Monday, August 28, 2006

Golden Lapwing Plovers

This winter the BTO are undertaking a Wintering Golden Plover and Lapwing survey. Since they were last counted in the 1970’s (when there were 250,000 Golden Plover and about 1.5 million Lapwing wintering in the UK) there have been many changes to farm management – pastures have been ploughed and converted to arable farmland, fields have been reseeded and drained and fertiliser use has been added; all leading to reduced availability of food. The increase in numbers recorded for both species during the mid-80’s has witnessed an equally impressive decline since the late 1990’s. Clearly there is a need to survey these two species again before numbers become irreversibly low.

For details of the survey see: and for more information:

So if you are wandering the fields and see flocks of either species please submit the observation. If you want to take part more formally please drop me a line.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The (Precarious) State of the UK’s Birds 2005 - new report.

In 1995 twenty-six birds were identified as being the most threatened and each was the subject of a biodiversity action plan (BAP) designed to reverse the trend by 2010. This recent report details that nine have improved, twelve (almost half) are still declining, and the rest have stabilised. (The full report is available from a link on the RSPB website).

Those suffering most are Turtle Dove (I’ve never seen or heard one in this country), Grey Partridge (fortunately doing quite well in these parts), Skylark (declining here too) and Bullfinch. Corn Bunting and Common Scoter are two species also listed as declining which have a presence in the north-west. Increasing species, present here, include Song Thrush, Tree Sparrow and Bittern. Reed Buntings are now considered to be stable.

Although we should rejoice at those species where numbers have increased, or at least remained stable, it is saddening to learn that Lapwing, House Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail, Cuckoo, Mediterranean Shearwater, Willow Tit and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are all now being billed as potential BAP species.

It would be highly optimistic to suggest that all targets will be reached by 2010 – but we can live in hope.

£12.50 per hour

Today Jeremy Greenwoood spoke at the 24th International Ornithological Conference in Hamburg. The theme of his talk was 'the volunteer' - amateurs making a major contribution to ornithology and conservation science. In time alone it is considered to be 1.6 million hours a year (in the UK) at a net worth of £20 million. That calculates to a very reasonable £12.50/hr.

Part of his lecture was: "Though they may have no formal qualifications, they have considerable expertise, gained from many years of devotion to the subject. Areas to which they have contributed include: migration studies, distributional atlases, censuses (monitoring and distributional studies) and breeding biology. Their work has not only identified the declines of many species but has also helped to discover the causes of those declines and how they can be reversed".
These studies have also helped shape government policy - the Quality of Life Indicators - and has fed into reform of the Common Agricultural Policy; all this through volunteer effort.

This is you - it could not be achieved without your generous contribution of time, effort and expertise. Someone, somewhere should be giving you a pat on the back.

The full Proceedings of the IOC will be published later in the year in the Journal of Ornithology

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MRG update

Merseyside Ringing Group has just updated part of its website - click on the link and it will take you straight there. I'm sure this site will have something for everyone, even if it's only the birds in the hand section; with many of the photographs being taken by David Norman.
The part that has been updated is the movement maps, ok, not that many species at present, but MRG has over 590,000 records to import and it will all take time. So, if you want to find out where our 'local' birds come from or go to, have a look and see.
I have 'pinched' the map of Starling movements as I quite like the little beggars - a much misligned species in my eyes.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Early birds and worms...

We all know that to get the best outing of seeing birds (and doing our survey work) we need to get up early. Ringing is no different and, usually, the start is even earlier. Most ringers like to be on site and ready to catch prior to dawn. Thus I was crawling from my bed at 3.45am yesterday in order to make the trip to my ringing site in Cheshire. The weather hasn't been too good of late so I was expecting a curtailed visit. In the end, of the 54 birds I caught, 48 of them were before 8am; the last six of them over the next 2.5hrs! The picture is of the bird of the day - a juvenile Green Woodpecker - I was hoping for one of the parents as well as it stayed in the vicinty whilst I was ringing and processing its offspring. Other captures were: ten Bullfinches - all but one juveniles, a dozen Greenfinches; with single figures of Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Reed Warbler. As would be anticipated this time of year most were juveniles. Also caught three each of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff - the Willow Warblers in heavy moult as they'll be leaving soon.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The new face of migration tracking

This appeared on the BBC news website today (from which I have 'borrowed' the picture). Sooty Shearwaters, electronically tagged with a 6 gram tag in New Zealand in early 2005, were recaptured again in the autumn and had their tags removed and analysed (the results now having been published). Now the good bit - some birds travelled 565 miles in a day, and dived to 68m (approx 220 ft) in order to find food.
The birds 'migrated' across the whole of the Pacific, in a figure of eight pattern, using global wind systems. Interesting was the finding that birds made 'stopovers' on their migration, staying in some locations for extended periods of time (Japan, Alaska and California) presumedly to feed.
Sooty Shearwaters are Red listed and this work is being undertaken to hopefully find out why numbers are declining. As the leading researcher stated 'if you're going to fly all that way to find food and you get there and there isn't any it's going to be pretty tough to get over it'.

Monday, August 07, 2006


This year sees the final year of the Swallow Roost project. In 2005 over 13,000 swallows were caught and ringed - bringing totals for the project thus far to 38,778 juveniles and 4,505 adults. 224 recoveries have occured to date including a 'classic' - an adult ringed in Bloemfontein South Africa in Jan recaptured at Shotley Sussex the following September. Unfortunately swallow roosts in Merseyside are non-existant and even in near-by Cheshire they are at best transient.

Within the latest Swallow Roost Project Newsletter (free, BTO website, Ringing Pages) there are also some concise results from the Swallow Feeding survey - which we piloted and contributed too in Merseyside. It will probably be no surprise to say that there was a 'feeding' relationship between swallows and cattle (and to a lesser extent horses) but, where cattle were absent, they preferred hedges with mature trees rather than open arable land - possibly due the the larger number of insects associated with hedges and trees.