Bird Atlas count

Birdwatching (BTO / Chris Wernham)

Potentially the biggest ever bird survey to take place in the UK was launched on Thursday 1 November 2007.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Scottish Ornithologists' Club and BirdWatch Ireland are intent on mobilising an army of up to 50,000 birdwatchers to undertake what they describe as a "stock-take" of the UK's birds.

It is the first time such an operation has taken place in nearly 20 years, and the aim is to understand how recent changes to our climate and habitats are affecting Britain's birds.

The Bird Atlas is a four-year project to check the numbers and distributions of the birds of Britain and Ireland. Over 250 species will be surveyed, including the 40 red-listed and 121 amber-listed Species of Conservation Concern.

Nuthatch (BTO / courtesy of Tommy Holden)

The results will set the agenda for bird conservation in the next two decades, helping to answer questions such as whether Barn Owl conservation is working, whether Black-headed Gulls no longer breeding in some regions of Scotland.

Other questions are whether long distance migrants like Cuckoo and Spotted Flycatcher are disappearing from parts of Scotland, whether birds like the Nuthatch are spreading further north into Scotland as a result of climate warming, and where are the remaining breeding concentrations of Redwing and Crested Tit.

Seek, count and record

For the next four years birdwatchers will be taking to the hills, tramping around fields, strolling through woodland or reporting on the birds that visit their gardens. They are being asked to record, count and seek as many species as they can, in order to determine how much has changed since the previous Winter Atlas in 1981-84.

Barn Owl (BTO / courtesy of Jill Pa)

In the summer of 2008 birdwatchers were asked to search for breeding species, comparing their observations to the most recent Breeding Atlas in 1988-91.

The SOC and BTO Scotland say they are keen to involve as many birdwatchers as possible, however knowledgeable they feel they are.

There are three levels of participation:

1. Taking a walk or going birdwatching any time, anywhere? Your records can help to fill in the squares on the Atlas maps. Seen a hovering Kestrel, the blue flash of a Kingfisher or a Barn Owl at dusk?

Know your birds? The BTO are looking for keen birdwatchers who will visit 2km by 2km tetrads to identify and count all of the birds they see.

3. A third of the UK's birds are found in gardens, and by becoming a member of the BTO/CJ Garden BirdWatch, participants will be able to register their gardensightings on the national map.

Cuckoo (BTO / Courtesy of Tommy Holden)

Bob Swann, the Scottish Atlas Organiser described it as a "massive undertaking". He said: “The aim is to cover all of the 1011 ten-kilometre squares in Scotland. Getting full coverage of Scotland, particularly in winter, with short days and unpredictable weather is not going to be easy."

"The effort is, however, going to be very worthwhile. Not only is atlasing fun, getting you out into new areas, finding new sites and new birds, it is also a good way of putting something back into your birding. The results from this atlas will be used to help conserve Scotland's important bird populations for at least the next two decades," he added.

'Roving records'

Chris Waltho, President of Scottish Ornithologists' Club said:
"To achieve this important stock-take of our birds will need the biggest mobilisation of birdwatchers ever in Scotland. Everybody with an interest in birds will be able to participate. Over the next four years, a large number of SOC members will be out and about all over Scotland with their binoculars and notebooks. Together with BTO, we will be encouraging and supporting anybody who wants to help.  Every bird and every birdwatcher counts."

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors, at the start of the count in 2007, Jacqui Kaye of the Scottish Bird Atlas team said: "It's easy to take part. The qualifications are basically seeing a bird in the next four years, knowing what the bird is, and knowing where you are. If you know it's a robin, then record it!"

Birdwatching (BTO / Jacky Prior)

She added that it was equally important to record sightings of common species as it is to record the rarer ones, as some species which have been relatively common - such as the starling or the house sparrow -are thought to have gone into long-term decline.

It is also valid to record birdsong if you can clearly recognise the song made by a particular bird. She spoke of "roving records", saying: "You can record a sighting wherever you are, even if you see a kestrel hovering beside the road as you drive along it."

You can record your observations online at the Bird Atlas website.

Page first published on Friday 2nd November 2007
Page last updated on Thursday 16th October 2008

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