Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Life without death in the life of birds.

During Springwatch 2013 there has, once again, been death of young nestling's. This happens every year and every year the presenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games expertly put the viewers at ease by explaining why it happens and that it is all part of the circle of life. In this blog I will attempt to put this phrase, 'the circle of life' into numbers. Without death in the life of birds the world would become over run.

So lets start with some commoner birds. Currently the Blue Tit breeding population is about 3.3 million individuals. In each brood there are 8-10 eggs laid, so for purposes of this blog an average of 9 eggs laid. We must assume that this is 5 chicks per adult (CPA). Now, without predation or egg failure and assuming all of these chicks survive and are successful and every Blue Tit individual survives then the population would go from 3.3 million to 16.5 million in one year and that's not even considering second broods! In two years time assuming every Blue Tit from the year before breeds, the population would have gone up to 82.5 million Blue Tit's. It is unimaginable to think what it would be like.

Moving onto another common garden bird, Robins. The current population of individuals is 5.5 million. There  are 4-5 eggs laid, so lets say there are 5 eggs laid in each brood. We again, must assume that this is 3 CPA. The same rules apply as did for the Blue Tits, none of the chicks are predated or die from the cold or anything - They all survive. In a single year the population would go from 5.5 million individuals to 16.5 million. An increase of 11 million. The next year it will increase by 33 million to 49.5 million birds. Within two years of this 'world without death' the one Robin that hops around you while you dig will become 5 Robins or 10 Robins.

So you get the general idea that without death bird numbers would, obviously, increase dramatically. But to put this into perspective we need to think about those rarer birds, the ones you really want to see. Now of course we want to see our rarer, less seen birds increase but would this new world prove to much. Well let's take a look at the numbers.
Hawfinches. A fantastically powerful and beautiful bird. Everyone would like to see one but its not that easy with only 9600 individuals breeding in Britain. However, I'm sure you've guessed it, every single Hawfinch is successful, every chick juvenile and adult survive. The population is going to rise rapidly. Hawfinches have 4-5 eggs in a brood, so we will assume they have 5 - 3 CPA. the population will go from 9,600 to 28800 in one year, the next the population will be 86400 . In less than 4 years time Hawfinches will be as common as Robins are today. Imagine that while walking to the Bus station, or the shops and this wonderful powerful Hawfinch dives across you into the bush. Magnificent! -to a point. This would become such a regular occurrence that this wouldn't come into my mind it would be something more like " ooh what's that, oh it's only a Hawfinch." Now I'm not saying that I don't appreciate common birds because I do but the excitement isn't there when you see a common bird and that's what you expect when you see a bird like a Hawfinch.

Well there you have it, should predation and death stop completely then birding just wouldn't give you the same thrill it does today. This is, unfortunately, why we must accept what goes on during these programs. It's a fact of life and without it life would be considerably more boring. So go on, what are waiting for, go and find a rare bird and most importantly - Enjoy it! Happy Birding.

Monday, 1 April 2013

March Review

So here I am once again at the end of a long month of patching wondering what I can write for a 'review' of the month. Last month I didn't consider it necessary to write a review as the review would have consisted of something along the lines of; I saw a Grey Heron, that was it. By the end of February I had 29 species and points, having started the month with 28 species and points (part of the patchwork challenge). This month I fared slightly better finishing on a total of 34 species and points.

I saw 5 new species on my patch this month. This was below expectation however with the cold weather what to expect couldn't be predicted. Anything could have turned up from summer passerines to wintering wildfowl. I had hoped for a few migrants but that will have to wait for April.

So what was the highlight species out of the 5 I saw. It would definitely have to be the flock of 20 Greylag Geese that flew over my patch at dusk. I have a vague idea of the species that I should be seeing over the course of the year and Greylag Geese, or any Geese, was not included in this superficial list. I was so surprised to first hear them calling and then to see them fly over my head. It is moments like those that keep me coming back to my patch.

