Two fields with winter bird crops planted out by Steven Baudains from J&S Growers near Les Landes, are, at the end of February, still filling up with birds that are probably now coming from other conservation sites on the Island, where the fields have already been ploughed. Since January the numbers of birds in the Les Landes fields have increased from average flock counts of around 100 birds to 400-600 birds. Most of the birds are chaffinches, with many linnets and reed buntings, goldfinches, greenfinches, and even the odd brambling. There are also lots of meadow pipits and stock doves, and raptors such as sparrowhawks, marsh harriers and even a common buzzard, an uncommon sight in the north-west, keeping an eye on them.
And just to confirm our suspicion that the birds are flocking in from other areas in Jersey no longer suitable, we ‘re-trapped’ a reed bunting caught first in the reedbeds at St Ouen’s Pond, where the buntings roost up for the night. This male bunting was re-trapped earlier this winter in conservation fields with bird-crops immediately behind the Pond, where good numbers of reed buntings have been counted this winter.
The most interesting bit is that, as those fields by the pond were ploughed during the first week of February, this bird and probably others have found their way to the fields at Les Landes, which is where it was re-trapped again on the 15th of February.
So much information carried by such a tiny thing! A great example too of the valuable data that can be gathered through ringing birds like this bunting. The bunting further shows the importance of having a network of conservation fields that can support the birds in this ‘hungry gap’ when many of the fields that they have needed to survive begin to get ploughed up.
Thanks again to the many farmers involved in this project for planting out all those fields. Without this effort birds like this reed bunting and the brambling would have gone hungry this winter.
Recently we saw how our partial migrant birds are changing their habits and no longer migrating down to the Mediterranean (here). Now, research by the BTO using detailed distribution maps of 122 species of bird further measures the ways that climate change could be affecting our local bird populations. Species distribution was found to be changing, but the range shifts detected could not be explained by any single climatic factor, indicating that the distribution changes for British birds are complex, multi-directional and species specific.
The BTO drew from breeding bird atlases developed two decades apart. Atlas data are collected in a standardised manner by thousands of volunteer bird surveyors, providing a unique barometer of the impacts of environmental change on this one component of British biodiversity.
From the early 1980s to the early 2000s, temperatures in spring and summer increased, which should have pushed some bird species to the northwest if this aspect of climate is key to their success, whilst higher temperatures in winter should have pushed them to the north and northeast. In contrast, if spring rainfall is critical to species, they should have been pushed to the west. Analyses looking at how bird distributions had actually changed over this period found that birds had indeed shifted to the north, on average by 13.5 km, which continued a trend seen in previous decades. However, more than a quarter of the species had also extended their ranges to the northwest and northeast, while almost half had retreated from southerly directions. The ranges of a few species such as greylag goose and great tit had extended in all directions while others like lesser spotted woodpecker and corn bunting had retreated from all directions. Overall the range shifts could not be explained by any single climatic factor, indicating that the distribution changes for British birds are complex, multi-directional and species specific.
Another report published this month from Sweden shows that short distance migrants to this country had advanced their arrival to southern Sweden more over time than long-distance migrants. However, no such difference between long- and short-distance migrants could be seen in central Sweden suggesting that short distance migrants were either arriving in the south much earlier or even spending the winter there before moving further north. In long-distance migrants, the difference in first arrival between the historical and present-day dataset did not differ between southern and central Sweden. These results further establish that many short-distance migrants are becoming resident further north or shortening their migratory route, possibly due to climate change enabling more northerly wintering areas.According to annual first observation used in this study, this seems to be especially true for chaffinch, whooper swan, starling, and woodcock.
It is clear from this research that many of our birds are undergoing big changes in their patterns of migration and selection of wintering areas. A further change, the impact that the number of arriving species, like the egrets, new to particular areas will have on existing biodiversity is, however, not yet clear. As some of our bird species are not shifting their ranges as fast as others, or aren’t moving in the same direction, our bird communities of the future could be very different from those we know today. There is still much to learn if we are to manage the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on our wildlife, and studies such as these will help policymakers to adopt conservation and land management strategies that effectively assist species survival.
