It may have been the coldest day of the year so far, with biting November winds and dark skies threatening an icy downpour, but that didn’t stop the hoard of brightly-coloured waterproof-clad, woolly hat donning bird enthusiasts who assembled at Mossbank fisheries on the morning of November 25th. The eager group waited, clipboards poised and binoculars out, ready for the Carbon Landscape Partnerships winter farmland bird training day, run by project partners GMEU and assisted by local bird expert Dave Steel.
The aim of the day was to learn the techniques of winter farmland bird surveying, one of the key surveys that the carbon landscape partnership is carrying out as part of its heritage lottery funded project. Other surveys happening in the coming months include wetland birds, dragonflies, water voles and many more. Today, though, all eyes and ears were focussed on the sunny yet chilly farmland around the Salford Mosslands, in search of what we may find in the tangled hedgerows as we made our way across the public footpaths that bordered the fields.
Dave led the way and in no time pointed out a yellow hammer male, sitting on top of a hawthorn hedge. As we followed his gaze we saw numerous others, flitting in the branches ahead of us, just as the bright winter sun emerged and lit their golden feathers. Excited chatter commenced, and the lively group walked further on.
‘Look ahead, through the gate’
We followed Dave’s direction and aimed our binoculars.
These birds resemble chaffinches and often hang out with them in the winter months too so it can be tricky to tell them apart from a distance. Looking at them through binoculars though, it was clear to see the russet and burnt orange tones that set these striking little birds apart.
Charms of goldfinches arced across from hedge to hedge, sometimes dropping down into a fold of frozen turf in search of food, as did a sky lark donning its trademark punky head feathers.
After the interesting and informative introduction into the method of identifying birds by sight and sound, we were then shown how to carry out a basic habitat survey, so we could relate what we were seeing with the habitat in which we saw it. This was an interesting way to see how land use affects different bird populations.
Needless to say, the group were spoilt with the vast array of species that we saw; the aforementioned bramblings, yellowhammers, skylarks, goldfinches and chaffinches, were joined wrens, robins, blackbirds, fieldfare, the hovering figure of a kestrel and some beautiful tiny goldcrests, the UK’s smallest bird, catching the light from the top boughs of a silver birch, to name just a few!
Assisted with the beady expert eye of Dave, 30 different species were seen and recorded before the cold got the better and the group sought refuge in the café for a warm brew and bird ID quiz from Steve. A thoroughly enjoyable day was had by all, and with many of the days’ attendees signed up to survey winter farmland birds across the carbon landscape, it just shows how many different people want to help their local wildlife, want to get out and see what amazing birds are on their doorstep and help to monitor that bird populations across the area stay at a nice and healthy level.