15 June 2017

Nest Recording Taster Day, Glamorgan

‘Fledgemore’ is a new nest recording group in Glamorgan. Established in 2015, its members (Andy Bevan, Trevor Fletcher, Dan Jenkins-Jones, Wayne Morris and Graham Williams) have only been nest recording for a few years but, as well as finding and monitoring their own nests, one of their ambitions is to increase the number of local recorders contributing to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme (NRS). They’ve written this blog about one of the ways they’re doing that.

Nest recorders will tell you that finding and then monitoring nests for the NRS is one of the most challenging, exciting and fulfilling experiences in birding. There’s something new to learn every year, there’s the thrill of finding a new nest and there’s the satisfaction in knowing that you’re gathering vital data for the BTO’s Ringing and Nest Recording Team that will inform birds’ long-term conservation.

There has been a welcome increase in the number of nest records submitted from across Britain & Ireland in recent years. An increase that has been reflected in the totals from our home county of Glamorgan. Up until 2006, barely 100 records a year were being sent from here to the BTO. In 2015, that figure had risen to almost 800. But, when we scratched beneath the surface, we found that there were no more than eight or nine birders regularly contributing nest records from Glamorgan. We’re sure other regions have a similar situation.

Blackbird chicks close to fledging at Rudry (Photo: Dan Jenkins-Jones)

If you’re new to nest recording you can learn a lot about how to find and safely monitor the nests of various species from books and online articles, but nothing beats a first-hand experience in the field with other nest recorders. This is how we learnt to find our first nests and it gave us the leg up we needed. With this mind, we trialled a ‘Nest Record Scheme Taster Day’ at Rudry Common, north of Cardiff, in 2016 in an attempt to increase the number of local recorders and put the Scheme on a more sustainable footing in the county. Despite having no more than five seasons’ nest recording experience ourselves, we felt we had sufficient knowledge to be able to share the basic skills with newcomers and to hopefully enthuse and encourage them to take up nest recording. Five birders took part in that event, two of whom are now members of Fledgemore with 130+ nest records gathered between them so far in 2017! Encouraged by our experiences of this ‘Taster Day’, we held another at Rudry on 14 May this year.

Taster Day 2 started with a short indoor session where we presented the participants with their free hazel ‘tapping stick’ and ‘mirror on a stick’, kindly donated by the Rudry Common Trust and both essential tools of the nest recorder’s trade, which they learnt to use during the day. We introduced them to the NRS Code of Conduct, to some basic nest finding techniques and then we were soon out in the field for six hours of ‘nesting’.

Using a mirror on a stick to examine nests (Photo: Graham Williams)

Seeing a bird’s nest which contains eggs or chicks can be that spark which ignites an individual’s fascination with nest recording – especially if it’s a nest you’ve found yourself. To ensure we’d be able to provide that experience, Trevor recced the area in advance of the event and found a nice variety of nests to show everybody.

We spent the morning working through woodland, finding a number of nests: a Blackbird nest with chicks close to fledging; an active Goldcrest nest and, later, a predated one; Great Spotted Woodpecker with chicks; Song Thrush and a Wren on eggs; a Woodpigeon nest which had sadly failed at the chicks stage; a Blue Tit in a nestbox and Coal Tit and Great Tit with chicks nesting in natural cavities, both of whom enabled Trevor to show off his skills with an endoscope. A number of old nests were found too, which are useful in showing participants the likely places to look for nests in future.

Two of the participants trying out the art of ‘tapping’ for the first time (Photo: Andy Bevan)

Late morning, we left the woodland and moved out onto to Rudry Common in search of a suite of different species. A Linnet nest in gorse, which contained chicks a few days before the Taster Day, was sadly empty, probably lost to predation. Nevertheless, it enabled the participants to get a feel for where to find their own Linnet nests in future. A beautiful Long-tailed Tit nest with chicks, also in gorse, was up next, followed by a well concealed Meadow Pipit with four eggs.

The highlight of the day for most was probably a Willow Warbler nest with eggs, described by one participant as a ‘nest on its side’. It’s such a simple, yet beautiful, construction and superbly camouflaged. Finding one is always a thrill, and yet, with the right fieldcraft and knowing how the female’s off-nest call will help you, finding a Willow Warbler nest can be quite easy.

Willow Warbler nest on Rudry Common (Photo Dan Jenkins-Jones)

Best of all, some of these nests were found by the participants, either by ‘watching birds back’ to their nests or, on one occasion, a Blackbird on four eggs was found by gently ‘tapping’ suitable habitat with a hazel stick which gently flushed the sitting bird. Finding these nests and recording their contents generated a lot of excitement amongst us all. For the participants, it proved very quickly that they could find their own nests, and for us as leaders it was great to be able to show that the tips we’d shared with everybody actually work!

The day was rounded off with another short indoor session where we shared information on how to plan nest visits and what information to gather at the nest: egg or chick counts; nest location and habitat; chicks’ feather structure; the nest’s ‘outcome’ etc.  Finally we ‘crowned’ Tara, one of the participants who found three nests as the ‘New Nest Finder of the Day’. Tara went on to justify her crown by returning to Rudry Common immediately after the event to try and find a Garden Warbler for her Year List, and found another Willow Warbler nest on her own!

Tara was crowned ‘Nest Finder of the Day (Photo: Rob Williams)

An enjoyable day all round and we’ve heard from some of the participants that they’ve already been finding their own nests. Fingers crossed that some, if not all of them turn out to be fully-fledged nest recorders in years to come. And of course, we found some new nests on the day to add to our own monitoring for the Scheme. The BTO is keen to encourage ringers to contribute data to the Nest Record Scheme and, where possible, we are revisiting nests to ring pulli to further contribute data to the Ringing and Nest Recording Team. 

We’d highly recommend other nest recorders hosting similar events in their own regions to build up the numbers of local recorders. You definitely don’t need years of experience behind you, you’ll introduce others to a fascinating aspect of birding, help the Nest Record Scheme get even more records and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent article, hits the mark in every paragraph and reflects some of the things we are now starting to do down here in Cornwall. Well done and thank you for sharing

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