Volunteers surveys and citizen science – How you can help our birds?

This month Bird Watch West Cork writes about how you can get involved in two important bird surveys that are run by BirdWatch Ireland. The Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS) is introduced by Damaris Lysaght, I-WeBS West Cork co-ordinator and Nicholas Mitchell reminds us about the annual Irish Garden Bird Survey. 

Little Egret and Grey Heron Jez Simms

Estuaries and mudflats are fairly quiet in the summer but, as autumn progresses, they miraculously come alive with an amazing variety of waterbirds. From July onwards, swans, geese, ducks, and waders leave their breeding grounds in arctic regions such as Greenland and Iceland. Some will spend the winter months here where it is milder, and food is more available. These migrants join our native flocks that live here all the year round. Others stop for a few days or weeks to refuel and rest before flying further south to their winter grounds.  

I-WeBS was set up in 1994 to monitor the population trends of wintering waterbirds in Ireland and also the variety of natural and manmade watery sites that they use. Sites are counted, mostly by volunteers, once a month from September to March on a designated weekend. Counts are generally done on a rising tide and, depending on the size of the site, several counters may be required. Smaller sites can be counted by one individual. 

Volunteering to count a site is a great way to get to know your local patch. You learn which species use your site, where they feed depending on the tide and time of day, and where their high-water roosts are. Weather is a big factor as to where the birds will be. It is exciting to watch for returning migrants. Fascinating too is studying their behaviour, how the birds move and interact, their ‘gizz’, all of which can aid identification. Taking on a site is also an excellent way to improve your bird identification skills. Counting the gulls and terns is optional though desirable. There is also a section for raptors. A pair of binoculars is essential and for most sites a telescope is also necessary. It’s a wise idea to have a good Field Guide and a camera with you to help with identification. It is a thrill when a rare bird turns up on your site! Exciting too is finding a colour-ringed bird and discovering where and when it was ringed and about the sightings since it was first ringed. There is nothing boring about a muddy estuary or mudflat!

Counts are submitted to Birdwatch Ireland; numbers are analysed, and trends become evident. These trends inform conservation and planning policy. ‘What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done’.  Sadly, since the beginning of I-WeBS, most waterbird species have been shown to be in decline.  Special Protected Areas (SPAs) have been created as a result of data from I-WeBS.  The January count is the most important as the maximum number of birds are present and the data is fed into the International Waterbird Census (IWC) which receives data from 143 countries.  

If you are interested in water birds and their conservation, have a reasonable level of identification skills and are willing to make the serious commitment to count a site once a month from September to March perhaps I-WeBS is for you! More information on I-WeBS can be found at irishwetlandbirdsurvey.ie, or you can contact Damaris Lysaght at damarislysaght@gmail.com.

In the meantime, a survey that anyone can get involved with immediately is the Irish Garden Bird Survey. This is Ireland’s biggest survey and is open to everyone. Not only is It a great way to learn about garden birds, but it again provides BirdWatch Ireland with important data, this time on our garden bird populations and how the different species are faring. This is a fantastic example of citizen science in action. The survey runs from Monday, November 28 to Sunday, February 26. Loads of information about the survey can be found at birdwatchireland.ie.

If you are reading this and thinking: “But I don’t know the difference between a Blue Tit and a Great Tit; how could I take part?”. Don’t worry, everyone has to start somewhere, and the Branch can help.  If you are not sure of the identification of a particular species, then get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter and we will be there to help you. You will be surprised how quickly you get to know the different bird species that visit your garden. Also, why not share pictures of the birds in your garden, or records of unusual birds? If you want more ‘hands on’ help with general bird identification, then join us on our Christmas Walk where we will encounter most of the birds that you will also see in your garden.

One thing that you can do straightaway is attract birds to your garden by putting up a few feeders. If you are getting them out of storage, then don’t forget to clean them. Frequent cleaning throughout the winter is important to prevent the spread of disease. Now sit back, enjoy the birds in your garden and become a citizen scientist.

The Branch wishes you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. A membership subscription to BirdWatch Ireland makes a great Christmas present.

BirdWatch Ireland
West Cork Branch News
Upcoming outings being held by the Branch are:
Sunday, December 4: Harper’s Island;
Wednesday, December 28: Christmas Walk at Courtmacsherry

Visit our website www.birdwatchirelandwestcork.ie for more information about these events. To receive news and reminders about our events join our mailing list by sending an email to mailinglist@birdwatchirelandwestcork.ie. For more information about the Branch, contact Fiona O’Neill at secretary@birdwatchirelandwestcork.ie.

Facebook: @BirdWatchIrelandWestCork

Twitter: @BWIWestCork

WCP Staff

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