Guest blog by Amy Burns, RSPB NI Estate Manager, Lower Lough Erne
I work on the RSPB’s most westerly reserve - Lower Lough Erne Islands in Fermanagh - comprising 46 islands dotted across the second largest freshwater lake in the UK. We manage the site for the benefit of a wide range of species, including curlews, Sandwich terns and red squirrels.I love taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch at home every January, but as part of my job I undertake a monthly Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), between October and March, to record the numbers of wintering wildfowl in a specific area on the reserve. Like a scaled-back version of the Big Garden Birdwatch, the WeBS surveys see huge amounts of people taking part across the UK, gathering information on wintering bird populations. This allows organisations like the RSPB and the BTO to monitor trends in species, the status of our wetland habitats, and to inform government policies to safeguard these special areas.Choosing the day to undertake a WeBS count is almost exclusively dependant on the weather conditions. Ideally a sunny, calm and dry day creates the best conditions for counting. The light accentuates the plumage of different species and you can appreciate their intricate and beautiful patterns more easily.
There are normally two of us in the boat, one locating and identifying the species and numbers of birds present, and the other will navigate and record the information as its being provided. However, before we set of from our work base, we double-check that we have all we need on board, including enough fuel, extra clothing, gloves, warm hat, binoculars and - most importantly - a hot flask of tea and lunch. We navigate across the broad lough, an exposed and often temperamental expanse of water, to reach our recording area. Nothing quite gets the heart racing than when the forecast hasn’t been 100% accurate and I see the large white rolling waves gaining momentum towards us in the boat, knowing the journey home will be a very wet and uncomfortable one.The species we usually encounter are whooper swans. Arriving from Iceland, they usually herald the first count of the season. They are followed closely by the arrival of wigeons, teals, goldeneyes and tufted ducks from continental Europe. Depending on the month, typically early in the season, some counts can be quiet, with few birds spotted. We regularly record kingfishers, curlews, little egrets and one year we got a great white egret (pictured, below), the first county record for the species. Raptors make an appearance every now and again, including hen harriers and peregrines. And it’s not just the birds that entertain us during these counts; we’ve been treated to close encounters with foxes, red squirrels and even Irish hares foraging along the shores of the islands over the years.
At home - I live in a rural area in Fermanagh - we regularly have ravens and buzzards flying over the garden. On the odd occasion, we’d see a mixed flock of redwings and fieldfares too. We often hear the tiny goldcrest during the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, hidden in the branches of a tree. But my favourite bird to see during the Birdwatch is the treecreeper (pictured, above). Here’s hoping I spot one again this year! To register for Big Garden Birdwatch (which takes place on January 29, 30 and 31), and for your FREE Big Garden Birdwatch guide, which includes a bird identification chart, top tips, RSPB shop voucher, plus advice on how to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 70030 or visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
Photos by Amy Burns, except treecreeper (Ben Andrew - rspb-images.com) and Amy pic (courtesy of Waddell Media)
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