Selsey in Sussex where they had a successful BirdWatch event on the Saturday before the weather hit. They had no visitors at all on Sunday morning and the car park was flooded. The well-stocked bird tables were not very busy either, so we drove round to Bosham Harbour to watch birds from the car. Red-breasted mergansers were displaying and there were dark-bellied brent geese all over the fields and the salt marsh.

If you have a couple of days off and you like photography and good pubs, I'd recommend Bosham as a good starting point. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Arundel is usually brilliant too, but is currently flooded. Check their website before you visit.