Monday I did my fifth Breeding Bird Survey of the season. There are only six, so I’m nearly done. That is, there are two surveys each for three different patches I cover in NE Norfolk.
The BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)
This is a wonderful example of citizen science. The British Trust for Ornithology started this survey 23 years ago. Volunteers set out early in the morning to be at the start of a predefined route through their survey square (a 1km grid square as shown on the map) at between 6 and 7 am. They then walk the route, which is basically a straight line across the square, then move to another starting point and walk back again, recording the birds they see or hear on a survey sheet. Afterwards, they enter their records into the BTO’s online system.
Two of my patches are close to home. I can drive to one in five minutes, and that’s the one I do first, since the survey season starts in April, and I fall out of bed at dawn to do it. A couple of weeks later I do the one that is actually closer, but takes me twenty minutes to walk onto the start of the route. The last one I do is the one that’s an hour’s drive to the east, so in April I’m driving into the rising sun. It’s always very pretty, because I have to choose days with good visibility, no rain, and not too much wind.
I don’t have to look for nests or check for signs of a breeding bird, e.g. carrying food. The survey is based on the presence of species at that time of day meaning they are probably nesting in the immediate area. Other factors go into the research done on the figures, too. Male birds singing, and more than one of the same species singing in the same area, suggest territory defence. Birds heard calling can suggest warnings made to the bird on the nest.
I’m very lucky to have these three patches which are all very different, but in beautiful countryside.
I havent any pictures of the first one, which takes me along a footpath, through a village, then I cut through the churchyard to get to the start of the second leg, which is along roads that go alongside farmland. The birds I see are mainly hedgerow and farmland species. I would quite like to go back through the records to see if the number of skylarks singing is correlated to the type of crop the farmer is growing. I suspect when he grows wheat or barley there are more skylarks. Of course, it could be other factors at work, including breeding success and predation.
Survey 2 runs alongside the River Wensum for the first half, so I see lots of water birds. The second part runs around the edge of the fields up on the hill, and the number of birds decreases as I go round, so this week there was only one bird I recorded in the last section! It’s a really lovely walk, although mosquito protection is needed for the first part!
Breeding bird survey 3 is on the coast, on a grassed over sand dune area. This is one of may favourite places in the entire country, and readers will know it features in my Princelings books as Summernot. Its real name is Winterton. Skylarks are usually plentiful here, too, but the real gem is a tern colony on the beach. I also get to see seals out in the sea—mammals are recorded in passing during these surveys. When I started, mine was one of only two grey seals recorded. I noticed the 2017 survey reported them in 7 places. So seals must be doing well, or we are covering more places where you can see them.
There can be rarities at Winterton, and I often engage with the twitchers if they are around chasing something. Twitcher is a bit or a rude term for a birdwatcher – it implies they jump up and follow rarities everywhere to add them to their lists. Which is basically what twitchers do. I’m not a twitcher. If it’s not on my patch, I don’t go hunting for it. I don’t mind knowing what they are looking for on my patch, though – it helps me identify it correctly. Last year they were looking for red-backed shrike which had been reported there. I am pleased to say I saw a pair of them and duly recorded them. They were on my side of the bush, where the twitcher was walking along the path on the other side and didn’t see them!
I wonder what I’ll see when I do the last survey of the season here in a couple of weeks?
Partial Bird lists for my breeding bird survey patches:
1: 77 species including red kite (seen this year), all the thrushes, and six warbler species (garden, sedge, willow, blackcap, whitethroat, and chiffchaff).
2: 80 species including sparrowhawk, buzzard, kestrel, hobby and seven warbler species (add reed warbler to the set above), plus spotted flycatcher.
3: 79 species including black redstart, grey partridge, marsh harrier, four tern species (common, little, sandwich and arctic), ringed plover, turnstone, dunlin, lapwing, grey plover, common sandpiper, whimbrel and curlew. And, of course, that red-backed shrike.
This is part of my #30DaysWild Challenge. You don’t have to go this far, though!