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Food Search Patterns; Old Ringing Returns, The Benefits of Stubble & County Annual Report Winners

In search of food

West Fife Bird Ringers pioneer methods to discover just how far farmland birds are prepared to go in search of food. For seed-eating birds, it is believed that a reduced availability of food, (in the form of weed seeds and spilt grain) in the winter time has significantly affected their survival rates and led to population declines. With reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) promised, more farmers should be able to take advantage of incentives to create seed-rich areas to help to halt and reverse these declines ? but just how many seed-rich areas are needed and how far will birds travel to find them?In a pilot study to answer this question, bird ringers from the Tay Ringing Group and staff from BTO Scotland`s Stirling office worked together to catch and recatch birds last winter. A few ringed birds were also fitted with tiny radio-tags so that their movements could be monitored more closely. This work was funded by The Dulverton Trust and the AEB Trust, with support from Biotrack Ltd., who supplied the tiny radio transmitters attached to the birds.The key findings of this survey are:
Of the three species studied in detail, Tree Sparrows were the most mobile, quite often using sites 3km apart in the same four week period. Chaffinches showed least movement and Yellowhammer (Red list) were intermediate in their behaviour.
Tree Sparrows were dependent upon finding food on particular stubble fields and did not use other habitats.
Yellowhammers feed on stubbles too, but they also can be found in pasture and scrub.
Chaffinches can find food in a broad range of habitats, including woodland, farmyards and gardens, which probably explains the fact that they moved less far within the study.
[Nationally, populations of Tree Sparrow have declined by 95% since 1970 with Yellowhammers declining by 53% in the same period]John Calladine, who undertook a lot of the detailed observations said This pilot project has tremendous implications for the conservation of farmland birds. It gives us clues as to how best to distribute seed-rich areas for birds within farmland. I hope that we can expand upon these studies in other areas and to see what effect hard weather might have.Derek Robertson, the local wildlife artist, who is a BTO volunteer and Chairman of the Tay Ringing Group has been ringing birds in this area for many years. He said, People associate bird ringing with migration but short-distance movements are interesting too. We knew that our local farmland birds were using a variety of different sites in the winter time. Now, having developed a suitable protocol for ringing and thanks to the supporting data from radio-tracking, we can interpret our findings and start to understand their implications for conservation. These are common birds that are familiar to many people who live and work in the countryside. When I`m out ringing and surveying, I get a lot of positive responses about how important they are to people that value them as part of the landscape and their familiar environment. They are often astonished and deeply concerned that they are disappearing from some parts of the country.Have a root around in your drawers for the BTO

Ever wondered what that funny metal ring was in your drawers, or what it might have come from? Well the BTO might be able to help!A Kent man recently purchased a second-hand pick-up truck from a local farmer, only to find a mystery ring on the key ring. He then contacted the BTO, who have just revealed that it came from a Starling that was originally ringed in Lithuania in 1991! Intrigued by this, he then visited the farmer, who presented him with a small collection of rings. In co-operation with other European Ringing Schemes, the BTO has now traced these rings to two Lithuanian Starlings, two Belgian Starlings, a Dutch Common Gull (actually ringed in 1969!), a Polish Black-headed Gull and a Blackbird from Guernsey! The only birds to have actually come from Britain were three local Black-headed Gulls and a Grey Heron!These rings had been collected over many years, but we now have all of the details for their finding. So, if you`ve ever found a ring and just stashed it away somewhere, or never really check what the cat brings in, then you never know what you might be missing. Was that Robin from Sweden after all? There`s only one way to find out, and that`s to root around in your drawers! If you find a metal ring with a museum inscription on it, then inform us here at the BTO by either: Using our on-line reporting form at http://www.bto.org/ringing/index.htmCalling the BTO on 01842-750050. Sending the ring to the address on it with details of where, when and how you found it. We will then be able to trace your ring and tell you where it came from.Ringing is funded by a partnership of the British Trust for Ornithology and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (on behalf of English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales, and also on behalf of the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland). Around 750,000 birds are ringed each year by over 2,000 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. On average, less than one out of every fifty birds ringed is subsequently reported to the BTO, so every report of a ringed bird is of value. The skills necessary to become a ringer can only be learnt by practice under the close supervision of experienced ringers. For this reason, ringers undertake a period of training of at least one or two years, during which they are only allowed to ring birds under supervision.Local winners

