Surveys

During its long history the Club has undertaken many surveys and will continue to do so in order to understand the current status of the birds in our county, particularly those species which are hard to monitor from conventional records. The Herefordshire Bird Atlas 2007 – 2012, (Davies, M., Eldridge, P., Robinson, C., Smith, N. & Wells, G. (eds) (2014). The Birds of Herefordshire 2007 – 2012: An Atlas of their breeding and wintering distributions. Liverpool University Press),  remains our standard reference source,but we are aware that it had limitations and that it will become out of date in time. We therefore strongly encourage on-going participation in our Club and national surveys, as well as individual HOC members gathering records on a regular basis. Studies of specific species or locations are particularly welcome.

Surveys which are currently being undertaken, supported or proposed by the Club are:

Garden Birdwatch
The HOC has devised a very simple Garden Bird Survey based on weekly records. All you have to do is fill in a simple form (either electronic or paper format) - just identify the birds, count the maximum number of each species seen at any one time in the week, and enter the number in the box provided. As well as using the data for a quarterly report we now transfer all garden bird records to our county database so that they can contribute to both county and UK records. For further information please contact Ann Wilkinson at gardenbirdwatch@herefordshirebirds.org.

Herefordshire Site Surveys
The number of site surveys has dwindled but some members still carry out monthly surveys at a range of well-known birding sites within the county. These surveys are particularly useful as they provide an ongoing year-on-year comparison of bird status at key points within the county. For further information please contact Chris Robinson at herefordbtorep@btinternet.com.

Burley Gate Farmland Survey
This project involves resurveying a farmland site at Burley Gate that was surveyed in detail during the 1960’s. During the winter of 2017/18 and summer 2018 the area was resurveyed using the same CBC (Common Bird Census) methods in order to see what changes had taken place. A second winter survey started in October 2018. The work will be continued for at least a further year. For further information please contact Robert Taylor at vicechair@herefordshirebirds.org.

Lowland Breeding Curlew Study
In 2017 work was started on identifying the remaining Curlew breeding sites in Herefordshire with the aim of protecting this rapidly declining species. We are now part of the Lowland Curlew Forum and in 2018 have been working closely with other counties to share experience, knowledge and protection methods. We are now also working closely with the nature agencies and landowners to help protect nest sites and the work will continue in 2019. For further information please contact Chris Robinson at herefordbtorep@btinternet.com.

BTO Surveys
Members of the club also contribute as individuals to surveys coordinated by the BTO, including Wetland Bird Survey (Webs), Heronry Census, Nest Record Scheme, the Ringing Scheme and the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and Wetland Breeding Bird Survey (WBBS). Information on all these may be found on the BTO website www.bto.org or contact the Herefordshire BTO Representative at herefordbtorep@btinternet.com. In addition, one-off surveys are commissioned by the BTO from time to time (for example on breeding House Martins and Tawny Owls) and details are circulated to HOC members.

Visible Migration Survey

HOC member Dan Webb has started recording visible migration over Sellack, near Ross-on-Wye, and is keen to encourage others birders to contribute to this survey, which is growing in importance both nationally and internationally.

Read below Dan’s account of his introduction to ‘vismigging’ and the fascinating records that are emerging.  If you are inspired, and would like to become involved please contact Dan at danielwebb444@gmail.com.

“A warm high pressure front had settled over the UK to the north of Herefordshire with big white cumulus clouds and a steady 10-12 mph south westerly breeze meant a beautiful afternoon over Sellack in south Herefordshire on 31st July 2017. I had an afternoon off work so wandered out to the large field overlooking a wooded valley and dropping down to the River Wye at Sellack Bridge. Not much appeared to be moving at first but after half an hour I picked up a large flock moving to the north in a south westerly direction, it was a group of about 100 swifts. A few minutes later a slightly larger flock materialised, then groups of 50 plus birds were coming past closer, some right overhead all moving purposefully south west. Two hobbies flicked along with the flocks, a few house martins also moved south west and then two huge ‘cauldrons’ of hundreds of birds moved up the valley. I only had an hour to watch but at a conservative estimate a minimum of 1120 swifts passed through on their epic migration to Africa.

