Monday, 13 February 2012

Devon Bird Atlas survey

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are producing a new UK Bird Atlas. Volunteers have surveyed 2 km squares (called Tetrads) between 2007 & 2011 to count birds & check for evidence of breeding. These are known as TTVs (Timed Tetrad Visits).

A few counties, including Devon, are continuing to collect data until 2013. For the Devon Atlas, 4 visits are required, in Jan/Feb, April/May, June/July & Nov/Dec. As some Tetrads in Devon hadn’t been allocated, I volunteered to survey 4, in an area about 6 miles North of Honiton in the Black Down Hills. I’ve never done anything like this before, so it’s new territory in more ways than one.

The instructions include:

  •          Visit as many different habitats as possible within a Tetrad
  •          Count species during 1 or 2 hours. If counting for 2, keep separate lists for each hour.
  •          You can ‘stop the clock’ e.g. to count large flocks or check for signs of breeding.
  •         If you see any species in the Tetrad outside of the hour, they can be recorded separately (to confirm their presence)

Today was due to be a bit milder than it has been, so I decided to make a start. Simon & Vera volunteered to come and assist, so we packed lunch & headed off mid morning, making our way to the first area centred on Culm Davy. There are quite a few different habitats in the Tetrad, i.e. orchard, deciduous woodland, coniferous woodland, open ground, a stream & small pond. The footpaths were limited & we didn’t want to over-walk Vera anyway, so I decided to drive between different habitats & make use of the few available footpaths, stopping the clock for the drives between sites. The instructions didn’t say we could do this, but they didn’t say we couldn’t either!

We started on a path that crossed the orchards & open fields, passing a small stream & pond.  I was pleased to see 3 really bright Yellowhammers, a new species for the Year List. Other sightings included 4 Bullfinch, 3 Buzzards, a Raven, a Jay, 4 Fieldfare & a Mistle Thrush.  There were no birds that I could see on the pond, which was mostly hidden by trees.

My 2 assistants in the field!
..and between 2 orchards (V supervising from her basket in the van!)

We then moved to coniferous woodland, which was a pain in the neck, literally. The trees were so tall that it was virtually impossible to see anything in the canopy without incurring an injury. There were lots of birds making high pitched peeps, but I’m not confident enough with sounds to identify them from that alone.

They're up there somewhere.....

On to our last stop, a footpath on the top of a ridge looking down over deciduous woodland. A large flock of birds flew into a tree & I’d just counted the 30 Redwing when Simon called Time. We’d seen 20 species in total, 18 during the hour plus Pheasant & Goldfinch during travel between sites.

A bygone era.....

Lunch break was taken at the end of a footpath in the second Tetrad, which centred on Madford. We parked next to an old lean-to beside a barn & inside was an old cart with spoked wooden wheels. Considering that we appeared to be at a dead-end in the middle of nowhere, it was pretty busy with passing traffic.

We then climbed a really steep set of steps (Vera didn’t like them much) to get to the start of the footpath, only to find that it was completely impassable with a herd of cows, electric fence & quagmire. The Vera Stair-lift (Simon) was called into action & we returned to the van & drove to another path. It was really picturesque, starting beside an old ruined abbey, but after 50 yards we were stopped by a very dog-unfriendly style which even Simon couldn't lift Vera over.

Dunkeswell Abbey
Counting from the curchyard

We watched the fields for a while from the graveyard, then moved on to watch some woods from the road before going to our final site, open fields looking down on a valley & some woods. A great view & quite a few birds, including a large mixed flock of Jackdaws (62), Rooks(28) & Crows (2). One of the Jackdaws had striking white primaries i.e. white patches on its wings. I googled it when we got home & someone had seen & photographed a similar bird in Wokingham in December 2011. I wonder if it was the same bird!

A good spot to scan the fields

In this Tetrad we saw 18 species, 16 during the hour & 2 when the clock was stopped. They included a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Ravens, 21 Fieldfare & 2 Bullfinch. As we walked back to the van Simon commented that it was odd that we hadn’t seen a Buzzard in this Tetrad. As if by magic, a Buzzard landed on the track about 25 yards ahead of us, before flying up when a car came along.

Although we’d actually only counted birds for 2 hours, it had taken so long to find footpaths we could actually park near & walk up that it was gone 3pm. We headed home for Vera’s tea. It had been a fun day exploring an area we wouldn’t have visited otherwise. Simon had aired his binoculars & even admitted to enjoying himself!

Only another 14 TTVs to go!

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