The results of the Best Annual Bird Report competition have just been announced in BTO News. The winning reports do not just list the birds seen in the year; they provide up-to-date local information on how once-common, declining species are fairing as well. This year`s winner was the Devon Bird Report with full marks (53 out of 53) [The competition is judged by a panel of BTO staff. There were 55 entries considered for the award].The Winners: Devon was first with a score of 53, Suffolk was second with a score of 48 and 6 other counties tied for third with 47 points: Avon, Cheshire & Wirral, Derbyshire, Norfolk, Northumbria, SussexWriting in BTO News, Jeff Baker praised the work of volunteers who gather thousands of bird recorders from county birdwatchers and turn them into local bird reports.
The general standard of annual bird reports in Britain has improved significantly since this competition began. Content, such as local census results and specialist articles, together with improved reporting methods in the systematic bird lists, has obvious benefits for the interested reader and conservationists. Such is the quality of annual bird reports these days, that mention of the enormous effort and dedication of those involved in their production must be acknowledged.Across the country, editors are completing the local report for 2002. Entries for the next competition need to be received by 31 December 2003. Reports should be sent to The Librarian, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.Not just any old stubbles

Winter sowing of cereals and a consequent lack of stubble fields has been highlighted as a major reason for farmland bird declines. New BTO research, involving one thousand volunteers, shows that most stubble fields support no birds at all.One thousand BTO volunteers have, between them, spent over half a million hours counting farmland birds, to ascertain which habitats are most important for Britain`s birds. Their accumulated observations, published in the July issue of BTO News, show just how hard it is now for birds like Skylark, Yellowhammer and Linnet to find food in winter.Simon Gillings, who organised the Winter Farmland Bird Survey said, This was a really depressing survey for many of our volunteers, with so few birds to see. Some were fortunate to find game cover crops or other habitat especially provided by farmers, to support birds like Tree Sparrows, but in most areas newly-sown crops, sterile stubble fields and improved grassland provided little in the way of food for birds.The results of the Winter Farmland Bird survey, funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, are important because they provide the first available figures of the amount of stubble field which is available for birds to feed in during the winter. The Winter Farmland Bird survey was organised by BTO scientists, Simon Gillings and Andy Wilson, and funded by a partnership of the British Trust for Ornithology and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (on behalf of English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales, and also on behalf of the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland). The key facts which will help to plan how to alleviate problems for seed-eating finches and buntings are:Stubble is only useful if there are weed seeds and spilt grain upon which to feed
Cereal stubble fields are good because they provide a resource which is available throughout the winter
Harvested oil-seed rape fields are sought out by birds in the late autumn and harvested sugar-beet fields are also good for short periods
Barley stubble fields are better than wheat stubble fields
By managing their harvesting and weed-spraying regimes, so that there is seed available for birds to eat in the winter time, some farmers are creating vital feeding stations for Skylarks, finches and buntings.Graham Appleton, who took part in the survey with his wife said, We were two of the luckier volunteers. The farm we were asked to survey included game-cover strips, provided for pheasants and partridges. These small patches attracted good numbers of Yellowhammers and Chaffinches and there were even a few red-listed Tree Sparrows. For other birdwatchers, walking around the edges of bird-less fields in muddy boots for four hours was really hard work ? and dispiriting too.Many of the birds mentioned are on the red-list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Red-listed species include Linnet (down by 52% since 1970), Reed Bunting (53%), Skylark (52%), Tree Sparrow (95%) and Yellowhammer (53%). There is a huge amount of information about the Winter Farmland Bird survey on the BTO website at www.bto.org/survey/special/wfbs/introduction.htm For further information please contact:
Graham Appleton on 01842 750050 or e-mail: graham.appleton@bto.org during office hours [Stubble; Reports; Ringing; Food Search]
Jeff Baker on 01842 750050 or e-mail: jeff.baker@bto.org during office hours [Reports]
John Calladine (BTO Scotland) on 01786 466560 or e-mail: john.calladine@bto.org during office hours [Food Search]
Simon Gillings on 01842 750050 or e-mail: simon.gillings@bto.org during office hours [Stubble]
Mark Grantham on 01842 750050 or e-mail: mark.grantham@bto.org during office hours [Ringing]
Andy Wilson (BTO Scotland) on 01786 466560 or e-mail: andy.wilson@bto.org during office hours [Stubble; Food Search]

4th July 2014