This year I took on an additional site for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), near Stokenchurch in the Bucks Chilterns (SU7496). I had said I was willing to adopt one near to home, and this is only four miles away.
I have written many times of my survey at Prestwood (SU8799), near Great Missenden (most recently here). The process is the same for each one-kilometre square, you identify two parallel routes across and divide each into five equal lengths. You walk the two transects twice each year, between early April and mid May, and mid May to late June, starting between 6 and 7am and recording all birds seen or heard, as well as the habitats. It’s sounds daunting but you get used to it.
Because I was inheriting a square which had been done before I also inherited the route walked by my predecessor. This includes a field edge where there is no public path (sections 3 and 4, shown on plan below). I worked out who was likely to be the farmer and checked with him; he was happy for me to walk the route provided he had not put the cows out there. The alternative was along the A40 and Christmas Common lane, so the field-edge option was preferable.
I set off early on 20 April during that unseasonably hot period. I left my car by the new care-home at Mill Road, Stokenchurch, crossed the M40 sliproads at junction 5—something I would not want to do other than very early in the morning—and the footbridge, and then followed the A40 north-west to the start of my square.
I walked along the A40 to the start of my transect, with the noise of the motorway on my left, despite the early hour. Next time I shall do this on a Sunday rather than a Friday, when it should be quieter.
The first part of the walk along the A40 is not particularly pleasant. Even so there were two singing song thrushes, chaffinches, a goldfinch, two yellowhammers, a robin and a blackbird.
After about a quarter of a mile I took a track south-west which leads to the Stokenchurch BT tower, and then turned off to follow a long field-edge, past the tower. There was not much bird life on this arable land: chaffinch, great tit, blackbird, robin and song thrush, mainly in the hedge.
I came out at Christmas Common lane, turned left and walked past the turn to the Aston Rowant national nature reserve.
That was the end of the first transect. To reach the next stretch I continued across the motorway again, and turned left, down into Hailey Wood. The beech leaves were just coming out.
I walked through young woodlands which gave way to more mature ones. I heard a blackcap. In fact, not surprisingly given the wooded habitat, the species count was greater here than on the first transect.
My route went down into the wooded valley
and then up, leaving the woodland for a pleasant meadow. There were chiffchaff, robin, blackbird, wren, great tit, blackcap, chaffinches and magpie on this stretch.
I climbed on up the hill; the final leg, 10, was across a field back to the Stokenchurch industrial estate where I parked my car.
While the bird count wasn’t terrific, it was a lovely, varied walk and, despite being so close to home, not one that I knew.
And in case you wondered, this is not just a one-year stint: a BBS tetrad is for life (or as long as you want to do it), not just a year.