The call of the other BBS


I inherited my ‘other’ BBS square a couple of years ago. I hope that choice of word wasn’t in bad taste as I don’t know whether the previous observer died, moved or gave up.  But this is the third year I have counted birds here.

It doesn’t feel like ‘my’ square – it feels like someone else’s. However, I like it because it is different from ‘my’ BBS square.  This one starts and ends in a village where there are lots of House Sparrows and Collared Doves and Starlings. It’s quite a pretty village and it’s quite a pretty bit of countryside next to the River Nene with some fields of grass – in fact more grass than arable.

There is one house in the village which always catches me out – it has Canaries in a cage in the garden and I always stop, slightly puzzled, by the song coming from it until realisation sinks in.

There is a pretty church and some very nice stone houses.  There are loads of House Sparrows – a treat.

Along by the river there is the patch where there is always a Sedge Warbler or two to add to Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap. The previous observer recorded Garden Warbler a long time ago but neither he (was it a he?) nor I have had one since 2004.  The only  Lesser Whitethroats have been recorded by me. There must be observer differences involved here.

A Cuckoo was singing quite a lot – I’ve heard more this year than last year by miles.

I counted the dead badger by the side of the road for the mammal data – one!

A Red Kite drifted over but I couldn’t read its wingtags, and then there were two of them circling over the church which was by now in the middle distance.  It was a lovely scene. An English village with stone cottages and a church spire poking through the trees with a pair of Red Kites circling overhead.  A lowland river passed peacefully through the valley and somewhere down there a Cuckoo sang. Everything was still the fresh green of April and early May, and May blossom was just coming through to replace the remembered, but passed, Blackthorn.

It was lovely and couldn’t have been much more English unless there had been the sound of the WI singing Jerusalem and leather hitting willow followed by polite applause.  If someone had passed me a decent pint of beer, in a straight glass,  then the scene would have been complete.

Elsewhere, other BBS recorders were probably walking through London streets or battling against a wind high on a Scottish mountain, or perhaps straining to hear bird song against the sound of the sea on the Welsh coast.  But I was in peaceful sleepy England on an early May morning. I hope there aren’t too many UKIP voters here.

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9 Replies to “The call of the other BBS”

  1. Reply on Malta bird killing from Sir Graham Watson saying he has raised the issue in the past.

  2. Love this and the previous post on BBS Mark. My 'treat' was to have had a whitethroat shouting at me from a hawthorn hedge this morning, (not surveying but at least I was walking to work instead of driving). Interesting dilemma had I been filling in the new survey as it flashed across in front of me, but I only knew what it was from the song as it managed to completely hide itself from sight in the hedge. Lovely thing.

    Striking also how the green in the landscape has deepened from those early spring colours to fuller, though still fresh, greens. Remarkably quickly it seems. Only some of the ashes now holding on to their winter outlines, which is one of the many reasons I love 'em.

    You didn't manage to see any linnets in either of your squares then?

  3. Just try doing - Camberwell for the BBS - like I have done since just before the millennium. Burgess Park has changed a bit - they have tried hard to make it look nicer - however the general public are doing their best to thwart these efforts shovelling litter all over the place. I used to hear the Blackcap here and might again - there are usually Greenfinches, Blackbirds and Woodpigeons and the ubiquitous Wren. Your square sounds marvellous. I do do another one over at Sydenham woods which is altogether better - but my favourite was dowin at Aldington which I had to give up when London became my centre of operations. Aldington in Kent was nothing dramatic in terms of countryside just some fields and a bit of woodland - however I always recorded far more there than in London - which only goes to prove that urbanisation always reduces the diversity of species and even "improved" countryside can still support a better range of birdlife than cities

    1. Julian - best of luck to you! It is quite noticeable on this BBS square that the actual number of birds (House Sparrows, Collared Dove and Starling, mostly) is higher in the built up area than in most of the farmland.

      All BBS squares add to a fantastically detailed national picture of how bird populations are changing,

  4. I like your comments when you are in this lyrical mood. It reminds me of H.V.Morton's I saw Two Englands. A school prize in the 50s. See you still haunted by a 'dislike'. Incredible.

  5. I,ve been plant spotting today. Saw or heard among many birds were common snipe, turtle dove, jays, grasshopper warbler, female wheatear marsh harrier, swifts, blackcap, chiff chaff, willow warbler, teal, shoveller, house martin, swallow, cuckoo. Not the biggest list but not too bad for a botanist.


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