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.
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.