To conclude, March has be a fine month in terms of seeing species with 5 new species. The birds have began to sing and spring is still attempting to run its course despite the bitter temperatures. I am beginning to wonder if I will ever get any rarities along my patch. Hopefully the spring migration will bring some!

Friday, 22 February 2013

January Review

Now I know it's seems strange to name a blog 'January Review' half way through February but I thought I should 'review' the goings on, on my patch, in January.

My patch isn't known for its rarities, to be brutally honest it isn't known for having any birdlife what so ever. But results from January suggest otherwise. Perhaps not rarities, but certainly a flourishing bird population. Having enthusiastically taken up the job (not a real job!) of surveying a half mile stretch of a small stream in June, it had taken a back seat for the last few months, however I now visit at least 2 times a week fitting it in around various bits of dreaded maths homework.

So to the review. January was quite compared to other patches but 27 species and points was a good start to my target of 50 species on my patch. This may seem pessimistic however it is realistic. On the 1st there were the usuals of Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Robin and Jackdaw. A few good spots on the 1st were Goldcrest and Sparrowhawk. I had 16 species after my first visit but I did not get my 17th species till the 17th of January. It was a Raven, only identified by its characteristic 'squawk'. My two favourite sightings of January were definitely the Fieldfares who came when the snow came and 4 Mistle Thrushes who I hope may breed this spring. Both of these birds were lifers so seeing them on my patch was even more special.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Birding in Bath

I was birding in Bath today, and once again proved The Urban Birder's point - There are birds in cities. A species total  of 19 was good. An over-wintering Blackcap was thrilling to find. Most of these birds were common birds however armed with a new pair of binoculars (Hawke FrontierED 8x43) I was keen try them on anything and was able to see the detail of the birds. For an hour and fifteen minutes of casual birding while my sister and Granny shopped in the sales 19 species was more than what I hoped for. I was mainly birding around the Royal Victoria Park near the Royal Cresent and wandered down to the river for around half an hour. This gave more woodland birds and some waterbirds because of lakes and also urbanised Gulls.

My Granny said to me after that in the 1950s when she was at University there that she had never seen a single Gull there, so this is a very recent occurrence. Although we should be scornful of them as they are showing a clear intelligence to evolve around human life, other Sea Birds to do this are cormorants. They are very successful and 'us birders' are rewarded for their intelligence as we get close up views and can study behaviour and plumage to great detail.

I would recommend Bath to anyone, or cities in general as they have a lot to offer 'birdwise'!

Friday, 5 October 2012

My Local Patch

As Local Patches go, mine is nothing special. A half mile stretch of the the Little Avon River in Wotton-under-Edge provides nothing more than 'common' birds but nothing more than 'common' birds is what a local patch is about. You may get a rarity once in a while but going out and discovering the everyday goings on is something special, something special that only you can unlock.

Unlocking this connection with your local patch doesn't mean avidly going out everyday, as I found out, but just developing an understanding of the area that you survey in your own time. If you find yourself struggling for time but feel you must to go out to survey your patch perhaps you are going about it in the wrong way. I found a local Patch is about surveying the area for your love and passion for birds, so just go when you have time and enjoy it.

So what is your patch? Well, there are no specifications to what your patch must have or look like because anywhere you look there will be birds whether it be in a city or in the countryside. But think to yourself when deciding, Have I seen birds here before? Do I want to come here in my own free time? Will I get bored of my patch? If you answer that sequences of questions with Yes, Yes, No then you need not worry about where your patch is.

As you will soon find out you will get excited about new birds that you see on your patch. One day I found 10 pheasants in a field, the fact that I had only ever seen 1 pheasant on my patch before got me very excited.  And this is one reason why you survey your patch, for moments like these.

So if you feel like you are being starved of bird life due to unavailable transport to well known reserves, get out on your patch and discover the wonders within.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The British Birdwatching Fair

This weekend was no ordinary weekend, not because the new Premier League season kicked off but because this weekend it was the British Birdwatching Fair.

