Around 105 people attended the Herts Bird Club Conference on Saturday 10th March 2018 at Affinity Water in Hatfield. The first presentation of the afternoon was given by Tony Blake on the Birds of Hilfield Park Reservoir. Tony gave us a great insight into his 20 years of birding the 76 hectare site which is owned by Affinity Water and managed by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Hilfield Park Reservoir is probably best known for its black-necked grebes and for hosting Britain’s second record of eastern crowned warbler but also Hertfordshire’s two spotted sandpiper records. A great site all year round but the reservoir comes into its own during the winter months as the gull roost gathers and the duck numbers build.
Following Tony’s talk was Neil Calbrade from the BTO on the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) which monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK. The principal aims of WeBS is to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution, and identify important sites for waterbirds. National waterbird monitoring in the UK began over 70 years ago with National Wildfowl Counts in 1947. WeBS is celebrating that long tradition of counting waterbirds which continues today with the thousands of WeBS counters who contribute waterbird counts to the scheme each month. Anyone interested in getting involved should visit The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)
Before the break our BTO representatives; Martin Ketcher and Murray Orchard provided a quick update on surveys. Out of the 130 Breeding Bird Survey squares in the County, 112 have been allocated and there are still 18 up for grabs. New volunteers interested in taking part are welcome to attend the training course being held at Rye Meads RSPB on Saturday 17th March. Also, look out for BTO's Project Owl aiming to gather better information about the habitat requirements of Tawny Owls and their breeding numbers. This survey will commence in autumn 2018. There is also a survey of our breeding seabirds called the Seabirds Count. In Hertfordshire this will mean counting our breeding common terns, black-headed gulls, cormorants and urban nesting LBB and herring Gulls. This survey starts spring/summer 2018 and continues in 2019. It is the 90th year of the Heronries Census and it is hoped to get all our herons counted this year. People interested in taking part in any of the above surveys should contact Martin Ketcher or Murray Orchard.
At the interval there were a number of displays to look at from Rye Meads Ringing Group, Herts Natural History Society, and the BTO, plus a bird identification quiz and a chance to vote for the best bird photo of 2017.
During the second part of the Conference Graham Knight provided a summary of the bird highlights of 2017. In total 198 species were recorded including dotterel near Therfield, kentish plover at Pitstone Quarry No.2, bee-eater at Bayford, white-winged black tern at Tyttenhanger and parrot crossbill at Broxbourne Woods.
The final presentation of the afternoon was by Guy Shorrock, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSBP . The audience listened as Guy explained about the constant battle with raptor persecution in the UK. Spring traps can legally be used under cover to kill small mammals such as rats and stoats which may be a problem to gamekeepers and farmers etc. They are a trap closed by a very powerful spring and designed to kill small mammals quickly and humanely. However, it is illegal to set these devices in the open. Traditionally a metal spring trap, known as a ‘pole trap’, was designed for catching birds of prey when perching on vantage points. This gruesome device was outlawed way back in 1904. Despite that, the practice has still continued in quiet places on some game shooting estates using a modern day spring trap. Pheasant pens, which hold large numbers of young pheasants prior to the shooting season, naturally attract predatory birds and animals. The RSPB get a few reports of pole traps in most years, the majority of which take place at pheasant release pens.
To round the Conference off there were the results of the bird identification quiz and traditional raffle, and congratulations to Paul Ward for winning the Herts Bird Photo of 2017 with his image of a Grasshopper Warbler at Heartwood Forest.
A huge thanks was also given to the organisers of the Conference, in particular Tim Hill and to Alistair Leggett of Affinity Water for hosting the Conference and for providing some excellent refreshments. The bar has been set high and we look forward to the next one.