Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Final Countdown

Well it all kicks off in 36 hours and what am I doing? Heading up north to see family on New Year's Eve! Fortunately not all BTO staff are deserting Thetford for the New Year so there will still be a crack team out on 1 January, hoping to catch up with some of the recent avian highlights. The pick of the bunch was certainly a fine female Hawfinch that joined in with a mixed flock of tits, finches and thrushes mobbing a Little Owl on Wednesday; if only that can be repeated in a couple of days' time.

Despite all the Nunnery Lakes still being frozen as I type, the Mallards that have been making use of the ice-free Little Ouse river were joined by a female Mandarin on 29 December, another species we hope puts in a reappearance sooner rather than later. The best bird of this morning's ringing session was a Little Egret (nowhere near the nets!) - with four records under my belt this year, this is one species that ought to be guaranteed in 2011. Then again, we won't be counting our chickens, egrets or anything else until they are safely OTL (On The List); to quote Clint Eastwood: "If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster!"

Happy New Year and let the games begin...

Friday, 17 December 2010

Contenders ready

The temperature might be sub-zero but hardy BTO staff are already warming up for the BTO vs RSPB BirdTrack Challenge. Whilst it could be some time before moth traps and butterfly nets see active service, fieldguides are already being dusted down and lists tidied up. No one is quite sure what to expect but it'll certainly be bins, camera, action on 1 January; we just hope today's Pink-footed Goose hangs around until then!

From left: Ieuan Evans, John Marchant, Graham Appleton, Iain Downie, Karen Wright, Tim Harrison, Mike Toms, Nick Moran, Peter Lack, Andy Musgrove, Dawn Balmer, Ian Henderson, Neil Calbrade, Kate Risely, Rob Robinson

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

It started with a Ring Ouzel

Back in September 2010, a Ring Ouzel turned up at the BTO's Nunnery Lakes reserve in Thetford and following one at RSPB The Lodge the previous spring, Nick remarked to Darren something about ''gripping back'' (in other words, the BTO catching up with the RSPB's earlier sighting). Darren responded by half-jokingly suggesting that RSPB staff challenge their BTO counterparts to a year listing competition on the reserves surrounding their respective headquarters. Staff at both organisations - being a competitive and birdy bunch - were enthusiastic, so the idea quickly gained momentum. Remarkably, both The Nunnery and The Lodge bird lists stand at about 180 species so it promises to be a close battle!

The challenge is very simple - which organisation’s staff can record the highest number of birds at their respective headquarters during 2011?

The bird listing rules:

  • The bird must be seen or heard and identified by a BTO employee or consultant at The Nunnery or an RSPB employee or consultant at The Lodge
  • The bird must be seen or heard within, or from the boundaries of the reserve
  • The bird must be included on Category A or Category C of the British List
  • All species must be entered into the BirdTrack database
  • Any description species must be accepted by the relevant Rarities Committee
  • Heard only records will count towards the total

There is also a secondary, if somewhat grander, challenge to keep us occupied during the quiet birding months: An all-taxa competition.

The other taxa listing rules:

  • Any living organism which can be identified to species level will count, with the exception of difficult plants or animals that are usually recorded as aggregates (such as Brambles or November moths) which need only to be identified as the aggregate. However, if more than one species of the aggregate is found, they will both count.
  • The species can be non-native, but must not have been deliberately planted, stocked or recently released. So (Common) Pheasant will count, Koi Carp will not
  • Any species considered rare or where identification is fraught with difficulty must be accepted by the relevant county taxon recorder or recognised expert, whose decision will be final
What’s the point?

Well first and foremost, and let’s be honest here, it’s a bit of fun for the more competitive types; it will certainly provide extra motivation for staff to explore the reserves surrounding their respective HQs! There are several added benefits beyond simply listing though. We’re sure to learn plenty along the way, particularly when it comes to identifying and recording less well-known taxa. And talking of recording, we’ll be extolling the virtues of looking that bit harder at the local environment and really trying to take stock of what’s there on our doorsteps. Better still, the fact that the HQs are on the reserves means that it will be a non-motorised challenge, encouraging us to reduce our carbon footprint by staying local for our listing kicks. And we’ll be raising the profile of BirdTrack, both amongst our colleagues and the wider readership of this blog, like you!

Staff from both organisations will regularly posting updates here. Roll on New Years Day!

Darren Oakley-Martin (RSPB) & Nick Moran (BTO)