I was heralded by my first cuckoo as I got out of the car early this morning. I had arrived at Prestwood in the Bucks Chilterns, to do the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). It was a year to the day since I did the first survey last year, and I see that on that occasion too I heard my first cuckoo.
I don’t feel I get any better at this survey, although I have been doing it since 2007. I started at 6.20 in Peterley Wood, the birds yammering around me, near and far. I must record every bird I see and hear, distinguishing the distance (0-25 metres, 25-100 metres and beyond 100 metres) and the means of identification (call, song, visual or flying over). The wood echoes and it is difficult to pick out the individual birds and their distances—and at that time of the morning they are noisy and active.
I set off through Peterley Wood, from east to west across my 1-kilometre grid square (SU8799). It’s a relief to get out into the more open, quieter, section, with a field on the right
and large gardens on the left which give me a singing chiffchaff and blackcap.
Then I cross the Prestwood road and venture through the land behind the Polecat pub. This year there are goldfinches, greenfinches and a couple of mallard enjoying the sun.
This is always a peaceful spot, with its majestic oak tree.
Then I walk over a big field with views down to Hampden Road, and the song of wrens reverberating over long distances.
My first transect takes 45 minutes. I go across to the second transect, which I walk west to east. I start in the field and then enter a wood where the owner, Virginia Deradour, keeps her pigs.
I come out of the wood and look back at the bank of trees, just coming into leaf.
I cross a stretch of parkland and see four kites in flight. When I log these on the BTO website they are queried as being unusual, but I tick the button to confirm that I did see them. Four is not many in the Chilterns.
Then I pass the churchyard where, as usual, robins, wrens and blackbirds are singing away.
And blow me, on the roof of an adjacent house, there are two mallards. Are they the ones I saw behind the pub or do I count them again? I decide to count them again.
I cross the Prestwood Road again and do a small wiggle to get into Lawrence Grove Wood where, as on previous occasions, I hear a singing blackcap and a load of other birds which, as usual, it is hard to distinguish. Then I follow a footpath beside fields and re-enter Peterley Wood for the final stretch.
As I get to the end of my transect I am delighted to hear a cuckoo singing, in time for me to count him.
This time robins scored highest (19), followed by wrens (17) and blackbirds (14), though it could be that they are noisy and easily recognisable. I was pleased to have chiffchaffs, blackcaps, great spotted and green woodpeckers, and two jays. It was a productive morning, though as always I know I missed a lot.
I’ll be back for the second survey in June.