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From the British Trust for Ornithology


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The Power of Volunteering: Bird Atlas 2007-11

Reaping the reward of more than a million hours of volunteer recording INSPIRING A NEW GENERATION OF BIRD COUNTERS Younger members reveal what they love about today’s BTO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .p14

FROM DUCK POND TO MAJOR WETLAND There’s still lots to learn about even our most familiar birds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p18

LEARNING MORE AS YOU WATCH BIRDS We’ve added more training courses to meet demand . . . . . . (see insert) & p22


WELCOME... the second issue of Volunteer, the annual BTO magazine that aims to highlight the remarkable and truly inspiring contribution that volunteer birdwatchers make to wildlife monitoring in the UK. Bird Atlas 2007–11 is one project which demonstrates this amazing contribution beautifully. Over 40,000 people participated over a four-year period, contributing records of 216 million birds of 520 different species. This is a world-leading citizen science project of which we should all feel very proud. The Bird Atlas 2007–11 book will be a visual feast, not only because of the very latest maps, which will update everything we know about UK birds, but also thanks to the fantastic images kindly donated to the project by photographers from around the world. We want the book to grace the coffee tables and bookshelves of as many atlas contributors as possible. We also want many other people

to own a copy to ensure that the important messages it contains reach a really wide audience. We owe this to all the volunteers who contributed to this mammoth project. Please use the 35% discounted pre-publication offer inside to reserve your own copy and let others know about it too. The more copies we sell, the greater our impact will be for birds, birdwatchers and conservationists. I hope this magazine convinces you of the value of what you do for our birds or inspires you to make your first contribution this year. The breeding season is already underway and there is a whole array of surveys waiting for you. If you aren’t already a member please consider joining to support our work, use the 50% discount coupon inside. As always, I am keen to hear your thoughts on this magazine and on our wider work – so please do get in touch. In the meantime, happy birdwatching,

Ieuan Evans Head of Membership and Volunteer Engagement (

FACTS & FIGURES: THINGS WE KNOW, THANKS TO YOU The three most widespread species

Shrike (-89%), Cirl Bunting (-84%),

In 2012, almost 20 times as many Barn Owl

(by breeding range size) in Britain are

Hawfinch (-76%), Wryneck (-73%) and

nests were monitored as Greenfinch nests!

Wren, Skylark and Pied Wagtail. In

Capercaillie (-73%).

Numbers of Greenfinches have dropped by 9% since 1995, but we ought to be able to

Ireland they are Wren, Swallow and Hooded Crow.

Over the past five years there has been a 15-

fill in more than 150 nest record cards for this

fold increase in the use of gardens by Lesser

garden-nesting species between us in 2013?

In Britain, the five species that expanded

Redpoll during early spring. Your sightings

their breeding ranges most between 1970

indicate that nyger seed is the favourite food

and 2010 were Cetti’s Warbler (6,783%),

of this diminutive finch.

Mediterranean Gull (6,500%), Ring-necked Parakeet (4,400%), Red Kite (1,974%) and

540 nest records for Robin were

Avocet (1,663%).

submitted in 2012, the most in a single year since 1985. Suffolk was the top


The largest contractions in breeding

Robin-recording county, with 38 nests

range in Britain between 1970 and

monitored, followed closely by

2010 were shown by Red-backed

Nottinghamshire (37) and Devon (32).

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013







Welcome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

More than birds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

Stories from the web . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

Another year of successful birdwatching.

From bumblebees to Brown Hares; working

Ringing provides insights into the lives of

with others to make full use of all your wildlife

individual birds.

Contents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Woodcock Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Introducing a special new survey of this secretive woodland wader.

Looking out for upland birds . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Take to the hills in Wales and Scotland this summer.

New maps from BBS results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Records from Breeding Bird Survey volunteers turn into fascinating maps.


Mystery Mallards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

Much-maligned habitat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Our most familiar duck still has secrets to

Learning to value your own personal scrubby

reveal, especially during the winter.

corner of the UK.

A new arrival . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Every map in Bird Atlas 2007–11 tells a new story about the birds of Britain & Ireland.

Following migrants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 How BirdTrack can help us to appreciate the dynamic nature of migration.

Developing your skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

What has the BTO got for me? . . . . . . . . . 14

Brushing up on nest recording skills, ready for

A younger member’s view.

a busy retirement.


CONTACT US BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU Telephone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01842 750050 Facsimile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01842 750030 E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Web site . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BTO Scotland, School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Cottrell Building, University of Stirling, FK9 4LA Telephone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01786 466560 Facsimile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01786 466561 E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BTO Cymru, Thoday Building, Deiniol Rd, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2UW Telephone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 01248 383285 E-mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The BTO promotes and encourages the wider understanding, appreciation and conservation of birds. Registered Charity no. 216652 (England & Wales) no. SC039193 (Scotland)

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

ISSN 0005 – 3392

Patron HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, KG, KT President Baroness Young of Old Scone Chairman Ian Newton Honorary Secretary Neil Bucknell Honorary Treasurer John Osmond BTO VOLUNTEER MAGAZINE JNCC — All references to JNCC in Volunteer refer to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, on behalf of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. Editors Ieuan Evans and Su Gough Layout, design, imagesetting and typesetting O’Connor Design Consultants

Printing Breckland Print, New Road, Attleborough, Norfolk NR17 1YE BTO MEMBERSHIP Individual . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £32 Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £42 Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £800 Fellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £54 Family Fellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £64 Life Fellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £1,350 Fellows receive Bird Study journal.

When you have finished with this magazine, pass it to a friend or recycle it.

The views expressed by the contributors to this magazine are not necessarily those of the Editors, the Council of the BTO or its committees. The Editors welcomes any articles on birds. © BTO 2013. Quotations should carry a full acknowledgement.