The British Birdwatching Fair, otherwise known as Birdfair, has been running for 24 years. It started off as just a few stalls but now the place is buzzing with activity. The now hundreds of exhibitors bring in thousands of people with profits going towards a chosen theme. This year it was to aid the East Asian/Australasian flyway. The East Asian/Australasian flyway is one of the most important migratory systems in the world but because of human development is under threat. Already proving its worth with this fantastic cause, Birdfair seems to bring out the best in people. As a first timer and a keen birder I was in heaven here. As a young person who often gets dismissed as a mere twitcher, it was really encouraging for me to be taken seriously about my passion for birds.

I enjoyed meeting and talking to many people during Birdfair. People like Simon King, Stephen Moss and David Lindo were there to talk to me at book signings but people from the BTO such as Neil Calbrade, Dave Leech and Nick Moran were all very encouraging and kind. Neil Calbrade gave an excellent talk on the BTO's Wetlands Bird Survey and then after, gave up 30 minutes of time talking and explaining to me what it was about and eventually signing me up! Nick Moran told me that I was probably the youngest WeBs surveyor! Dave Leech renewed my interest in bird ringing by talking to me about it at the ringing demo and promised to help me get in touch with Kane Brides (expert ringer at Slimbridge). All of these fascinating people, and more, gave up their time to talk to people they've never met before over three days of Birdfair!

There were many lectures during the British Birdwatching Fair but there was one quiz, one quiz which was to turn this fantastic event on its head! A Question of Stork was the name. A take on A Question of Sport in a similar format. But this was to be an utter shambles of a quiz but pure entertainment! Nick Baker and Mike Dilger each have a brilliant sense of humour and both began to try to run the show. They tried to follow the schedule and questions but as the show ran on, the contestants became more and more rebellious and Stephen Moss moved difficult questions along very quickly adding to the humourous effect. Overall a hilarious occasion and it would be great to see again!

There were so many things that were great about Birdfair that it is impossible to write about all of it! I want to finish as I started, by saying that Birdfair seemed to bring the best out of people. There was a lovely informal atmosphere which helped to get people chatting, whether it was having your coffee on a bench or at a stall, everyone was very kind and was pleased to see teenagers like myself at Birdfair. Overall this has been an excellent first Birdfair. As a first timer it was all that I expected and more. I will definitely be going as a second timer next year and Birdfair will be even more magnificent!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Slimbridge 2.4.12

Today was a sunny day with a slight chill in the air, the birds appeared to love it!!
The trip got off to a good start on the Rushy seeing the female Lesser Scaup again, this time being able to accurately know which bird it was. Most of the birds on the rushy were asleep as it was mid morning. A Heron slowly walked through the water at the back of the rushy! After a long chat with Warden James Lees (!) I went to the Martin smith hide where a lonely Shelduck sat with its beak under its arm. I moved on the the Robbie Garnett hide where the 7 snow geese were! They were on migration and had stopped off for a few days. An Egret stood alone preening itself. Other birds on the Tack Piece included Shovelers, Gadwalls, Greylag Geese and more Shelduck. The next hide I visited was The South Lake Observatory, there were a lot of gulls including black-headed, and one Lesser Black Backed Gull which can be identified, from its cousin the Greater Black Backed Gull, by the colour of its legs, in this case it had yellow legs which meant it was a Lesser, if it had a brown/orange colour to its legs then it would have been a Greater. Also on South lake there were a lot of Waders over the other side my binoculars I had weren't strong enough to see them so I walked to Hogarth hide which would bring me closer to these mystery waders. on closer inspection they were in fact Black and Bar Tailed Godwits. they had an amazing orange colour on their under side and very long beaks, they were feeding. Then I spotted the most exciting sighting of the day which was two Avocets! This was especially exciting because Avocets are rarely seen in the west of the country. They sifted there beaks gracefully backward and forth searching for food. After watching these for at least half an hour I went home.