“I just fell into doing them. I love birds but I’m no twitcher. I love all our wildlife: butterflies, plants, fungi, dragonflies, frogs. They are all cogs in the big nature machine, so if one is not working too well the machine will slow down. Regular checks, as you would on your car, can indicate when maintenance is needed.
I do three surveys, or checks, and send the information I collect to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology).
The first, my weekly Garden Bird Watch, I’ve been doing this for just over 10 years. For an hour I sit in my bedroom window overlooking our garden, armed with binoculars and a coffee, identifying each visiting species and counting the maximum number of each species I see at any one time during the hour. The regulars include Blackbird, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Robin, Starling, Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove, with occasional visits from Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch and even a fly through by a Sparrow Hawk.
Over the years I’ve become aware of bird behaviour – the squabbling Starlings, the bossy Robin, the flirty Dunnocks. It’s better than any TV soap opera.
Like over a million others, I take part in the RSPB’s Great Big Garden Bird Watch each January. The more information the better.
The Wetland Bird Survey, or WeBS, is monthly. My patch, since 2014, is Daneshill Lakes near Torworth. It has three large lakes and several ponds, home to ducks, geese, swans and other water birds. The monthly date is fixed by the BTO to reduce the chance of people counting the same birds on different days, as the little blighters do tend to move around quite a bit!
Daneshill Lakes is rich in wildfowl, especially during the winter months when the number of species and individuals increases due to migration. So, along with the regular Mallards, Tufted Duck, Coots, Moorhens, Mute Swans, Great Crested Grebes, there are Shoveller, Gadwall, Teal, Goosander and Pochard. In summer Oystercatchers come to breed and, although rare, I have counted Kingfisher and Common Sandpiper.
The big birds, geese and swans, are easy to count, as are the dabbling ducks like Mallard. It’s the diving ducks and Coots that are the challenge; they regularly disappear beneath the water and come up somewhere else!
The annual Breeding Bird Survey involves two visits, six weeks apart, to a randomly picked square kilometer site. My patch is a dream consisting of beautiful, peaceful farmland. Since 2012 I have strolled my square kilometer identifying and counting Skylark, Yellowhammer Whitethroat and others, noting also their preferred nesting habitats; were there crops in the fields, hedgerows, trees, water?
I am retired so have the time to do this, but if I had known about any bird surveys before I retired, I would have taken part. My equipment includes binoculars, note pad and pencil, bird identification books and a ‘scope for the WeBS. I feed my results into the BTO online. I didn’t know much about birds when I started. I chose birds as they are easy to identify but there are lots of other organisations and species looking for volunteers. If this type of citizen science appeals to you, I can heartily recommend it. Have a go.”