Final winter for Bird Atlas


Over 15,000 birdwatchers have contributed to the Bird Atlas during the first three years of fieldwork. As we embark on the fourth and final year, we need your help to fill in the remaining gaps across Britain and Ireland. If you haven't contributed to the Atlas so far, please make a special effort over the next nine months to ensure we have all your important records. As well as gathering information from timed counts in tetrads — to help us understand more about patterns of abundance of species across Britain and Ireland — we need comprehensive species lists for every 10-km square, for both winter and the breeding season. Findings from the Bird Atlas will play a vital role in shaping conservation action and research over the next decade or more.

If you think Atlas-ing is dull, boring and rigorous, then think again. It is really nothing more than going birding and listing what you see — and we all enjoy that! You can submit records from your local patch or from new sites visited whilst twitching. In my experience, the 'Timed Tetrad Visits' throw up the biggest surprises. Your chosen tetrad is usually an area off the beaten birding track and a one-hour walk around the key habitats in the 2×2-km square can produce some local surprises. The tetrads I've covered in the Brecks and Norfolk Fens have produced surprises such as two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers on the forest edge, a stunning Great Grey Shrike in a clearing, Tree Sparrows in a fenland village as well as many memorable encounters with common and widespread species. [My own TTVs in Lincolnshire produced Jack Snipe, Quail and two White Storks — Ed.]

Distribution of Great Grey Shrikes during three winters of Atlas fieldwork 2007/08–2009/10. Can you add a dot to the map? (Map: BTO)

To reach some of the remote 10-km squares requires good map-reading skills, high levels of fitness, commitment and a passion for adventure. Fortunately, here in Britain and Ireland we are blessed with such dedicated volunteers. Often the birds encountered in winter are few and far between: a skulking Wren and perhaps a few Red Grouse if you're lucky! The rewards are the time spent in a stunning landscape, a sense of achievement and a few pounds shed in aid of conservation. The same area in the breeding season might be alive with Meadow Pipits, Willow Warblers and birds of prey.

Gaick, Cairngorm Mountains, February 2008. (Photo: Alistair McNee)

Where can I help?

Help is still needed in all areas. A quick look at the Species Richness map below immediately highlights the high priority areas to target — look at the white, yellow and orange squares and head for those. The red squares are not done and dusted and there is plenty of scope for adding new species to the square list. The great new 'Priority Squares' feature on the website (login to Data Home) will help you work out what might be missing. The Regional Results pages show you in greater details the 10-km squares to focus on for casual birding.

Map showing the proportion of expected species richness achieved (based on species lists from the 1981–84 Winter Atlas). The map is designed to help target effort to those squares that have been poorly covered. The white, yellow and orange squares need more help. (Map: BTO)

A quick look at the 'Tetrads surveyed for TTVs' within the Regional Results will show you which squares still need help in achieving the minimum of eight tetrads completed. If you can commit to visiting a tetrad for two visits this winter (for a minimum of one hour per visit) and for two visits in the summer, please contact your Regional Organiser or email birdatlas@bto.org. Key areas still requiring help are northeast Yorkshire, east Lincolnshire, The Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Shetland, Orkney, mid- and west Wales and the whole of Ireland.

Timed Tetrad Visits completed in winter in northeast Yorkshire. More help is needed to reach the minimum of eight tetrads covered (or all in coastal squares where there are fewer than eight tetrads). (Map: BTO)

When can I start?

Fieldwork for the final winter starts on Monday 1st November and runs through to the end of February. You can start right now by checking your notebook or electronic database for records that will fill gaps in 10-km square species lists. You can now upload up to 5,000 Roving Records in an Excel spreadsheet in one g. If you can include a tetrad letter, you will help the 41 local atlases also underway. There is plenty of information on grid references and tetrad letters on the Atlas website.

Find out more

Visit www.birdatlas.net, go to 'Latest Results' then 'Regional Results' to find out more about coverage in your area. To request a tetrad for a timed count, log in to Data Home (or register first by clicking the red button on the home page) and click 'Request TTV'. Use the 'Priority Squares' button in Data Home to help you focus your effort on 10-km squares that need most help.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed records so far. If you are new to Atlas-ing, spare just 10 minutes to look at the website and see where you can help out. Be inspired and take part!

Written by: Dawn Balmer, Atlas Coordinator