Get Involved in the 2013 Woodcock Survey The first breeding Woodcock Survey, undertaken in 2003 by BTO and GCT (now GWCT – Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), estimated a breeding population of 78,000 males in Britain. However, results from recent local surveys and Bird Atlas 2007–11 indicate a further decline in breeding distribution and Woodcock is currently amber categorised and a Species of European Conservation Concern. The 2013 GWCT/BTO Woodcock Survey will provide a new population estimate and assessment of abundance change, as well as examining breeding habitat characteristics and the potential impact of grazing. SURVEY SITES AND METHODS A total of 1,580 survey sites (1-km squares), which have been selected randomly, based on the amount of woodland present, will

Elusive on the ground, Woodcock have distinctive display flights which make them easy to survey. What better way to spend a warm, spring evening, than looking out for ‘roding’ male Woodcock?

be available in Britain and Northern Ireland. Within each site a single fixed count point will

is 75 minutes, commencing 15 minutes


be selected, from which all observations will

before sunset and finish 60 minutes after

This survey can be completed on-line, so

be conducted.


surveyors can select sites and enter data through

Timing of visits: A maximum of four visits

What to record: During the 75-minute

org/woodcock-survey), where information

will be required: 

survey period all observations of Woodcock

and documentation can be found and

April: one daytime recce to relocate the

(in flight), both by sight and sound, will

downloaded. If you do not have access to the

original 2003 count point or establish a new

be recorded to the nearest minute and

internet, please contact your local BTO Regional


logged. Some basic information on habitat,

Representative (RR) or Greg Conway at BTO HQ

May to June: three visits to the count point

and deer and livestock presence will also

(Email: or Phone: 01842

at dusk, at least one week apart.

be collected between mid-May and mid-

750050), who will be able to send printed

Visit time and duration: the count period


copies of the survey documentation.

the Woodcock Survey webpage (www.bto.

VOLUNTEERS CELEBRATED At this year’s annual conference we celebrated the remarkable contributions of two amazing BTO volunteers. Mick Marquiss was awarded our Bernard Tucker Medal for his outstanding contributions to the Trust’s scientific work, particularly through his long-term contribution to the Unconventional Methods Technical Panel. This panel reports to the Ringing Committee on applications for unconventional bird trapping or marking projects such as wing-tagging and GPS trackers. At the same conference, we celebrated the contributions of our Regional Representative


Le know t us someo if there is n like to e you woul d nomin at one of the m e for this ye edals ar for Somerset, Eve Tigwell, who was presented with our Jubilee Medal. Eve has been RR for 22 years, ensuring excellent coverage of her region for all of our core and occasional surveys. She’s also made significant contributions to the wider work of the BTO through tenures on BTO Council and the BTO Regional Network Committee. Dozens of volunteers give their time and expertise to our organisation every year by contributing as regional organisers or by taking on committee roles and we are extremely grateful for this help.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR CHATS IN WALES 2012 proved to be the third-wettest year on record in Wales, with 205mm of rain in June, compared to the month average of 86mm. Not the type to be deterred, BTO volunteers struggled onwards and managed to survey almost 200 squares in Wales for Stonechat, Whinchat and Wheatear. The Principality is a stronghold for these species and understanding more about their habitat requirements is an important goal for this project. The survey will run again this year and we need more volunteers to help us. This is a simple survey requiring a single visit in each of April, May and June to a randomly selected square. A free identification video for the species covered by this survey is available here: www.bto. org/about-birds/bird-id/know-your-chats GETTING INVOLVED Visit or phone 01248 383285

Whinchat numbers are dropping. We’ll be trying to find them in Wales this summer. Can you help out?


‘What’s Up’ in Scotland?


Our uplands are special places for people and wildlife, but land-use and climate are changing – how is Scotland’s wildlife responding? The truth is we don’t know because not enough people are looking. What’s Up is an ambitious new collaboration aimed at increasing our coverage of birds in Scotland’s Uplands. Thanks to generous support from Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club we’ll be delivering a programme of training courses to engage more people from a range of audiences in biological recording in upland habitats. We’re also looking for your help. COULD YOU: Monitor an upland Breeding Bird Survey square? Mentor a less experienced BBS recorder? Walk transects along mountain ridges and plateaux? If you can help, please visit the project webpage here: or phone 01786 466560.

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine




Some people claim to enjoy winter, says BBS Organiser, Kate Risely. They refer to wild swans, and winter thrushes, and brisk walks through picturesque snow-covered landscapes. However, even the hardiest cold-weather birdwatcher must enjoy their first encounter with a returning summer migrant, and the rest of us spend the long winter months looking forward to the first sights and sounds of spring: Swallows and Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Willow Warblers. The pleasure of greeting these returning travellers, however, is tempered by the knowledge that some are struggling to cope with life in a changing environment.

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) uses

everywhere, but BBS shows that the highest

counts made by volunteers to detect

concentrations are in the south and west,

changes in breeding bird numbers from one

the species becoming less common in

year to the next, and these trends can often

the north of the UK. Increases have been

be linked to environmental changes. Recent

modest in their core southern range, but

work using BBS counts from across the UK

populations have grown by over 50% since

breeding Swallows are increasing only in

have allowed us to produce new maps for

the early 90s across much of central and

western parts of Britain, and are declining

many species, showing how density and

eastern England. It has been suggested that

on the east coast and in Northern Ireland.

population trajectory vary across the UK.

improved overwinter survival may be behind

It is thought that a loss of livestock and

These will allow finer-scale analyses of the

these gains, and it’s interesting to note that

grazing in eastern areas, together with arable

causes of change. They also show the best,

Blackcap, also a short-distance migrant with

intensification, has caused a decline, while

and worst, parts of the country for many of

a growing tendency to overwinter in Britain,

the spread of pasture in the west and north

our summer migrants.

shows a similar pattern of increases.

has resulted in population increases.



you may be simultaneously gaining Swallows

Those with their ‘eyes to the skies’ might


but losing House Martins. In contrast to

spot an early Sand Martin, but the first

According to BirdTrack, Swallows start arriving

Swallow, the population trends for House

spring encounter for most people is probably

from their African wintering grounds around

Martin show a north–south divide, with

with one of the many Chiffchaffs that

mid-March, earlier than many other migrants.

breeding populations doing badly in

flood into the country in the first weeks

The overall BBS trend shows a rise of 35%

southern areas but increasing in northern

of March. Chiffchaffs may seem common

since the early 90s, but the map shows that

England and Scotland. The decreases in

Generations of birdwatchers have eagerly awaited the arrival of Swallows each spring. Both the timing and destination of these impressive migrants has changed over time.

If you live in western England or Wales


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


Change in population density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 Chiffchaff



Phylloscopus collybita

Hirundo rustica

Cuculus canorus

Density (birds/km²)

Density (birds/km²)

Density (birds/km²)

> 40 20 – 40 10 –20 5 –10 2.5 –5 1.25– 2.5 0.62– 1.25 0.31– 0.62 0.16– 0.31 0 – 0.61

Relative change in density > 75% 50% to 75% 25% to 50% -25% to 25% -50% to -25% -75% to -50% < -75% insufficient data

> 80 40 – 80 20 – 40 10 –20 5 –10 2.5 – 5 1.2 – 2.5 0.6 – 1.2 0.3 – 0.6 0 – 0.3

Relative change in density > 75% 50% to 75% 25% to 50% -25% to 25% -50% to -25% -75% to -50% < -75% insufficient data

DECODING THE MAPS Increases are shown in blue and declines in red. Dot size indicates average density. Distance band counts from the BBS can be used to map the abundance and trends of 49 bird species across the UK. These maps complement those to be published in the

forthcoming Bird Atlas 2007–11. The statistical models used to create these maps are less reliable in areas where few BBS squares are surveyed, including upland areas, parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and some islands. Please consider this when interpreting the maps.

the south-east are particularly severe and

We know that Cuckoo numbers have dropped more in England than Wales, with Scottish figures holding steady. The map above provides more detail.

House Martins in London have declined by over 75% since the early 90s. This clear link with urban areas suggests that changes in

>2 1–2 0.5–1 0.25 – 0.5 0.125 – 0.25 0.062– 0.125 0.031– 0.062 0.016– 0.031 0.008– 0.016 0– 0.008

Relative change in density > 75% 50% to 75% 25% to 50% -25% to 25% -50% to -25% -75% to -50% < -75% insufficient data

the built environment could be affecting the breeding success of our House Martins.

is that migrants from different parts of the UK might spend the winter in


different regions of Africa, or that there

For Cuckoos, the divide in population

could be variation in the timing of

trends is clearly south-east to north-west.

migration between birds that breed in

A similar pattern is shown by many other

different regions. Whatever the cause,

summer migrants such as Willow Warblers,

it’s well known that many of our

and this pattern is the subject of research

summer migrants are struggling, and these

and investigation using BTO data sets, from

BBS maps may provide further clues as to

the BBS, the Nest Record Scheme, and

the causes of change.

Constant Effort ringing. Increases in the north

Given these population declines, it’s

and declines in the south could be due to

always encouraging to hear the first Willow

differences in climate, or changes in habitat,

Warbler or Cuckoo of the spring – and

such as agricultural intensification in the

it also means it’s nearly time for BBS

south and changes in forestry in the north,

surveyors to collect another year’s worth of

or impacts of deer browsing. Another theory

invaluable data.

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine


These maps, and more, can be seen at www. You can find out more about taking part in BBS by visiting www.bto. org/bbs or phone 01842 750050.






Birdwatching is a popular pastime but interest often extends beyond birds to other types of animals and plants. Many of us keep notes of the butterflies, mammals and other creatures that we encounter alongside our records of birds and some of these records are submitted at the end of the year to a local biological records centre or a national organisation. Some of us also collect other taxa records alongside the survey work that we do for the BTO and you might be wondering how these records are used, says Mike Toms, Head of Garden Ecology.

through both BirdTrack and Garden BirdWatch




As birdwatchers we make a substantial

At the moment our attention is focused on

BTO GBW has also been collecting weekly

contribution to the monitoring and

the upcoming and ground-breaking Bird Atlas

records of garden-visiting bumblebees since

surveillance of wild bird populations within

2007–11, but it is not just birds that are the

2007, the information being passed to the

Britain and Ireland, delivering information that

subject of periodic atlas studies. The National

Bumblebee Conservation Trust, to help address

underpins conservation action and shapes

Dragonfly Atlas 2008–13, a project being

some key questions about the role that

policy. Although very much a ‘birds first’

coordinated by the British Dragonfly Society

gardens play for bees within a wider landscape.

organisation, the BTO plays an important

(BDS), is going to be a landmark publication,

The weekly and systematic nature of the survey

role in collecting information on other wildlife

delivering much-needed new information for

also allows researchers to examine the recent

and in sharing its expertise in survey design

57 species: 42 resident/migrant species, 13

phenomenon of winter activity in two of our

and monitoring methods with those working

vagrants and two now probably extinct. Many

familiar bumblebee species. The cause of this

on other taxa. Opportunities for collecting

birdwatchers have a keen interest in dragonflies

increase in winter activity is unknown but may

information on other species are judged on

and, prompted by discussions with colleagues

be linked to a changing climate and data from

a case-by-case basis. We don’t

at BDS, we have added the ability to log them

BTO GBW should be able to help look at this.

(GBW), so far providing 19,229 records from gardens and the wider countryside. The records from 2011 and 2012 have already been passed across to the BDS atlas team. The systematic weekly information collected through GBW also allows us to look at the flight seasons of those species using gardens, and is already highlighting differences between years.

collect data willy-nilly, rather we explore how the information gained would dovetail with that


Large Red Dam


TRACKING MAMMALS The BTO has been involved with the Tracking

already being collected through

Mammals Partnership for many years,

other sources. A better idea of

contributing mammal information, collected

how this works in practice can be

as part of the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)

seen from looking at three of the

since 1995. This information is used to

core BTO surveys that already

calculate national and regional population

collect information on other

trends for a range of mammal species,

taxa already (Fig 1) and thinking

providing a valuable measure of population

about how the data collected

change within the wider countryside. These

through them are being used.

data have also been used to produce

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


BBS ( Main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UKâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s common breeding birds. Mammal recording started in 1995. Of the nine mammals for which trends can be produced from BBS counts, four have increased significantly since 1995: Grey Squirrel (53%), Reevesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Muntjac (67%), Red Deer (99%) and Roe Deer (58%). Three mammals have declined significantly: Rabbit (-46%), Mountain/Irish Hare (-52%) and Fox (-24%). Recent declines in Mountain/Irish Hares may represent population cycles, while the current decline in Rabbits, following a period of recovery from myxomatosis, could be linked to viral haemorrhagic disease. Other species (e.g. Hedgehog, Mole and Badger) may be monitored by their field signs.


distribution and abundance maps for mammals, in a similar manner to the


approach adopted for birds. Mammal records are also collected through GBW, the two surveys complementing one another in the range of species that they cover (Fig 1).

How you can help us to record birds and other wildlife by taking part in BTO surveys which include other wildlife recording

Mammal data from both BBS and GBW were used in a recent review, examining the extent to which different schemes could be used for the long-term monitoring of Hedgehog populations. Concerns have been raised that the Hedgehog may be in decline within the UK, something borne out by examination of these data sets. When it comes to alerting policymakers

BirdTrack ( A year-round scheme that uses your birdwatching records to examine bird migration, movements and distribution throughout Britain and Ireland. Dragonfly and damselfly recording was added in 2012 and records are shared with the British Dragonfly Society.

BTO Garden BirdWatch ( The main scheme for monitoring garden birds, revealing seasonal and long-term patterns in garden use linked to changing populations and behaviour. From 2003 a limited range of nonbird species was recorded. In 2007 the full range of mammals, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians and bumblebees was recorded, with dragonflies added in 2011. Some 560,000 other wildlife records are now added annually. Data are shared with several organisations and supplied for county atlas projects and other research.

and conservation practitioners to changes in Hedgehog populations, it is reassuring to note that through GBW we have the ability to detect a change in the Hedgehog population of just 10% (over a ten-year period) with a


power of 80%, neatly dovetailing with the FIG 1 Comparison

and with BBS.


BirdWatch and BBS


mammal recording.

One of the core strengths of the BTO is the

Garden BirdWatchers

network of volunteer birdwatchers of which

are likely to encounter

we are a part. By tapping into our interests

Hedgehogs and Wood

in other taxa the BTO has been able to

Mice, while BBS

support partners within the wider wildlife

volunteers provide

recording community, delivering much-needed

better information on

information on changing populations. Working

Roe Deer, Brown Hare

in partnership in this manner makes the

and other species likely

most of your kind support, recognising that a

to be encountered in

birdwatcher is often not just a birdwatcher but

the wider countryside.


Breeding Bird Survey (%)

Mammals on Roads Survey operated by PTES




10 10





Garden BirdWatch (%)

someone with a wider wildlife interest.

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine



SCRUBBING UP WELL As birdwatchers, we appreciate things that other people don’t notice, says Graham Appleton. Things like a Pied Wagtail on a school playground or a January burst of song from a Mistle Thrush. There are habitats that we value that other people don’t notice as well, several of which come into the category ‘scrub’.

Scrub is not a pretty word, with its second-rate overtones. In its various forms, however, areas of shrubs and young trees present great opportunities for birds. Most scrub habitats are transient, appearing when something stops happening, which means that the land upon which it is found has lost much of its financial value. With an economic upturn, increasing food prices or a change in political direction, priorities change; suddenly scrub is under threat and so are Whinchats, House Sparrows, and Nightingales. If you value an unused piece of land then perhaps this is the time to monitor the birds that use it, so that you have facts and figures to hand when change is next on the horizon? VALUING HABITAT BTO scientists use data collected by volunteers in two ways – when responding

COUNTING HOUSE SPARROWS Noticing a House Sparrow is a first step, when appreciating the value of scrub habitat, but the observation becomes far more useful if made as part of a BTO-led survey or added to a list on a BirdTrack walk.

to requests for information that will affect planning decisions, as well as undertaking direct research that helps to inform policymakers. Nightingales are birds that have

staff to judge the value of the development

that were linked with the presence of House

learned to love scrubby areas in the

site and to give informed advice to those

Sparrows – large gardens, school playing-

southeast, turning to them as traditional

with responsibility for planning consents and

fields and allotments, all places which tend

coppice sites have grown up or been over-

potential mitigation measures.

to have scrubby edges and with value as

run by deer. The Nightingales’ occupation of

Scrubby corners can be much closer

building land. Why not take a local walk and

potential development sites can put them in

to home. Some volunteers will have been

think about where you see House Sparrows?

the front line in planning decisions, as has

involved in the House Sparrow surveys of

For me, the guaranteed spots are around the

been seen recently in Kent. With the help

2003 and 2004, when we asked Garden

village school and in an overgrown garden

of last year’s Nightingale Survey we were

BirdWatchers to walk the streets of their

attached to a somewhat broken-down house

able to provide Natural England with a new

neighbourhoods to count House Sparrows.

– places which are either neglected or left

estimate of the national population, enabling

The data collected identified key elements

alone, according to one’s point of view.


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


It’s not just birds that benefit from scrubby corners with brambles, as this Comma butterfly illustrates.


Redstart is one of four amber-listed species of conservation concern that benefit from ffridd, a special Welsh hillside scrubby habitat.


for several species. As moorland grass

Areas of shrub and young trees can be

blends into woodland, so the range of

of national conservation importance.

species changes, with Tree Pipit, Wren

BTO research has recently been focused

and Willow Warbler being particularly

on the moorland–forestry interface in

associated with bracken, Stonechat, Linnet

Scotland and ffridd, the sloping land that

and Dunnock with gorse mixtures and

separates lowland and upland farming in

Blackbird, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Garden

Wales. Scottish and Welsh governments

Warbler, Great Tit, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart,

have decided to significantly increase the

Song Thrush, Robin, Willow Warbler and

amount of afforested land and this could

Wren with the scrubby woodland. This list

have significant impacts – both positive

includes four species on the amber list of

and negative. BTO Scotland scientists

species under threat in Wales. If forestry

have been looking at the developing bird

is to be focused upon this sloping ‘waste’

communities in regenerating and newly

land, then that could have conservation

planted woodlands, the role of shrubs


at the moorland–forestry interface, birds


to fund the work of scientists who study

use of upland scrub by particular species

habitat use but there are two additional ways

such as Whinchat and Short-eared Owl.

to get involved. As a BBS volunteer, you

With support from the J & J R Wilson Trust,

can provide the background information on

John Calladine is trying to assess the

habitats and bird densities against which the

contribution of upland scrub in supporting

value of scrub can be judged. In addition,

seemingly increasing populations of Willow

simply make sure that best use is made of

Warbler, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo and others,

your local knowledge by submitting your

many of which are decreasing in more

bird lists on BirdTrack. We can provide much

southern and lowland areas.

better evidence and advice if we have

Welsh ffridd is a really important habitat

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

By supporting the BTO, you are helping

within plantations themselves and the

information at our fingertips.


B I R D AT L A S 2007‒11

Breeding distribution of Great Spotted Woodpecker 2008–11. A ‘classic’ atlas map, with dots showing locations where the species has been recorded breeding. The big surprise from the latest atlas is the colonisation of Ireland. Small dots = possible breeding, medium dots = probable breeding and large dots = confirmed breeding.

Simple distribution maps give no idea of variations in the abundance of a species. Here winter Robin abundance is presented, calculated from Timed Tetrad Visit counts, which reveal a complex pattern in a bird often considered ubiquitous across Britain & Ireland. The darker the blue, the greater the density.



BIG REVEAL After four hard years of fieldwork for Bird Atlas 2007–11, the publication of the resulting book is finally near. Dawn Balmer and Simon Gillings share some of the emerging maps and the fascinating stories that accompany them – just a small fraction of the new knowledge the book will reveal.



