On Saturday 11th March 2017 the annual Herts Bird Club/BTO conference was hosted by Affinity Water in Hatfield. Despite the lure of the mild spring weather and the first trickle of spring migrants starting to arrive it was well attended by over 100 people. The chair of the Herts Bird Club, Peter Delaloye addressed the conference and thanked everyone for their support over the past year.
Three presentations were heard over the course of the afternoon with the first being given by Graham White (RSPB) on “Terns and gulls - can they co-exist on rafts”. This was an interesting talk about a study that is being undertaken in the Lea Valley looking at the battle for available nest space on tern rafts. There have been tern rafts in the Lea Valley since 1972 which up until 2008 had been used predominately by common terns. In 2008 a pair of Black-headed Gulls bred and by 2015 there were over 300 pairs breeding on tern rafts in the Lea Valley. Over the same period there has been a slight decline in Common Tern numbers in the Lea valley which mirrors the national decline. The research has shown that Black-headed Gulls tend to breed earlier than Common Terns and therefore when the terns return in the spring breeding space on the rafts is limited. Given space the terns will nest amongst the gulls as they provide a certain amount of protection from predators. The study is ongoing and several methods are being used to help the terns to find a suitable nest site. Bigger rafts are being used on some sites and putting the rafts out after the gulls have laid their eggs in May is also proving to be successful.
Sarah Harris (BTO) presented “Monitoring breeding birds - Hertfordshire and beyond” and provided the audience with an update on BTO survey techniques. The data that has been collected from surveys such as the Common Bird Survey, Breeding Bird Survey, Nest Record Scheme, Heronries Census etc has proved to be invaluable. The information collected by the army of volunteers has allowed the BTO to understand bird population increases, declines, movements and distribution. Between 1994 and 2015 there have been 42 trends identified in Hertfordshire, with 34 species increasing and 8 declining. There has been a 78% increase in whitethroat and a 51% decrease in starling. If you want to get involved with any Hertfordshire surveys then contact Martin Ketcher about BBS squares and Murray Orchard about the house martin survey.
After the break Graham Knight provided the “Review of the Year” and showcased the best birds seen during 2016. It was another good year with two county firsts; Bonaparte’s Gull and Franklin’s Gull. Other birds of note were Purple Heron, Grey Phalarope, Little Auk and a Storm Petrel picked up dead.
The final presentation was given by Ken Smith and Barry Trevis on “Tracking Green Sandpipers from Lemsford Springs”. The colour ringing of Green Sandpipers has been taking place since 1983 and is now the longest running wader colour ringing scheme of its type. Over 200+ birds have now been colour ringed with 150+ of those being from Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve, Welwyn Garden City. The scheme has allowed for individual birds to be recognised and through intensive field work it has identified where some of these birds are feeding and roosting when they are not at Lemsford. With recent advances in technology it has been possible to fit geo-locators on some birds which has provided some amazing results. For the first time it has been possible to monitor the birds progress as they leave Lemsford in April and follow their exact migration route to their breeding grounds in Norway and Sweden. In fact one bird was tracked to the exact tree where it nested.
As the conference came to a close the results of the bird identification quiz was announced with 1st prize going to Murray Orchard. Over the course of the afternoon people had been voting for the best bird photo of 2016 submitted to and published on the club’s website. The committee had selected the best 10 photographs for consideration and with 25% of the votes the winning photo was of the Firecrest taken by Richard Pople which beat the Green Sandpiper photo taken by Derek Girvan by one vote.
Birdwatchers are reminded that if they want to take part in any surveys to contact Martin Ketcher and if you see any lesser spotted woodpeckers to report them to Ken Smith to assist him with his national survey http://www.woodpecker-network.org.uk/
And finally a big thank you to Tim Hill for bringing the conference together, to Alistair Leggett of Affinity Water providing the venue and for looking after us all so well and to all of the speakers. The Herts Bird Club committee look forward to the next annual conference.
Chris Beach, Herts Bird Club Secretary