Monday, 18 May 2015

Gulls and BTO course

Saturday, the wife and I had 5 houses to view first thing and then our house was being viewed repeatedly in the afternoon. This meant that once we had left home first thing we needed to be out of the house for the remainder of the day. Once the house viewings were done, we wrestled with a few ideas of where to go. We ended up at Hayling Oyster beds. I hadn't checked out the Gull/Tern colony yet this year and was keen to do so.

Gravel bar across the Oyster Beds, Hayling Island
We parked up and walked down the path, my 18 month old son stopping to talk to every dog and owner he could as well as get excited about a tree with Pine Cones. As we were walking we could already hear the din of the colony ahead. Now the main colony is out in the harbour on South Binnes Island, away from disturbance with a no landing policy for boats which is carefully controlled. However in the confines of the Oyster Beds there are a couple of gravel bars that give more space to the ever expanding colony.

BH Gulls and Common Tern
Last year at this time the gravel bars were packed, birds were landing on top of one and other and the Terns had just arrived making it even more crowded. Every patch of viable rock above the waterline was taken. This year there are half the number of birds. Whether they have all chosen Binnes this year I personally do not know and the warden was busy with several parties using his scope and chatting about the birds on the bars to be able to ask this question. What was more bizarre to me at least was the absence of any Med Gulls on the gravel, last year they out numbered the Black Headed Gulls and yet this year there isn't one. I know from friends that Binnes is having a bumper Med Gull season so maybe my speculation is correct that Binnes is indeed the new 'go to' place. This could be due, in part to the way I witnessed the Oyster Beds being used by the public. I saw two families in the far corner of the inlet swimming in the pool and letting their dogs swim in the water too. The birds were all very wary and jittery, frequently leaving their nests after being spooked by the canine headed their way.

Never the less I had a very pleasant time, scanning through the birds that had chosen this inland spot, there were Common and Little Terns present as well as the Black Headed Gulls. A few Meds flew over while I watched and then headed out to the harbour. Through my scope I could see the commotion over South Binnes with an extraordinary amount of birds flying around the island.

Sunday I joined a BTO run course looking at methodologies and skills necessary in order to complete the Breeding Bird Survey, something that I have previously mentioned I intend to partake in next year. The course was being run by Avon Wildlife trust/BTO employee Matt Collis at the Dorset Wildlife Trusts, Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre near Poole. The day started with looking at visual ID skills, something I am (big headedly) pretty good at, it was a very interesting look at breaking down ID features to be able to comprehensively and accurately ID certain species, especially confusion species. I even learned a new word. Speculum: The brightly coloured feather on a ducks wing, present in females as well as males and useful for ID.
Beacon Hill has a mix of Habitats from scrubland

The next section focused on songs and calls, and here, in my own mind, is my biggest downfall as a birder. I was very pleasantly surprised, song wise I am actually not bad, being able to ID 90% of the species asked. Calls however was where I really saw a gap in my knowledge. Matt was brilliant with ways to remember calls and even songs. When we got out on the heath for the practical the first bird anyone saw was a Dartford Warbler sitting on top of the gorse, characteristic long tail and jizz, it soon dropped back down into the scrub as the wind picked up.
There were plenty of Stonechats about, one male seen repeatedly carrying food parcels to either a sitting female of his young. The jarring chat noise that gives the birds their name echoing around the heath is like two stones cracking together. There were also, Goldcrest, ChiffChaff, Nuthatch, Kestrel, Carrion Crows, Jackdaw, BHG, Blackcap, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Wren and Linnet about. Almost all picked up by song and call.

The afternoon session was based around planning transects within your 1km BBS square and best practices etc., and how to go about recording all the necessary information both online and in paper form. Matt was incredibly knowledgeable and his ability to pick out even the faintest bird call/song and know exactly what made it is unerring.
To heathland

To Coniferous Woodland

We ended the day on a practical session practicing transect walking and recording. This was great to be able to practice what we would be doing for our BBS squares before actually doing them. I am planning on making some random 1km squares and plotting transects, surveying and recording what's in them just in order to practice for next year!

A massive thank you to Matt Collis, super birder tutor and to the team at the Dorset Wildlife Trusts, Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre. Be sure to check out their Great Heath Project!

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