Britain’s birds are amongst the best monitored animals in the world, and it’s just about to get even better as a brand new bird observatory joins the nineteen others that are scattered around our coast.
Alderney Bird Observatory (ABO) received official accreditation at a recent meeting of the Bird Observatories Council (BOC), a gathering of all of the bird observatories, making it the twentieth in the country. Ranging from Fair Isle, Shetland, in the north to Alderney, Channel Islands, in the south, Britain’s bird observatories have kept an eye on the comings and goings of our birds since the first observatory Skokholm, Wales, opened in 1933 – these unbroken observations make them amongst the largest bird datasets in the world.
Many firsts for Britain have been found and documented at Bird Observatories but it is the day-to day observations of birds on the move that are the most important, birds making their way in and out of Britain on their migrations from far-flung destinations. Since the 1960s several of these have changed the timing of their migration as a response to a changing climate. The swallow now arrives back in the UK on average fifteen days earlier than it did in the 60s, and the sand martin over twenty days earlier, whilst for the cuckoo the timing hasn’t really changed. It is vital that we keep an eye out for changing patterns in the future if we are to fully understand the pressures that many of our birds might face and how we might help those that are showing declines.
John Horton, Warden at Alderney Bird Observatory, said, “It is such a privilege to be the first Warden of Alderney Bird Observatory and to know that the work we carry out here will make a real difference to our understanding of the birds that both live here, or pass through on migration. I look forward to ABO adding to the long-term observations gathered by my colleagues around Britain and Ireland. It is testament to the hard work of lots of volunteers that we have got this far and to them a huge thank you.”
John continues the story on the ABO Blog
Having got to where we are, many have asked; How has this all come about ? Well, in the autumn of 2015 The Alderney Wildlife Trust advertised a job vacancy for a Bird Recorder. The job description and requirements, however, went some way towards those required for a Bird Observatory warden. After doing a little homework and with particular consideration to Alderney’s geographical location that appeared ideally situated for attracting migrating birds, during an initial enquiry phone call with the Trust manager I suggested Alderney might consider setting up a bird observatory. The immediate response was that an island resident and native Channel Islander Paul Veron was very much in tune with this idea and would be delighted to hear this. I was asked to come back to the Trust with a proposal of how this might progress. It transpired that Paul (our observatory chairman) and I had a lot in common, both mad keen birders from our formative years, we both grew up visiting and staying at established British Bird Observatories and we are both experienced bird ringers.
Meeting Paul and his partner Catherine who accommodated Cathy and I for a long weekend first island visit in November 2015, was a major factor in Cathy and I deciding to move to Alderney from Kent in March 2016. These early discussions brought about a 2-year observatory establishing pilot project supported by the Wildlife Trust, its primary remit to try and achieve bird observatory accreditation status from the Bird Observatories Council. Local interest and support for this project from the outset was exceptional and largely through Paul’s contacts we soon had a very experienced and capable bird observatory committee driving things forward.
We won’t pretend it has been plain sailing over the last two years, but thanks to the States of Alderney and to too many people to mention here (and of course to the phenomenal numbers of birds we have recorded) Alderney is now officially positioned amongst the ornithological elite. Such is international interest in birds and in this project that the ABO blog is now read by people in over 100 countries worldwide. We are delighted that the opportunity is now open to you all to visit us and stay at our bird observatory, itself situated in a cracking spot for observing visual migration, all within the unique location of the walls of a 1,900 year old roman fort. Alderney Bird Observatory opens on 1st April 2018, bookings to stay with us can be made on this site. Thank you to all those involved in getting us so far so quickly, and in particular to all those who believed in this project taking up Alderney Bird Observatory membership, your continued support has made the difference and remains invaluable. We hope to see you all soon.