Review of the year - 2012

Birds (& Surveyors) under the weather

April 2012 was the wettest on record in the UK with eastern and southern England, east and south Wales and eastern Scotland particularly badly hit. The poor weather really tested the patience and resilience of even our hardiest surveyors who were left frustrated at aborted attempts to run their ringing sessions or survey their Breeding Bird Survey squares. As always our intrepid army of volunteers stuck firmly to the task at hand and the Breeding Bird Survey received its highest level of coverage since 2007. Wetland Bird Survey participants counted almost 5,000 sites and new volunteer John Matkin recorded his entry into the world of counting waterbirds on his excellent blog.

We are indebted to all of our volunteers for the tremendous efforts they make to survey birds (& other taxa) on our behalf, particularly during years like 2012 when the weather is less than cooperative!

Nightingale by Edmund Fellowes

Birds had to endure the weather too of course, and the same poor conditions made migration difficult for many species this year.  Regular updates on our Migration Blog told us how birds that survived their journeys arrived late to breed, particularly species like Whitethroat and Sand Martin.  The bad weather continued over the summer but, true to form, BTO volunteers braved the elements to take part in our many surveys, including Nightingale & Welsh Chats .  The heavy rain meant 2012 was a very poor year for productivity, as the preliminary results from CES and NRS show. Our recently launched Autumn appeal will raise funds to repeat some of these surveys in 2013 to take account of the unusual weather this year.


Gannet. Photograph by Jill Pakenham

The BTO’s unique position amongst British NGO’s is underpinned by its cutting edge and impartial science.  Accordingly, a number of important papers involving the BTO were published this year, including work showing how migrant declines might be linked to their wintering grounds, and a study suggesting how seabird foraging behaviour could be used to define marine protected areas. There were a series of papers on farmland birds, showing how different features of the arable landscape affect bird abundance, the influence of un-cropped land on farmland bird numbers, and perhaps most strikingly, that environmental stewardship schemes have stemmed farmland bird declines, a study which was selected as the Editors Choice in the prestigious Journal of Applied Ecology

BTO Membership soars

Despite the difficult economic climate, support for our work continues to grow at a very encouraging rate. BTO membership has grown by 20% since 2009 and has now reached over 16,000 members. Our own members have contributed substantially to this success, particularly through our first ever member-get-a-member campaign which added almost 500 new members to our family over the last three months of 2012 alone. This league table shows how the campaign has worked with some members referring up to 20 new members! Birdfair 2012 once again proved to be a great recruitment ground, as did the first Scottish Birdfair which will be repeated in 2013.

1,100 Nests recorded in 1 year!

2012 was quite a year for some of our youngest volunteer surveyors. The tremendous trio of Kane Brides, Gillian Dinsmore and Chris Bridge set themselves the target of recording 1,000 nest record cards during the year for BTO’s Nest Record Scheme, and to make it a bit more of a challenge they also aimed to record as many open nesting and priority species as possible. Throughout their endeavour they kept us updated with entertaining and inspiring posts on their personal blogs and via Twitter. With all of the nests recorded and data submitted, they unveiled their grand total during their guest slot at our Annual Conference, where they told us that they’d submitted a whopping 1,167 nest record cards during 2012!


Nightjar by John Bowers

After the success of the Cuckoo project in 2011, it’s been another great year for pioneering tracking studies at the BTO.  Our Lesser Black-backed Gull tracking has been particularly successful, with all birds tagged in 2011 returning to the colony in 2012, along with a handful tagged in 2010.  These gulls’ movements are telling some fascinating stories about the variation in this species’ behaviour and ecology.  Tags were also recovered from Nightjars, providing a valuable insight into the wintering behaviour of this declining species.  In addition, tracking devices were fitted to Nightingales, Swifts and Pied Flycatchers, which should yield results next year once these birds return to breed and their tags are recovered.

The Cuckoo project got off to a good start in 2012, with all five tagged birds safe and well on their wintering grounds.  Their return journey was always going to be perilous, but there was a huge sigh of relief all round when Lyster and Chris successfully made it back to East Anglia.  Over the summer we tagged more Cuckoos – a further two from Norfolk, plus five each from Scotland and Wales, to investigate the reasons underlying regional differences in the decline of this red-listed species. However, things took a turn for the worse once the birds set off for Africa.  Idemili, the only female Cuckoo in the project (tagged in Wales), was rescued from a garden in Surrey in July and nursed back to health by the Wildlife Aid Foundation, before being flown to Italy to help her catch up with her Cuckoo colleagues.  Poor weather on migration took its toll on the male Cuckoos in the project, with several perishing. Five Cuckoos are currently alive on their wintering grounds, including Chris tagged in 2010. Fingers crossed these birds will make it back safely to the UK come spring.

All go in gardens

BTO Garden BirdWatchers have been collecting a wide variety of data this year. In addition to their normal GBW counts, which, amongst other things, have revealed a busy autumn in gardens, sightings continue to be logged through our Abnormal Plumage Survey and Big Garden Beak Watch projects. Our on-going disease-monitoring work has contributed to more high quality scientific research, with the latest study charting the spread of avian pox in British tits. A big ‘thank you’ to all GBW participants, and here’s to an exciting 2013, starting with our Garden Blackcap Survey in January.

Social Media and Technology

The BTO has had a presence on Facebook and Twitter since 2009, and the use of these sites has gone from strength to strength in 2012.  This year we were delighted when our Twitter following reached the heady 10,000 mark! We built on this momentum in December, Tweeting live for the first time at the BTO’s Annual Conference to update those who couldn’t be there.  Twitter has not just been an effective means of raising the BTO’s profile: thanks to Twitter, people have become members, taken up surveys and found like-minded individuals to share their birding interest. Our YouTube channel has also developed apace with more clips explaining how to carry out surveys and successfully identify difficult species.  As well as social media, the BTO is embracing technology in other ways.  The BirdTrack App for Android was launched this spring, allowing BirdTrackers to record birds on the go for the first time. An i-Phone version is due for release in early 2013.

We’d like to thank all our members and volunteers for your continued support throughout the year and wish you all the very best for the year ahead. To stay up-to-date with all the very latest news from the BTO, make sure you are subscribed to our e-newsletter.