To see birds on the move, to know they could be hundreds of miles away the next day, to feel the power and drive within these feathered sprites is simply awe inspiring and reassuring but it also allows us to generate some scientific information. What weather and pressure conditions instigate migratory movements? What is the main direction of movement for different species? Are the numbers of migrants consistent year on year? Is the timing of migration changing? Do adults and juveniles of a species migrate at different times? These are just a few of the questions that we can help answer by carrying out systematic Visible Migration counts from a site regularly throughout the main passage periods (March-June and late Jul-early November) can help us answer some of these questions. I have carried out counts at this site in a very unsystematic manner for a couple of years as well as at my ‘patch’ Goldcliff Lagoons and submitted my records on Bird Track. However late this autumn I decided I need to start recording more systematically and submit my records on the international migration site www.trektellen.nl.

Late last autumn I started recording systematically and was amazed at my results, and it has been one of my most moving birding experiences. Highlights included hundreds of redwings and starlings passing through in single mornings, a nice smattering of bramblings and siskins, both kestrel and merlin on obvious high flying migration and best of all, a flock of around a hundred redwings being led by five snipe! Some of these days have been frantic with birds passing in big flocks regularly and often simultaneously with me desperately jotting down numbers and directions of flight.

In autumn 2017, Andrew Strong and I had spent three days at Spurn Point watching the biggest Pomarine Skua passage witnessed at the site, ‘blythi’ type Lesser Whitethroat making landfall and newly arrived thrushes in their hundreds, but the thrill of seeing at this inland site that flock of redwings being led by five snipe or the three black-tailed godwit that steamed over south west one July morning on their way back from Iceland is just as special. It can be tricky initially to identify high flying passerines and many are identified by call but if you are a keen birder and like a challenge I truly recommend ‘vismigging’”.

Projects

Nest boxes
The HOC supports installation of nest boxes (a) for species of conservation concern where availability of nest sites may be a factor limiting their abundance; (b) to help develop an interest in birds and their conservation, which is done through the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (HWT).

Currently HWT monitors nest boxes at 11 Herefordshire Wildlife Trust reserves throughout the County and a further 13 non-reserve sites, including Moccas Park. The results of the monitoring (and ringing) activities are published annually in the Birds of Herefordshire Annual Reports.

If you are interested in joining the nest box monitoring scheme please contact Andrew Nixon, HWT Senior Conservation Manager at a.nixon@herefordshirewt.co.uk.

Sand Martins on the River Wye
HOC members Andrew Strong and Dan Webb have been studying a colony of Sand Martins at Sellack on the River Wye for several years. In 2018 a total of 145 nest holes were recorded, but unexpected bad weather prevented the scheduled final phase of ringing activities, although earlier in the summer 88 birds were ringed (with the help of students from Cardiff University Ornithological Society, amongst others), over a quarter of which had been ringed in previous years. The Club has supported this project with a small grant to purchase an endoscope to aid investigation of nest holes.

A summary of the work that has been done over many years, ringing Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) at two breeding sites in Herefordshire, illustrating some of the fascinating information obtained about our local birds and suggestions about how we can help preserve their future is available here.

Andrew and Dan will continue monitoring the colony in 2019, and also intend to establish the number of colonies breeding along the banks of the Wye in Herefordshire. Further updates will appear as this project progresses. For further information please contact either Dan Webb at Daniel.webb444@gmail.com or Andrew Strong at aj.strong@icloud.com.

Bodenham Lake
The Club is supporting a range of activities managed by the Herefordshire Wildlife Reserve at Bodenham Lake as a part of the Lugg Living Landscape initiative, including the building of a new observation hide and an Osprey platform. A major aim of the project is to re-profile the steep banks to enable improved marginal vegetation and more extensive reed beds. HOC members have been involved in a number of volunteering activities at the site during the works that are underway. For further information contact Lugg Living Landscape Project Officer Sophie Cowling at s.cowling@herefordshirewt.co.uk.

Updates are on all these surveys and projects are published in the Club’s Newsletters.