Ever keen to train new volunteers, the Demography Unit has been running two-day Nest Record Scheme field courses throughout May: one at BTO headquarters, Thetford, Norfolk, on the weekend of 13th-15th, a second in Cheshire on the 20th-22nd, a third at Hindhead, Surrey, this last weekend and a fourth still to come this weekend at Cupar, Fife.
The focus of NRS training courses has always been how to find and monitor nests of open-nesting passerines like warblers and finches. This is because the BTO needs more nest records for species such as Chiffchaff and Linnet but few new participants have the nest finding skills our forebears learnt as children.
At the Nunnery, Thetford, there was a heavy emphasis on warblers, with a day spent in the scrub habitat on The Nunnery reserve and a day in the clear fells of Thetford Forest. The latter proved particularly productive, with 10 warbler nests located in total, including Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff, most on eggs or small chicks.
Course tutor Richard Castell shows a participant the location of a Whitethroat's 'cock' nest
Over at Chapel House Farm, Cheshire, after talks on the Friday night, participants spent Saturday morning on the farm's meadows, tapping along reedy ditches in search of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. Several nests were found but the very windy conditions made searching difficult. On Sunday morning, tutor Richard Castell took the group to a woodland site and a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest was located. Then, back on the farm, watching birds' movements along hedgerows led people to nests of Chaffinch, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff.
The courses are as much about getting to know other BTO volunteers as they are about training; they are kept small--no more than ten people at each--and the course tutors are usually volunteer NRS participants themselves. Each day in the field is rounded off with a bar snack in the pub and by the end of the weekend people are invariably exchanging contact details are making plans visit one anothers' patches.
Thes courses wouldn't be possible without the generosity of Chapel House Farm and Elmwood College for letting us use their premises, and of course the volunteer tutors--Richard Castell, Tony Davis and David Oliver. The final course of 2011 is at Cupar this weekend: let's hope for another good one!
Course tutor Richard Castell explains the design of a Treecreeper nest box