You can see the reports here:
Directionality of recent bird distribution shifts and climate change in Great Britain. Read abstract here
Change in spring arrival of migratory birds under an era of climate change, Swedish data from the last 140 years. Download paper here
Once again our team of hardy, stalwart bird counters has gone out in whatever Jersey’s weather can throw at it to record birds across the Island. To give you some idea of the effort that the team put in in 2014, 540 data sheets were submitted from the 22 transects. That equates to around 50,000 bird sightings, recording more than 70,000 individual birds during the year. That’s a lot of birds counted. Especially as we don’t include herring gulls!
Highs and lows
Highest bird numbers are typically recorded from the St Ouen’s Pond transect because we often see large flocks of some species there. During the autumn migration almost any of the transects can get very busy as there may be an almost constant stream of wood pigeons, meadow pipits, swallows, chaffinches or redwings overhead. It is sometimes difficult to concentrate on those birds at ground or bush-level when the sky is full of finches; indeed, it is possible to lose interest in chaffinches some days! By contrast, mid-summer days with no migrants and resident birds moulting can seem very relaxed. That’s when I find butterfly numbers pencilled onto the forms.
And the worst, the lowest count received? Awful weather, especially high winds, horizontal rain, thick sea-fog (think of a Jersey summer) can really dampen bird activity and counter enthusiasm. However, for sheer rubbish, Miranda’s count of 28 birds across the two Les Landes transects in late-August takes some beating! This count, surprisingly included a common redstart, three stonechats and five wheatears, which didn’t say much for the resident birds up there. Miranda did have to put up with an F5 wind and heavy rain though and other counters have reported F9 winds and thick fog from visits where the expletives written into the margins of the forms give a more realistic interpretation than the requested weather info.
Firecrest records from two eastern woodland sites in 2014
So, why do so many people get out there and count birds all year? What is the reward? Well, it has been suggested that we bury chocolate bars and soft drinks along the transects as a bribe. However, in fact, taking part in such a big project is reward in itself. In December we received the 3,000th completed recording form: one of Tim’s from Les Blanche Banques. In April 2015 we will have been collecting data from five sites for 10 years and we will celebrate by showing exactly what has been happening to many of birds (spoiler alert: it may not all be good news). Can you imagine the power of these results? This is citizen science at its most productive so we are indebted to Miranda and to Jess, Cris, Harriet, Harri, Sally, Neil and Ali, Tim, Tony, Jon, Jonny, Neil and Glyn and all the National Trust Rangers for the incredible effort they put in throughout the year.
A true birder’s reward and the one that got away
However, if you were to ask any of the counters if there was any other reward for getting out there to do the counts they would, no doubt, under bribery of those chocolate bars and soft-drinks, tell you that there was actually one, very un-scientific, reward. There is always that chance of seeing a bird that you weren’t expecting. Or that no one expected. 2014 was no exception and 10 new species increased the list to 170 recorded on the transects. Some of these were at St Ouen’s Pond where, although we don’t count the birds of the open water (so no grebes), habitat not found elsewhere on the survey does throw up a few new species like the first jack snipe and grey plover records in 2014.
Real megas (a term us birders use I’m afraid), however, during the year did include a remarkable flock of 16 black-winged stilt that dropped in on the St Ouen’s Pond transect, a great white egret at Gorselands (Glyn hasn’t even seen a great white in Jersey yet), a juvenile red-backed shrike that was seen on two visits to St Ouen’s Pond, a woodchat shrike at Noirmont, cattle egrets at Les Landes and even a rook! Mind you, we missed the great-spotted cuckoo that literally stood on the transect the day after a count.
When projects meet
We have been very fortunate that the cirl buntings had a very good year and at least one pair stayed on one of our transects all year. That makes keeping an eye on them easy. And the red-billed choughs? Well, we knew that they would eventually be recorded on at least one transect and were looking forward to records first from the Sorel transects and then from any of the others. Bets were placed! Well, at the end of the year we had recorded them at Les Creux, Crabbé and Grantez. They did visit the sites at St Ouen’s Pond, Gorselands and Les Landes too, but, disappointingly, not on count days.
This year the theme is Habitat Conservation for Amphibians and Reptiles and there will be talks from local and UK experts, followed by workshops and field work sessions about local amphibian and reptile identification and survey methods and protocols.
This annual event is open to everyone whether you are interested in learning more about local biodiversity; you are an existing volunteer recorder for JNARRS (Jersey National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme) or would like to learn about becoming a recorder for the first time.
This event is free to attend, however, booking is essential as places are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis.