We are half way through our orchard bird surveys now with all 31 orchards surveyed once already. Early mornings are very hard for me on a normal day, but with dawn getting more and more towards the 4.30am mark and some farms nearly an hour away, I am beginning to wonder if camping on site may be a better idea. Unfortunately, birds are most active at dawn so this is the time we have to be there ready with a GPS and expert ears (as shown below) to count those birds!
Sam, the bird expert, has been keeping his keen eye (and ear) out for rare birds, as do all birders. So far he has ticked off a few cuckoos, which although aren’t rare as such, seem to be part of a competition as to who hears the cuckoo first in spring. I didn’t know this was a game until now! A few willow warblers, black caps and green finches have been heard and seen on a handful of orchards but chaffinches seem to be following us everywhere.
Pigs and Cows
We’ve made some new friends along the way including some curly haired pigs and a herd of young cows. I think Sam was a little jealous of the pig's curly blonde luscious locks at first but they became friends pretty quickly nonetheless.
We had another hairy moment at a farm when our trusty GPS led us to a point count location into a field of young cows. Wearing a bright pink coat may not have been the best item of clothing as they were certainly more attracted me, but this could also be the fact I was waving my clipboard and making loud noises to try and deter them. After getting completely surrounded at one point, at the same time as Sam explaining how “cows have killed people by trampling on them”, I decided we should do the point count – where we stand still for 5 minutes to listen and look out for birds in a 100m radius – behind a safe hedge on the outside of the field instead. After speaking to that farmer about the cow problem we quickly felt unprepared for the countryside, as we learnt that the tell-tale signs of being trampled on was head waving and ground kicking by the cows, which they weren’t doing. I’m sure the ZSL’s Health and Safety people will be pleased with my decision though.
Often in the birding community people tend not to believe others of rare bird sightings unless there is a clear picture to back their story up. So you could say it wasn’t birding if there wasn’t a bit of debate in this fieldwork. The culprit of the debate was right at the top of a birch tree and looked suspiciously to Sam like a Red Backed Shrike. But later when we checked other possibilities, I thought it was more like a Wheatear. Both are rare sightings for the area but the Red Back Shrike is a bit “more rare” with a Red Status of high conservation priority whereas the Wheatear holds Amber Status which is the next most critical group. Luckily, the sighting wasn’t within our 5 minute point count window as we saw it on the way back to the car. So we can continue to discuss at our leisure.
Unfortunately there have been no big trends in the species found or quantity of birds on different farms yet. I haven’t yet statistically analysed the data so will probably not find anything until that has been tackled. The only variation I will have to be aware of is the difference between the type of orchard, whether a dessert apple orchard, juice or cider orchard will need to be taken into account when analysing. Stay tuned for next steps in fieldwork and preliminary results soon.
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