29/01/2009
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Going birding this weekend?

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If you're looking for inspiration for where to go birding this weekend, look at the Bird Atlas website (www.birdatlas.net) for ideas. We are now over halfway through the second winter of this four-year project and there are still many areas that need help from birdwatchers. All you have to do is go birding and make a list of what you see.

The Bird Atlas is going really well, and a quick look at some of the provisional species maps is already starting to highlight changes in ranges since the last Winter Atlas in 1981–84. There are the obvious range expansions that we all know such as Buzzard, Raven, Little Egret and Red Kite and perhaps a few surprises such as Barn Owl in the extreme of northeast Scotland.

The map for Water Rail shows a lot more records in Scotland compared with the last Winter Atlas, particularly in the area around Inverness and on the Outer Hebrides. Being such an elusive bird, Water Rails are likely to be under-recorded in many areas — can you help put more dots on the map?


Fig. 1 Distribution of Water Rail in winter.

To give an idea of how well we are getting on with coverage of Britain and Ireland, we can look at how many species have been recorded in each 10-km square so far compared with what was recorded in the last Winter Atlas. This is only a guide and no doubt the species composition will have changed, but it's a good way to focus birdwatching effort into those areas where it is most needed. The map below shows that across much of England we have already recorded over 90% of what we would expect to find in each 10-km square but there are still many counties, for example Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire and Cornwall, that need a lot of help. Mid-Wales, parts of Scotland (especially Argyll, Dumfries & Galloway) and the whole of Ireland need general birdwatching visits to 10-km squares.


Fig. 2 Species richness in winter.

The map above gives the overall picture but it's hard to see in detail exactly which 10-km squares need more help. A useful section of the Atlas website is the 'Regional results' found under 'Latest results' www.bto.org/birdatlas/latest_results/regionalresultsnav.htm which gives more detailed maps on a BTO region basis. For each region you can look at the species richness in winter (amongst other things) and then refer back to the map of 10-km squares to work out which are the priority 10-km squares.

So where to go birding this weekend?

The species richness maps below for Dorset (Fig. 3), Anglesey (Fig. 4), Aberdeenshire (Fig. 5) and Co. Cork (Fig. 6) give a good idea of what still needs to be done. 10-km squares coloured red have already reached at least 90% of the expected species list so it's the squares that are blank or have white, yellow or orange squares that are the top priority. You can find out what has already been recorded in any 10-km square in Britain and Ireland by using the 'Any square summary' facility (for those who are registered for the Atlas — join up (free) using the link on the homepage). Type in the grid reference for the 10-km square (e.g. TA41, the 10-km square that includes Kilnsea and Spurn Point) and you'll get the species list so far for winter. For this premier birding 10-km square the species list is 77 and is coded yellow (50–74% of the species we would expect to find compared with the last Winter Atlas). A quick look down the list shows that Woodcock, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Rock Pipit have not yet been recorded — all species that must be present in this 10-km square.


Fig. 3 Dorset Species Richness in winter.

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In Dorset there are still some coastal 10-km squares where we would expect to find more species, such as ST97 (Worth Matravers/Kimmeridge Bay area).


Fig. 4 Anglesey Species Richness in winter.

Much of coastal Anglesey requires more casual birding effort to boost the species list for the 10-km square.


Fig. 5 Aberdeenshire Species Richness in winter.

Coastal areas from Peterhead northwest round to Fraserburgh, Banff and west across to Cullen all need more help.


Fig. 6 County Cork Species Richness in winter.

There are eight 10-km squares in Co Cork that have not received any winter visits at all so far in the project — a trip to any of these 10-km squares would make a tremendous difference to the Atlas. There are 23 10-km squares that have recorded between 1% and 50% of what we would expect to find, so there are still plenty of species to record!

Submit your records

It's easy to submit your records as Roving Records on the website (www.birdatlas.net). You only need to add the new species for the 10-km square (check the 'Any Square Summary' to get a list) so it won't take long to make a real difference to many of the species lists.

Written by: Dawn Balmer, Atlas Coordinator