Bird Surveys, ill health and horrendous weather

Why the hiatus, I hear you ask. Well, let me explain if I may.

My current job role as a Bird Surveyor/Researcher allows me to intimately follow our feathered friends and log their breeding success. To best illustrate the differing roles out there, I will direct you to a couple of blogs. For example, Lewis Yates, whose exploits this birding season come from Skomer in Wales? Another equally interesting blogging view of things is available from Annette Fayet’s blog from the same Island. Who knows, maybe I will start a blog covering my exploits one day in the future too. As well as my fortunate paid position, I have been putting my experience to good use for the following survey, which is tracking Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) as shown here. In fact, having previously referred to my volunteering exploits, I would say there is no better way for improving your self-esteem.

Due to the busy schedule, I may have suffered a bit of burn out in recent weeks, which resulted in a cold and finally horrible chest pains. Sparing you any further details on that particular subject, I must say the recent weather has not exactly helped my cause, either. Since my last phenology related post, I would say I have added another 25 or so events. Eighteen having Ornithology as a background theme, a further four, flora related, two strictly weather related and the final one having an insect theme.

Insect sightings from Mid April to the end of the first third of May

Only the one addition being a First Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) was in the form of a flying individual during the brighter spells of 30th April. Based on a useful sample of 17 records, the usual flying date is 26th April. 

Thunder days since the last update

At Newbury, Berkshire we bore witness to another 2 Thunder days, making these the fourth and fifth respectively. The dates concerned were 19th April and 22nd April. Considering the more usual period for these phenomena (fourth and fifth dates of Thunder) covers the period between 30th June and 11th July, it does seem exceptionally stormy this season so far.

Trees and similar things from Mid April to the end of first third of May

During Mid April, I truly believed trees were budding and leafing well ahead of schedule, has this since changed?

Pendunculate Oak (Quercus robur) was first observed leafing on 23rd April and subsequently Beech (Fagus  sylvatica) budburst was on the 9th May. So how do these events appear in the general scheme of things?  Their averages based albeit on small samples, cover 19th April and 14th April respectively. So there is a clear difference between the timing of the two events with it seems, the colder April weather having particularly affected the Beech. With regard to flowering trees and shrubs, Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) was flowering on 22nd April, which compares to its normal emergence date of 27th April. Hawthorn (Crataegus) being first observed flowering on 8th May, near to its average date of 5th May.
 
Bird sightings from Mid April to the end of the first third of May
 
Seven down, Eighteen to go. Okay, to save this post from being too long-winded, I will only inform you of local events. After all, the birds on our own patch are of most interest!
 
Back on the 18th April, I had my first sighting of a House Martin (Delichon urbicum), matching well with the more usual date of 17th April. The local Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) came next when heard singing on the 22nd April. With a healthy sample of 14 years of records, you can normally expect this event around the 28th April. Come the 27th April, I recorded a Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) and a Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) all for the first time on a local level. The respective mean dates work out at 23rd April (Whitethroat), 29th April (Garden Warbler) and 18th April (Redstart). The Redstart is a case in point for a lack of records, although as it is a rare bird in Berkshire, even on passage, I should not be disheartened. The 27th April saw the arrival of young Blackbirds (Turdus merula) in my neighbourhood for the first time this year. The mean expected date for these being the 21st April, so I would say it was feasible that some Blackbird have seen their first broods fail. The 29th April proved a rare day out for me, with a trip to the River Kennet. There, in the space of no more than five minutes, I came across firsts in the form of Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), Common Swift (Apus apus) and Hobby (Falco subbuteo). The Sedge Warbler proved to be a bit later than is usual with its average date being 20th April. The Hobby witnessed dashing ferociously at the Swifts does represent a smaller sample with an average arrival date of 28th April. Likewise, the Swift shows a similar expected arrival date of 30th April.
 
