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Birding in Lockdown

In April we were in lockdown in accordance with government advice re the coronavirus pandemic, but for the birds life went on as normal. In April migration continued and breeding got underway. As the bird recorder for the Arran Natural History Society, I rely on people sharing their bird observations with me and in lockdown I was heartened not just by the quantity of sightings that I received in April but also by the quality of them.
I did wonder what impact the lockdown would have on the number of records received and the number of species seen.  April with Easter can be a busy holiday period on the island but not this year. This April there would be no contributions from visiting birders. The contributions from the resident birders were as always first class. While the number of species reported was a few down on the average for the last three Aprils  (109 this year compared to average 118), the number of records was a few hundred up on the average for the last three Aprils ( 2,500 this year compared to average 2,100). A possible interpretation is that the resident birdwatchers, while more restricted in movement than normal, produced more records from their own immediate area. This may have been influenced by people simply having more time to just “stand and stare” (poem by W.H. Davies).

From the emails received, many people obviously enjoyed their birds during April’s lockdown. Here is just a small selection of extracts from the many observations shared with me:
“This morning was a joy with four whimbrels right in front of our house on the beach, our sandpipers, a heron gliding over the water, some gannets diving and our resident sparrows nesting - all from our window/garden and on such a beautiful day.”
” I have about five starlings that come to my table for a bath most evenings, I have an old milk churn lid I put water in.  It's a joy to watch.  Afterwards they sit on the hedge and preen themselves.  I have never thought that much about starlings but their colours up close are beautiful.”
“While out on our permitted exercise this morning, about 200 metres along the path we heard our first Whitethroat. We also saw it. While we were watching it, we suddenly became aware that a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling nearby. Very satisfactory.”
“I'll admit I think I yelled Hoopoe when I saw it fly in front of the van.”
“Upstream of the bridge and making a racket were five common sandpipers. A lot of displaying almost like vertically clapping wings”
“bit of thieving from the otters today… was surprised that the carrion crow went in first for a quick grab but was ably backed up with the great black-backed gull !!!”
“a fun picture of a couple of black guillemots making whoopy – I loved the red legs.  They were so engrossed they were not taking any interest in us.  It made us smile in these tricky times.”

From these shared observations birds were a source of delight, wonder and solace for many people during these anxious times. Long may that continue.

If you are in a higher-risk group or simply want to self-isolate or are in lockdown there are still many things you can do from the comfort of your own home to remain connected to nature. Here are just a few ideas taken from an excellent article by Dan Rouse on Bird Guides called "Enjoying wildlife from home: some self-isolation tips".

Join the BTO Garden BirdWatch. It is absolutely free. This scheme monitors the amount of wildlife we see in our gardens, with the prime focus on birds. You simply sign up via their website. From the same organisation there is also the BTO Nest Recording Scheme. It is more time consuming, but we are not short of time.
Use your technology to find webcams across the world. There is no shortage of these. Here are just three very different ones, Cornell Lab Feeders in America, Poole Harbour in the UK, and African Animals Camera - live video from Africa. The list is endless. In a similar vein, you can follow the progress of various satellite-tagged birds around the world. The BTO Cuckoo project is just one example of many.

Finally, use this time to improve the organisation of your personal records of the birds you see by making use of online data-sharing sites like BirdTrack and remember to share these with the local bird recorder….me.

Enjoy your birding and keep safe.

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