Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Cracking Cake at the BBS Course

I'll never turn down a free course, especially when its something I'm passionate about. I took on my first Breeding Bird Survey square this year, and on Saturday I got myself on the 7 30 ferry and hot footed it down to Dumfries for run through of the tips and techniques for a successful survey. For those of you unfamiliar with BBS, it is a joint survey managed by BTO, RSPB, and the JNCC, which aims to
"make standardised counts on randomly-located sites during the breeding season, enabling us to monitor changes in numbers of over 100 widespread bird species"
So now you know!

After a little wobble finding the venue in beautiful Islesteps I was happy to walk into the hall and find it awash with comfortable khaki and practical shoes... This was definitely the place!

The course itself was being taught by Rob Bray, Anne Cotton and Edmund Fellowes (thanks for giving up your time guys). After brief introductions and the chance to grab a coffee we kicked off with an introduction to habitat surveys. A great little lecture making a possibly daunting part of the BBS seem suddenly very simple.Then it was on with the wellies to have a go for ourselves!

The first chance to play outside came with an example of habitat classification from Edward.

Now none of us can claim we don't know what unimproved grassland looks like.
Following lunch and some wonderfully tasty home made chocolate cake courtesy of Mrs Fellowes (yes I hit the gym on the way home), it was time to get to the business of birds. Thankfully the methodology for the survey is pretty straight forward. Two kilometre long transects broken down into five 200m segments. Recording birds seen and heard by proximity to account for their conspicuousness (an algorithm is used to help estimate the numbers of more cryptic species that may be overlooked if any great distance away).

Next, to get a feel for the survey, we broke up into teams and headed out to do our own transects. Luckily my ears hadn't gotten too rusty over winter and I could still pick out most species, and we ended up seeing some really nice birds.

The dream team carry out their practice transect - dodging cars and low flying buzzards
Umpteen jackdaws, rooks, chaffs, blue tits, siskins, a peregrine, four or five buzzards, a tree creeper, three G-S woodpeckers and a couple of starlings later, and we were back in the hall to find out how to record our sitings.

A final session on data entry and we were all set (note delicious cake on tables)
Personally, I found this course a great intro to the BBS process and can't wait to get out to my square. The enthusiasm shown by everyone on the day was fantastic. If there's a course near you, go along, find out if BBS is for you. You can get a list of free squares near you from your BTO Regional Rep.

Happy Birding!

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