This year I have taken on a third tetrad for the British Trust for Ornithology’s breeding bird survey (BBS). This one is combined with the Chiltern Conservation Board’s Tracking the Impact project. My square is at Piddington, just west of West Wycombe in Bucks and, conveniently, takes in part of my path-checking parish for the Ramblers, enabling me to check some paths at the same time.
The bird survey involves an early-morning walk along two, parallel, one-kilometre routes across the one-kilometre square, each divided into five sections. I record all the birds I see and hear, distinguishing calls from songs, and the distance from the line I am walking (ie less than 25m, 25-100m and beyond 100m).
The Piddington square had been surveyed before and so I was given set routes.
First, I walked these to record the habitats (such as farmland, human sites, woodland, and then subsets of these) and to check where each section begins and ends.
It starts on the A40 opposite a small industrial estate, and heads eastwards along the sidewalk. I identified landmarks for each of the sections: starting with a parking sign, then a gate, a tree, a road junction and a tractor sign, and ending at a tree opposite Myze Farm.
I have never had reason to walk along the A40 before, and so had never seen the Polish shrine, almost opposite Myze Farm.
There are also numbered studs in the sidewalk at regular intervals, I have no idea why.
I then had to walk a further half kilometre along the A40 to the western end of West Wycombe.
Then I took a really lovely path westwards up the hill. This path is always kept clear through crops; it is a straight route up and along the brow of the hill to Green End Farm in Radnage parish.
The second part of the bird-survey route starts near the top of the hill.
This is just east of Great Cockshoots Wood the boundary of which is also the eastern boundary of Piddington and Wheeler End parish, my path parish. East of the wood the path passes through meadow land, white with oxeye daisies (sections 6 and 7), my favourite part of the whole walk.
Then it enters the wood as footpath 25.
The path crosses the whole of the wood.
It is difficult to find identifying features to divide the sections: I went for a track across my path and a prominent tree.
After about half a kilometre in the wood the path comes out on bridleway 17, heads north for a short stretch and then turns west, along the edge of a large field of arable with great views south.
It ends at a stile by a hawthorn tree.
For the survey itself, I set off at 5.50 on Sunday 14 June. The sun was breaking through the mist and there were cobwebs and a heavy dew. It felt a bit autumnal.
This was the only time of day when one can walk alongside the A40 and not encounter traffic, although the vehicles which passed me were going at an appalling speed. Pleasingly, there was a screaming swift at the start at Piddington. The A40 stretch was dominated by chaffinches, blackbirds, song thrushes, wrens and robins, with the odd blackcap, chiffchaff, dunnock and goldfinch.
The walk up the field was very lovely in the misty morning light.
At the top, where I started my second stretch, there were dunnocks and a whitethroat in the hedgerows and among the daisies, while skylarks sung overhead. In the wood were wrens, robins, thrushes and blackbirds. And then on the last section, in the open farmland, there was a buzzard and kite.
When I had completed the survey I did a little more parish path-checking to get back to my car. I took the path which goes down to Ham Farm, footpath 24. It has five stiles, and none is to the British Standard 5709; all are awkward and one of them was broken. I had hoped that, having reported them previously, they might have been replaced with gates. Coincidentally, I learned that another walker had been there the day before. We have both reported them to Bucks Council, and hope for some action.