There is something magical about May Day morning, the rise of spring, and so I set out at 5.30 am to do my early count for the breeding bird survey at Prestwood in Bucks.
The day was clear and sunny, and my car was frosted over which meant that first I had to clean the windows. Unusually I used squirt so as not to wake the neighbours with my scraping.
The survey is for the British Trust for Ornithology, and I walk two routes across my one-kilometre grid square (SU8799).
As always, I stood in Peterley Wood ready to start, at 6.25 am, perplexed by the many bird songs coming at me from all directions, and having to adjust and concentrate. Now we are asked to record how we first identify the bird—by sight, call or song, as well as the distance away (0-25 metres, 25-100 metres, more than 100 metres or flying over). At first robins and wrens were dominant, but there was a distant green woodpecker, blackbirds, chaffinches, great tit and jackdaw. It became easier when I was out into the open, with gardens on one side (chiffchaff singing) and an open field (two goldfinches) on the other.
Once I had crossed the road by the Polecat pub, I was in open fields with a fine view towards the Hampden valley.
At the end of my first transect I saw two male bullfinches in the hedge, just inside my square so I included them. A blackcap sang in the wood off to my right. There was a magnificent field maple just coming into leaf.
As I started my second transect I was pleased to hear a yellowhammer, and then to see him on the hedge. He is often there. Because I heard him first I logged him as ‘song’, not ‘visual’. On the ploughed and planted field to my left there were three skylarks; it was good to see some farmland birds. A bit further on, in the wood, I heard a tit call, but didn’t know which species, and then, fortunately, saw a coal tit. I logged him as ‘call’ not ‘visual’. I crossed parkland and returned to the road past the churchyard.
On my way back I passed the end of a route which I am pleased is being claimed as a public path, it certainly looks well used.
Back in the beechwood I once again had the problem of trying to identify birdsong and distances. I was pleased to hear a great spotted woodpecker drumming and a nuthatch call, both easily identified.
Later when I have logged my sightings I found that I recorded 186 birds, of which I identified only 26 by sight before hearing them (excluding 33 woodpigeons and jackdaws in flight). It goes to show the importance of knowing birdsong and calls. I am still learning.