By the time you read this, most of the finalised text and maps for Bird Atlas 2007—11 will have been dispatched to our designers. After a few more months of writing, designing, proofing and printing the book will be available later this year. Achieving such amazing coverage across Britain and Ireland was an enormous task, and it’s proving just as big a job for the Atlas Team to put the book together, but it’s so exciting to see it all finally

Great Spotted Woodpecker

coming together. migrate to the UK, whereas resident British 1. GREAT SPOT INVADES IRELAND

individuals seldom move significant distances.

Perhaps one of the most surprising stories to

Genetic analysis of feathers obtained in Irish

emerge has been the colonisation of Ireland

nests, however, has shown that Britain is their

by Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Formerly

true origin. There has been further expansion

a rare visitor to Ireland – the first proof of

in Britain too, mostly in Scotland, but also

breeding in Northern Ireland was in 2006.

in-filling in eastern and western England,

The breeding distribution map shows how

representing a 19% increase in range since

they have proceeded to colonise the east,

the 1988–91 Breeding Atlas (Fig 1).

with some evidence of westward expansion. Despite the proximity of breeding Great


Spotted Woodpeckers in Wales, Irish colonists

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to learn

were assumed to originate from Scandinavia

that Atlas data show Robins are present in 95%

– ringing studies show that Scandinavian

of all the 10-km squares in Britain and 98% of

Great Spotted Woodpeckers sometimes

those in Ireland. Such distribution data, however,

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013

B I R D AT L A S 2007‒11

New maps are able to show losses and gains over the period since previous atlases. Black triangles represent losses, red triangles show gains and pink areas represent stability. Redshank, along with other breeding waders, show a worrying pattern with a predominance of black over the last 40 years of breeding atlases. ROUND


For the first time we are able to look at spatial patterns of change in abundance over time. Here, reds show an increase and browns a decrease. House Martin shows that the abundance has been changing geographically, with numbers in the south and east decreasing and in the north and west increasing.


You c Bird A an buy tlas 20 for a re 07–11 duce pre-pu blicatio d of just n price £45. See fl www.b yer or visit book atlas-

give no impression of how common the birds

distribution change maps are designed to show

might be around the country. Bird Atlas Timed

both recent (since the 1988–91 Breeding Atlas)

Tetrad Visit data reveal a striking difference in

and longer-term (since the 1968–72 Breeding

the relative abundance of Robins in Britain and

Atlas) changes. The Redshank map shows that

Ireland – on average, 3.9 individuals recorded

there are few places where the species has

per hour in Britain versus 6.9 in Ireland. This

been recorded breeding in all three breeding

pattern is apparent in the breeding season

atlases. Instead, there are many areas showing

too, and for other species including Wren,

recent losses across Britain and Ireland, most

Song Thrush, Goldcrest and Bullfinch. Why the

prominently across mainland Scotland, central

relative abundance of these species might be

southern England and in western Ireland. These

so much higher in Ireland is unclear, although

losses amount to a range contraction of 43% in

competition and climate could be involved. The

Britain and 55% in Ireland since the 1968–72

the south and east, contrasting with increases

Robin abundance map also shows that densities

Breeding Atlas. Further work to investigate these

in the north and west. The map here for House

are greater away from the upland areas, but that

changes and identify the causes for a suite of

Martin (Fig 4) illustrates this pattern well, but

some lowland areas such as the East Anglian

breeding waders is a high priority (Fig 3).

similar patterns can be seen for other species

Fens also have lower densities (Fig 2).

House Martin

like Sand Martin, Swallow, Willow Warbler and 4. EARLY WARNING SYSTEM

Cuckoo . Currently, the explanation for such


Before a species disappears from a 10-km

patterns remains unknown so we hope that

Further contraction of the breeding ranges of

square there are early warning signs that

the Atlas, along with complementary data from

Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing and Snipe is one of

changes are taking place. Using the Timed

monitoring schemes, can be used to shed light

the important conservation messages coming

Tetrad Visit information collected in the 1988–91

on the causes. Bird Atlas 2007—11 is going to

out of the forthcoming Atlas. This corroborates

Breeding Atlas and Bird Atlas 2007–11 we have

raise many questions and areas for future study.

the decline in numbers recorded through other

been able to measure changes in the number

long-term monitoring schemes, in particular the

of tetrads a species occupies per 20-km square.

BBS in the UK and the Countryside Bird Survey

The results for a number of species are striking

in the Republic of Ireland. The Atlas breeding

and show a pattern of declines in abundance in

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Bird Atlas 2007–11 has been organised by BTO, in partnership with BirdWatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club.



TWEETING IN THE Join u the n s at ext confe BTO r in De ence rbysh ir 6-8 D ecem e ber 2013.

Having joined the BTO just a couple of weeks previously, John Matkin attended the final sessions of the BTO’s Annual Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire. Here he tells us a little more about what he discovered.

science behind bird behaviour: it’s ‘geeky’

“I had expected, as with so many birding

may never ‘get’ social media, it really is one

hours staring at a rock face. I appreciate

events, that this would be something of

of the directions in which this organisation

that twitchers have their place, it certainly

a beard-and-jumper convention at which

should continue to head.

motivates some, but the idea of interacting

the only useful purpose I would serve

but in 2013 ‘geeky’ is OK. Besides, twitching is for retired accountants who can afford to charter a plane to Fair Isle then spend 10

with stressed-out life-listers who would

would be to bring down the average age.


rather you die than see a particular bird

But I couldn’t have been more wrong, and

I may not be the sort of member

before they do really isn’t my cup of tea.

I left the conference excited by what I had

the BTO usually attracts, but then not being

seen and heard in a morning of optimism,

typical is something young birders are


enthusiasm and forward thinking. Yes, there

generally used to. I’m several years beyond

The BTO with its focus on citizen science

were beards, and yes, there were jumpers

the awkward teenage phase in which being

and the collation of data is appealing to the

and yes, a lot of the attendees were messy-

open about being a keen birdwatcher

thousands of scientifically-minded young

haired sixty-somethings but there were

would be social suicide. Nowadays I’m

people who would love to contribute, and

also many younger people. What’s more,

always out and about with my binoculars

social media really are the best way to reach

some of these young people were even

but, as I don’t know anyone my age with

them, especially as they’re already out there

doing the talking! And best of all, the sixty-

similar interests, I tend to go it alone. I’m a

on the reserves and online just quietly

somethings were nodding, and listening,

‘watcher’ not a ‘ticker’. I find far more interest

doing their own thing. One of the strengths

and embracing the fact that, although they

in observing changes and recording the

of the BTO (and one that was most apparent


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


CHANGES... that December morning) is its ability to reach these people, link them up, and get them involved. It’s a no-brainer – it benefits everyone involved. I know this because I am one of those people (or at least I like to think so) and it


was because of social media that I ended up

Survey (WeBS). Twitter (again) introduced

at the Annual Conference. I first encountered

me to the Annual Conference, which sort of

the BTO on Twitter and was immediately

brings us up to date.