Finally, the 7th May brought about some more young bird activity to my garden in the form of Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). To this end, I can be extremely proud of myself having witnessed the first nest building of Starling on the 29th March. A whole 39 days later, it is just possible I witnessed the return of the same bird and its fledglings. Is this a careless assumption? Is there any significance to the quoted dates? Hell yes! The B.T.O’s Field Guide to Monitoring Nests suggests a period of 38-40 days from the end of actual nest building to free-flying young. You do the math! From my phenology record point of view, these young Starlings were observed 10 days earlier than in 2011 and are more normally seen for the first time around the 18th May.
 
 
My only other sightings relate to non-local events and are of limited interest at this time. I look forward to updating you further in the busy days and weeks ahead. Being back to full health, I will have no excuses and with this dull weather hopefully in the past, there will be many more tales to tell.
 
Best Wishes
 
Tony Powell
 

Early Birds

As per recent years, some of our bird species are well into their nesting routines even before the spring equinox. The link shown below illustrates this situation well. The information source is from the British Trust for Ornithology and comes courtesy of Birdguides.

Early Birds

 

Best Wishes

Tony Powell

Volunteering – Do you participate?

Do you volunteer? 

If not, would you consider doing so?

I have been volunteering in many guises over the years, but more recently I have become a WeBS counter. This is a survey organised by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) which covers a broad spectrum of wetland bird species. The surveys cover a large area of UK wetland habitats, currently approximately 2,300 in number. The counts are carried out by volunteers, who visit the sites through November to March, although some of which are visited all year round.

Yesterday (20th November) was my 2nd visit this season, to a local gravel pit complex where I undertake my count. These counts provide an invaluable dataset for the BTO researchers and it’s yet another good example of citizen science in action. Being a data geek, I look forward to the WeBS reports when they are issued to me as a participant. Over many years, trends become apparent in the statuses of the birds, although I would say too early to find them in my own data. Nevertheless, these trips to the local patch open my eyes as to what is out there to be seen. Furthermore, these additional efforts look good on my CV, in turn allowing further progress towards my career in conservation.

Happy Birding

Tony Powell

Not what to expect, come Mid-November!

As if to confirm, a quote I saw on a fellow subscriber’s blog, I give you some news. The Nearly half way through November post and it’s reference to “the seasons’ constant cycle ignores the diary” seems somehow appropriate, in light of current ornithological sightings.

By no means unprecedented, but interesting nonetheless, I will present the following snippets, courtesy of Birdguides.

I hereby admit to cherry-picking some of the above information and apparently ignoring some twitchable species. I am NOT a twitcher, merely a citizen scientist. Actually, the listing above is a small sample of the information that can be accessed as a subscriber to Birdguides. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) will no doubt possess much more information on the current situation of November migrants in the United Kingdom. As the bird species aforementioned concern just those seen since November 1st, many will have since departed to warmer climes. All his however, takes me back to the original quote, in that nature does not always play by the rules.

Why are these migrant birds staying longer and arriving earlier?

Are these birds simply in an unfit physical state, deterring them from undertaking migration?

Are these birds simply developing a shorter migrational journey, year on year? Hence, staying longer and arriving earlier.

I don’t know the answers to the above questions. Science always requires answers but sometimes they are not always immediately obvious. In trying to resolve some of the mysteries surrounding Bird Migration. Can I refer you to a publication of the same title by Ian Newton, no.113 in the New Naturalist‘s series?

Good Reading.

Tony Powell

Time for some data inputting!

Well, it’s time I started to update my BTO Birdtrack listings for this year.

The life lists, patch lists, regional lists etc. are coming along nicely and must say I am very proud of this particular bit of citizen science. However, what begs the question?Is when one is currently out of work, as I am, sometimes I feel these endless updates, are just being taken for granted. So, to “blow my own trumpet” Currently, I have amassed over 23,500 observations, some with detailed descriptions, also over  1,200 complete lists and 4,500 casual observations. Ahem! How many days of inputting. Your guess is as good as mine. Anyway, I will endeavour to add all my records (official and personal) and contribute to citizen science for hopefully, years to come.

I am also in the process of adding the 2011 Phenology events (currently 116 in number) to the calendar, which can be viewed from the home page or via the Natural Events Calendar link.

Regards

Tony Powell