26 September 2013

The future’s bright - the future’s green

I remember the exact day that I became hooked on birds. I was four years old and my family had just moved to North Norfolk. My Dad, Tony, a biology teacher who is interested in all things natural history, went with a colleague to see a male Hen Harrier that had been roosting on Kelling Heath and I tagged along. I’d been looking at birds in the garden for a year or two previously (and have the check-list, full of terrible spelling mistakes and even more horrendous misidentifications to prove it), but this was definitely the point of no return; fast forward 35 years and I am now a qualified ringer and keen nest recorder who has the privilege of working on birds for a living as a BTO staff member.

Male Hen Harrier - the species responsible for Dave writing this post. Copyright Martin Bennett
The path from hobby to career was fuelled by many things. The proximity of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley reserve, just four miles north of my home, did no harm in terms of reinforcing my interest, as did the endless streams of high quality documentaries, particularly those featuring the soporific tones of David Attenborough, which were compulsory viewing in my house. It was people who made the real difference, though – parents (my Mum, Barbara, still collects Blackbird colour-ring resighting data for me), teachers (Dave Horsley and Ralph Wiggins deserve special mention) and friends (Gav Horsley and Nick Acheson in particular) who tutored me and, equally importantly, transported me to the local hotspots. OK, so I didn’t have access to the wonders of the internet, but then I didn’t have the distractions of it either.

Dave's Mum Barbara has been collecting colour-ring resighting data on individually marked Blackbirds in her garden almost every day since March 2007
But this post isn’t about me as I’m rapidly becoming the past; it’s about the future, and that future is looking a little greener. A few days ago, Lorraine Miller directed me to an article on the wonderful A Focus On Nature website, an essential networking tool for any aspiring young conservationist. The piece was a focus feature on five naturalists, aged between 9 and 13, including Lorraine’s daughters Abby and Evie. I already knew that Team Miller were contributing to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme, but I was still amazed at the wealth of other surveys that were mentioned. Four of the five folk highlighted are already training to ring, including prolific bloggers Toby Carter and Findlay Wilde, or seeking trainers (and the photo of the fifth, Harley Wilde, sees him holding a bird at a ringing demo) while Garden BirdWatch, BirdTrack and the Winter Thrush Survey all feature.

Ringing demonstrations are a great way of sparking the conservation interest of the next generation, whether they go on to be ringers or not
This makes me a bit of a late-starter. While I was birding at four, I twitched away my teens and it wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties that I started actually making a real contribution to conservation by participating in surveys. These guys have got a decade on me already, and most of them didn’t have the luxury of doorstep nature reserves or teachers with time to spend on after-hours activities. These are fast-tracked conservationists and, with green issues seemingly at their lowest ebb on the political agenda, we need them now more than ever.
Dave Leech
Head of BTO Nest Record Scheme

12 September 2013

Ringing Report for 2012 goes live

The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is one of the oldest in the world and has collected a wealth of information on the movement, survival and population change of bird species in Britain and Ireland.
Green Woodpecker by John Flowerday

The Online Ringing Report has just been updated. This includes the number of birds ringed and recaptured in 2012 and also the recovery and re-sighting information by county or species. For example the BTO Atlas species for the month is Green Woodpecker and the online report shows that we ringed 333 birds in 2012 compared with 406 in 2011 and 414 in 2010, so quite a drop in numbers over the past couple of years. We can also see a summary of all ringing recoveries for this species, which includes information on some of the oldest recorded birds found, and what happened to them. The longevity record for this species is 15 years set in 1985 when a bird was hit by a vehicle near Chertsey, Surrey.
Foreign location of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland since 1909 

If you are interested in a particular species or just certain locations or dates, the information is accessible via the Online Ringing Reports.