For the last four years I have surveyed grid squares near to home for the British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Atlas, 2007-2011.
You sign up for a tetrad (2km x 2km) and walk for one or two hours in it, four times a year (Nov/Dec, Jan/Feb, Apr/May, Jun/Jul), recording all the birds you see and hear, and noting their breeding status.
I realised today that February would soon run out. The sun was shining, so I did my two tetrads.
One of them is cut in half by the M40 and my route takes me under and alongside it. Amazingly, the birds don’t seem to mind and, although it is hard to hear them above the roar of the traffic, they are busy getting on with their lives. A robin sang in the wood right next to the motorway, while long-tailed tits flitted in the dense brambles growing on the embankment.
On the drive between my two tetrads I stopped at Cowleaze Wood, owned by the Forestry Commission and therefore under threat from the government’s sell-off plans. I wanted to see if there were any crossbills, having spotted them when I did that tetrad for the BTO atlas last February. I need to establish if they are breeding there (crossbills are early breeders). I stood among the trees listening for the chup chup but sadly, despite it being a sunny day with little wind, I saw none.
Then on to my second square which contains a christmas-tree farm. When I walked there in November I saw many bramblings on the christmas trees, but they had all gone. However, I did see two flocks of siskins by way of compensation.
It’s fun surveying for the Bird Atlas, I’ve discovered some local paths and I get a good walk. Of course, there are many birds I can’t identify by their song which is frustrating, but it’s pleasing to make a small contribution to knowledge about breeding populations – and the best way of learning birdsong is in the field.