Get online!

From Tweets to online bird identification videos, our selection of digital resources:


drawn in by links to those fascinating species distribution maps, that in turn led me to


@_BTO BTO’s own twitter account

discover things about godwits that I didn’t

Now I’m not promising to contribute a

@BirdTrack Find out the latest news

know I didn’t know. Through the BTO’s

mass of data; for me the idea of providing

@BTO_GBW Bird news from gardens

retweeting of members’ messages I found

1,000+ nest records, as we heard about at

@BirdWatchIE BirdWatch Ireland

other people who were a bit like me, and

the conference, is an amazing feat that sits

@Birds in Wales WOS

others who were far better than me and

somewhere on that very fine line between

@Scottishbirding The SOC

doing brilliant research. I became an avid

ambitious heroism and insane self-sacrifice,

@IBIS-journal The latest in science

(and occasionally jealous) fan of their blogs.

but I have been inspired by what I saw and

As a result of this awareness, when a

heard at Swanwick that morning and felt

BTO Research Ecologist gave a talk at a

much more connected to something positive

local bird club I braved the beards and the

and productive. I also now have a lot of

jumpers and went along. A couple of hours

reading material and, being early in the year

later I joined the BTO via Twitter (through

and with thoughts naturally turning to the

the ‘Member get a Member’ campaign)

coming bird breeding season, I am already

and the next day I joined the Wetland Bird

wondering what small part I can play.”



Explore our YouTube channel:

The latest Bird ID videos (Little Egret/Great White Egret and Curlew/Whimbrel are the most recent), survey guides and much more – check them all out. By taking part in a survey, entering your bird lists on BirdTrack, or counting birds in your garden, you are making a contribution to science and conservation. All your records count.

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine




Web logs or ‘Blogs’ have become a popular method for communicating information via the internet. We now run several blogs, one of the most popular is the ‘Demog Blog’, a space where staff from the Demography Team report on some of the most interesting and intriguing tales from bird ringing and nest finding. Here we share a small selection of the surprising stories that have been reported since the Demog Blog started in 2010.



One bird left Britain on 21 July and


migrated for three days to Morocco

Common Sandpipers are small migrant

where it staged (rested and fed) before

waders. During the breeding season

continuing its migration to West Africa,

they can be found on upland waterways,

arriving on 29 July. It spent most of

but during migration can turn up almost

its time in southern Senegal or the

anywhere there is water. The birds are

Gambia. Prior to northward migration, the

very common around the Mediterranean

bird spent a period inland, before crossing

in spring as they move north and, over the

the western Sahara Desert to Morocco.

years, several ringed birds have been found

Its migration was then delayed, probably

in places such as Algeria, Morocco and

due to adverse weather. After a week in

Italy. The exact location of their wintering

Morocco, however, it followed the east

grounds has remained a mystery, however,

coast of Spain and crossed to western

as the only ringed bird recovered south of

France before moving through England

the Sahara (in Guinea Bissau) was thought

to Scotland. We do know that Common

to be a bird on migration.

Sandpipers are capable of making a single

In 2011 the Highland Ringing Group

non-stop flight between wintering and

fitted a number of Scottish-breeding

breeding grounds, but this bird migrated

Common Sandpipers with geolocators for

in medium-range ‘skips’ during both its

the first time.

southward and northward migrations.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


Re fascina ad more ting st ories f the D rom http:/ emog Blog

/b blogsp toringing. k

A TALE OF TWO NESTS IN ONE Barn Owl is by far the most commonly nest-recorded owl species in Britain and Ireland, with 1,823 nest records in 2011, compared with 476 for Tawny Owl and 143 for Little Owl. Barn Owl has undoubtedly benefited from the increase in nesting sites provided by volunteers through nest-box schemes all over the country.

Since their relatively recent arrival,

November of the same year. Although

about a box that had been used by

ringing Little Egrets in the UK is providing

the bird looked very tatty after its long

Barn Owls for the previous three years.

fascinating data about their movements.

journey, it seemed generally healthy.

When this box was checked on 5 June

In 2010 we reported that one British-

2012 it contained five white Barn Owl

ringed Little Egret had moved south to

ringed in Galway, Ireland, and seen on

eggs and four Kestrel eggs, all of which

Galicia in Spain, but in January 2011

the Azores on 15 October 2010 with four

were being incubated by a female Barn

this record was smashed! Colour-ringed

other unringed Egrets. Were it not for

Owl! This would usually mean that the

Little Egret ‘GN20692’ was ringed near

the colour rings on these two birds, we

owl had evicted the female Kestrel

Bangor, Gwynedd, on 19 June 2010 and

would never have known about their

and laid her own eggs. However,

was spotted in Tenerife on 3 and 25

amazing flights.

In August 2012, we were informed



Another Little Egret, ‘GR00505’, was

during the next check, there were five Barn Owl chicks, one tiny Kestrel chick, two warm Kestrel eggs and one


have also had single reports of White-

addled Kestrel egg. The next box check


fronted and Canada Geese, Turnstone,

revealed just three Barn Owl chicks

There have been few reports of

Kittiwake and Arctic, Roseate and

and the unhatched Kestrel egg. 

British-ringed birds being found in

Common Terns.

Owls usually incubate from the time

USA, but when they do turn up, the

On 29 November 2010, we heard

that their first egg is laid, so the owl

majority are Manx Shearwaters (eight

about the first British-ringed Barnacle

chicks hatch about a day apart, giving

individuals) or Great Skuas (three). We

Goose to be recorded across the

the earlier hatchlings a better chance of

Atlantic. Barnacle Geese in North

survival during lean times. The earlier-

America are rare, so one turning up

hatching owl chicks sometimes consume

there with a known origin is quite

their younger nestmates and in this case

special. Barnacle Goose ‘1291347’

the smaller Kestrel chicks would probably

was ringed on Islay (Inner Hebrides,

have featured on the menu.

Scotland) on 13 November 2002 and

Dual occupation has been recorded

was seen there frequenlty in winter

in boxes before, with Barn Owl/Kestrel

until March 2005 when it disappeared.

eggs and Barn Owl/Stock Dove but

More than five years later it reappeared

never with a Barn Owl incubating the

in America, at Orchard Beach, Bronx,

other species’ eggs and successfully

over 5,200km from where it was ringed.

hatching them out! 

Who knows where this bird had been in the meantime!

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine





Mallard is often considered the eponymous â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;duckâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, familiar to all and found everywhere. Chas Holt, National Organiser of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) says that the closest that many people get to sharing the lives of ducks is when they watch Mallards greedily accepting bread at the local park, but there is a lot more to this species than first meets the eye.

With a widespread distribution across

similar patterns have also been detected

indicative of an arrival of Mallards from the

Britain and Ireland, Mallards use a range

for other species of wildfowl. With a large

Continent in those freezing periods. In the

of wetland habitats from small ponds to

number of the Mallards wintering in Britain

same way that a general trend toward milder

reservoirs, marshes and coastal estuaries,

and Ireland considered to originate from the

winter weather in northwest Europe has

although the local Mallards in the park

Continent, reduced immigration of birds has

probably affected Mallard and other wildfowl,

may not, in fact, be pure wild stock. Some

probably contributed to the declines reported

it has also been shown to have resulted in

populations within a global range that spans

through WeBS (Fig 1). In particular, falling

a shift in the core distributions of several

the entire northern hemisphere are largely

numbers at five of the most important sites

waders commonly found on our estuaries,

resident, while others are migratory and can

for the species in Britain (Severn Estuary,

including Oystercatcher, Curlew and Dunlin.

winter at sites many hundreds of miles from

Ouse Washes, Martin Mere, the Wash and

where they breed, although research has

Humber Estuary) suggest that a greater

wetland birds to harsh winter weather,

shown that in recent years the distance that

proportion of the migratory population have

however, can be surprisingly complex. In

Mallards move within Europe during winter

been remaining further east in other parts

the case of the Mallard, frozen conditions in

has declined. It is believed that this has

of Europe. It is notable, therefore, that the

Britain tend to concentrate birds on larger

been in response to milder winter weather

WeBS index appeared to stabilise during two

water bodies (with birds having been forced

conditions linked to climate change, and

recent cold winters (2009/10 and 2010/11),

from smaller sites that are more likely to

Understanding the response of ubiquitous

be frozen) and it is these larger sites which tend to be those that receive best coverage

Annual WeBS indices for Mallard in Britain

through WeBS. So, as well as the decrease

WeBS annual index value

180 (most recent winter, 2010/11, is set to 100)


in continental Mallards visiting our shores, a reduced likelihood for small sites to freeze in


winter in recent years may have also resulted


in declining numbers of Mallards noted by


WeBS counters at larger wetlands. Intriguingly,


the drop in Mallards wintering across Britain

60 40

contrasts with a UK breeding population


which rose by 33% between 1984 and 2009. It has been suggested that some of

0 66/67












FIG 1 The British wintering population of Mallard has dropped steadily during the last 20 years. WeBS indices and associated trends for a range of waterbirds feature in the annual WeBS report.


this increase in breeding numbers, however, relates to non-wild Mallards originating from domesticated birds or captive-reared stock released for shooting, complicating the status of our most familiar duck still further.


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013



The monitoring of Mallards, and other species such as Moorhen and Little Grebe, would benefit from more extensive WeBS coverage of smaller wetlands within the wider countryside. This would, for example, help improve the understanding of reasons for the Mallard’s different seasonal trends. So, if you go birding (or even just feed the ducks) in winter at a wetland near you, then why not count the birds and contribute your monthly observations to WeBS! Observations can be submitted online via Simply email and we’ll get you set up, or phone 01842 750050. You’ll then join the 3,000 other WeBS counters generating invaluable information about Britain’s waterbirds – including the humble Mallard!


2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

According to Wetlands International, the number of Mallards in northwest Europe is approximately 4.5 million individuals. Roughly the same number are shot annually in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, underlining its importance as a quarry species. Many shot Mallards will have been released for hunting: limited information on bag sizes in some parts of Europe is preventing a better understanding of population trends. Wildfowl researchers consider it important that hunting activity is harmonised with flyway trends, and that research is initiated to look at possible effects of released Mallards on the wild population. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS WeBS is a partnership between BTO, RSPB and JNCC in association with WWT.





For many birdwatchers, migration is one of the most exciting elements of observing and recording birds, says Nick Moran, BirdTrack Organiser. When you stop to think about it, the very notion that birds weighing as little as a coin routinely traverse seas, deserts, mountains and much more besides is simply mind-boggling. The spectacle of encountering returning migrants at this time of year, ingrained as it is in our social and cultural heritage, is as uplifting as it is astonishing.

One captivating facet of migration is

any records at all until the end of the third

through in a short, sharp pulse. Swift and

the variation in arrival periods between

week of April. Interestingly, the Whinchat

Spotted Flycatcher are species that typically

years. Spring 2012 was particularly

reporting rate then rocketed to double its

begin to arrive in late April/early May. In

memorable for the unusual weather

usual peak (Fig 3). This is perhaps because

contrast to the suite of species that arrive in

across southwestern Europe, and the

the ‘bottleneck’ caused by the weather

mid April, both seemed to miss the worst of

effect this had on the timing of the return

meant that instead of birds trickling through

the weather altogether, reaching Britain and

of several species of summer migrants.

over a period of several weeks, most came

Ireland at the same time as normal.

Comparatively warm, dry weather in MIGRATION STUDY TOOL

March provided ideal conditions for some CATCH-UP WITH BIRDTRACK

Chiffchaff, to head north. The proportion of birdwatchers’ complete lists (‘reporting rate’) submitted to BirdTrack neatly captures this anomaly (Fig 1). A TOPSY-TURVY SPRING Within a few weeks, the weather had turned on its head: wet, windy conditions battered southwest Europe in the second and third weeks of April, just when most of the populations of many migratory species were attempting to make the ‘final push’ to their northern breeding grounds. For example, the first few Whitethroats generally arrive at the very start of April, and this proved to be the case in 2012, but within a couple of weeks the BirdTrack reporting rate showed that the bulk of the Whitethroat arrival had been delayed (Fig 2). Whinchat, a species usually arriving here a week or so later than Whitethroat, showed an even more clear-cut pattern, with barely


Not only does BirdTrack give us a nearreal-time window onto migration as it

BirdTrack Complete Lists are a record of everything you’ve detected and positively identified – by sight and/or sound – on a single birdwatching visit to a site. The measure of absence – as well as presence – that they provide makes complete lists particularly valuable for monitoring the arrival (and departure) timings of migratory species, and comparing these with long-term trends. Although Casual/Roving Records don’t give such a robust measure of arrival and departure times, they are still very useful for distribution-mapping projects. For example, 8.1 million BirdTrack records have been incorporated into the forthcoming Bird Atlas 2007–11! Visit to catch up with the very latest migration news and add your own sightings!

unfolds but it also gathers data that can be used to investigate changes in migration timing over longer periods. BTO scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research to compare the arrival and departure times of migrants in the last decade – as captured in BirdTrack – to those of the 1960s. We know about the latter thanks to another data set collected by BTO volunteers during the Inland Observation Points survey 1962–66. This research is revealing some striking changes, with species such as Wheatear and Sand Martin arriving up to three weeks earlier now than they did in the 1960s. Understanding to what extent different species’ migratory strategies are able to respond to climate change is essential if we are to build a complete picture of the factors affecting the populations of these birds and, ultimately, identify appropriate measures to protect them.

BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013


of our early-returning species, such as



The BirdTrack reporting rate (% of complete lists) for 70 60 Av. 2005–11



40 30 20 10

Ap r

Ap r

23 -

16 -

-Ap r 09

02 -Ap r

26 -

Ma r

Ma r 19 -

12 -M ar

05 -

27 -Fe


Ma r


FIG 1 Chiffchaff. One of the earliest arriving migrants, this

species appeared to respond to the very warm dry March by returning early. 50 45

Av. 2005–11



35 30 25 20 15 10 5

21 -M


y Ma 14 -



07 -M



30 -

r Ap

Ap 23 -


16 -




r Ma

02 -Ap

26 -

19 -




FIG 2 Whitethroat (pictured). Whitethroat arrives later, by

which time the weather had changed for the worse in Britain and further south, holding up migrants on their way north.

3 Av. 2005–11 2012 2


ur free go wit availab BirdTrack a h pp le iPhon for Android – es. ;.w and w birdtr ack-ap p

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

21 -M


y Ma 14 -

ay 07 -M

r 30 -Ap

r 23 -Ap

r Ap 16 -

r 09 -Ap



02 -Ap

recordGet ing no Recor w! d on t he o

FIG 3 Whinchat. Presumably delayed in southern Europe

by poor weather, Whinchats were recorded widely when they did finally start crossing our shores, as the more usual trickle turned into a flood.




“For most of my life the words ‘could do better’ have hovered over me like a wagging finger and they were never more appropriate than when describing my nest-finding skills, or rather lack of them”, says Rob Hubble, volunteer nest recorder. “Wanting to make our birding count and recognising that responsible nest monitoring is vital to the work of the BTO, my wife, Stella, and I have contributed to the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) for over 25 years.”

content in this first session. Distilled into a couple of sentences, it covered field-craft techniques, bird lore, how the NRS works,

NRS priorities, and most importantly, the fact that birds, who apparently do not understand our motives, always come first. So, minimise disturbance, cover your tracks, know what you can and cannot do at the nest and how different species may react. One other thing that came across strongly was the sheer

We have rarely submitted more than 20

few hot and dry weekends of the 2012

enthusiasm and confidence of all the leaders;

nest records a year, however, and half of

British monsoon season, on a nest-finding

we WOULD find nests both as a group and

those have been from nest boxes, which

training workshop.

as individuals.

even in our garden are fairly easy to find!

Our group of 12 participants and three

We live on Dartmoor and have been

leaders met on the Friday evening for


frustrated by our lack of success in finding

introductions and a bit of relaxed theory.

The excitement and inspiration survived the

ground nesters such as chats and pipits.

Generally I have found that birders, like

night, so we were on a high as we set off

Retired now, we decided to commit more

gardeners, are congenial company and this

early the next morning. Never at my best

of our time to this pursuit and thus found

group was no exception. Although good

before the third mug of coffee, I almost

ourselves in the Devil’s Punchbowl, Surrey,

humoured (the Two Ronnies would have

missed the first nest. We had walked a few

at the end of May 2012, during one of the

been proud) there was plenty of serious

yards from our parked cars when a light tap Using a stick to lightly tap vegetation is a very effective way of locating nests of tight-sitting species, such as Reed Bunting, during incubation. Birds return quickly once the observers retreat. Placing a mirror on the end of a nesting stick allows the recorder to check the contents of nests in thick vegetation without risking life and limb.


BTO Volunteer Magazine | 2 013



of Dave Leech’s stick (a vital piece of kit, that) put up a Chiffchaff from its exquisite domed nest low in dense foliage. This account would quickly become tiresome if I chronicled each of the 40 nests we subsequently found over the weekend, but there can’t be anything more exciting than finding your ‘own’ nest; mine was also a tap-off, a Blackcap in a holly bush. Just as rewarding as ‘tapping’ is the time-honoured technique of sitting and watching a bird back to its nest – known to the cognoscenti by a vernacular verb involving a short word for posterior. Sticks are still a vital tool as it can be surprisingly difficult to locate the spot where the bird disappeared, especially Meadow Pipit is one of the NRS priority species; it is declining but information on breeding success is currently sparse.

on heaths where, as Ronald Reagan might have said “You’ve seen one bit of heather, you’ve seen them all”. Placing the stick in the vicinity of the nest site provides a good

Relocating nests in uniform habitats such as reedbeds often requires a map and GPS.



The domed nest of the Chiffchaff is extremely well concealed in thick vegetation, typically 10–30cm off the ground.

marker for a second watch-back. These and

the field. At one point, a nest containing

other techniques were demonstrated and

eggs was found, but was it Blackcap or

practised in a variety of habitats, including

Garden Warbler? Three of the BTO’s finest

woodland, and the nests of 20 species were

pondered and debated but they couldn’t

located. These included Treecreeper, which

come to a conclusion. If nest records

course leader Tony Davis did admit had

are to be of use, there is no room for

nested under the same piece of bark the

guesswork masquerading as fact. These

previous year! This was another useful lesson

scientists knew that and were happy to

– pick a few patches that you can get to know

put personal egos aside – proof had to

well or specialise in a few species whose

await a further visit to see the actual bird,

habits and calls can become second nature

which turned out to be a Garden Warbler.

and your success rate should rise.

So, we had a great weekend, but ultimately was the course of any use


when we got home? Well, in the 14

Before attending the course we had bought

weeks of nesting before the course we

the newly published BTO nest-finding

had found no ground nesters. In the

guide, which we have found invaluable, but

subsequent nine weeks we found 21, and

there really is no substitute for absorbing

our third-ever Meadow Pipit nest turned

the field-craft of experienced nesters in

out to contain a Cuckoo!

2 013 | BTO Volunteer Magazine

Find o ut more about nest recor www ding at

.bto.o rg

/nrs or ph 01842 one 75005 0 23

BTO Volunteer magazine No. 2