Sunday, 6 February 2011

BTO Atlas, some birds and a Pine Marten

I thought I’d start by deconstructing the picture taken at Easter last year. I’m kitted out for a bird survey, counting birds in a 2x2 km square for the British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Atlas 2007-11. The location is close to the A5, on rough grazing land between Penmachno and Ysbyty Ifan, and about 5 miles SE of Betws y Coed. For local bird recording, we are in Vice-county 49 (Caernarfonshire), but for LBAP purposes we are in Conwy County Borough Council. The wildlife must find this very confusing! I’m pointing out a Red Kite which has just flown past; they are just moving into this area as the range expands (over 1,000 pairs in Wales now).
The pasture has probably been improved at some stage, and this has not helped small birds, although there are still meadow pipits, wheatears and linnets. Forty years ago, when the first Breeding Atlas was on, this area was full of curlews and lapwings; now there a few of each left. The RSPB is helping to look the residual population in this area (Hiraethog). Both land-use and predation are important factors in these population changes – if you want to see what this area was like 40 years ago, visit the North Pennines (Upper Teesdale, for example). Will we ever get these breeding waders back in Wales?
For the BTO Atlas, we have been mapping birds in the winter as well as the breeding season. Some winter visits produce no birds at all. Natur Cymru subscriber John Lloyd lives and farms in the original heartland of the Red Kites, where a few pairs managed to survive. John emailed me the other day to tell me about some recent fieldwork for the Winter Atlas. He says:
I even managed a zero count in an hour at Abergwesyn at the beginning of the month. I was just congratulating myself on having become a "proper atlaser" and walking out through the conifers of a neighbouring tetrad (2x2km square) when I came across a pair of Crossbills defending a probable nest against what I am sure was a Pine Marten. I never saw the front half of the beast, just its rear but that woke me up from my reverie. The Vincent Trust have accepted it as a sighting.
The moral is: you never know what you are going to see, just get out from behind your computer!

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