#StayWild Tip: Survey like a scientist. Be a Citizen Scientist and help conservation by reporting your sightings
I often wonder, especially during 30 Days Wild and other initiatives, how many people up and down the country are getting involved and, out of all those people, how much valuable information is being collected? How many different, seemingly insignificant nuggets of wild data are being mined? How could that data be used to enhance conservation by pooling together the sightings, recordings and counts conducted up and down the country? What undiscovered facts could be revealed, like secret gems?
I’ve tried to contribute to some initiatives that aim to do exactly this. From reporting rare and unusual sightings (such as the spread of red squirrels and reptiles) to simply recording what is in your garden, there are lots of ways to join in. It’s a fantastic way to engage with the outdoors, especially for children – finding ways to contribute can test their numeracy, patience and research skills, and teaches ethical values such as good citizenship and the importance of sharing.
For Day Thirteen I wanted to follow up on some observations I had made for the BTO, specifically for the Heron Census. This study is one of the longest running for a single species in the UK, having started in 1928, so it was great to be invited to play a part. I had already spent a fruitless day in late April searching for the heronries I had been assigned.
My first stop was on the Rosneath peninsula. This pleasant part of Argyll and Bute sits across the Firth of Clyde from where I live, and this was a great excuse to explore a little more. The first heronry was supposed to be located at the head of the Gare Loch, and took a bit of a scramble to get down onto the rocky shore. I ranged up and down the shingle for a kilometer, but didn’t spot a single heron, let alone a cluster of distinctively untidy nests in the trees.
Despite the absence of herons, I was fascinated by the antics of the oystercatchers, common sandpiper and eider ducks.
Moving on to site two, I headed South to the tip of the peninsula and a short walk to the site through Home Farm, which certainly engaged the sense of smell! The farm buildings had accreted around the ruins of an old castle-like steading, and the stones were alive with house martin and swallows swooping with daring aerobatics in and out of the ruined old structure. If there aren’t owls here I would be very surprised – I think a visit at dusk would be an exciting adventure.
Passing the farm and continuing through Greenisland Plantation towards the southeastern tip of the peninsula, the shoreline was quickly reached and again I searched for herons.
There were a couple of the birds here, with one fishing and a pair kronking as they flew overhead. They circled above the treeline but I was unable to see any remnants of a heronry.
Exploring the dense plantation was quite challenging, but after almost fully circumnavigating it there were no signs of nesting. As compensation for the trip, I was treated to the company of more eider duck, this time a pair of females looking after a small creche of ducklings.
I was followed by this fledgling crow, who I suspect had left the nest a little too soon as I could hear his mates in a nearby tree. It’s attempts to hop and slide across the seaweed were comical, and its crow was more of a squeak, but once I moved away I could see a parent attending to it.
The location also provided the closest view I’ve had to date of this behemoth:
This whale-like structure is the wreck of the MV Captayannis, a sugar boat that sank here in 1974 after striking the anchor chain of another vessel. It lies on a sandbar and is best revealed at low tide. There were once plans to blow it up, but it’s proximity to nearby Ardmore Point, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, put that idea to bed. With a good pair of binoculars or scope, you can see that it is also a safe haven for lots of other birds including cormorant, gulls and tern.
On the return drive home I aimed for the third set of full coordinates, and this time I was completely scuppered. The location specified by the coordinates was deep inside the Royal Navy armament Depot at Coulport, and I doubted the men with submachine guns at the gate would have let me past for a nosy around.
So despite my best efforts I was still unable to find the heronries. Perhaps the sites have been abandoned, or have drifted elsewhere, but even this is useful data that I will submit.
If you’d like to contribute with your own “citizen science”, below are some ways you can make your sightings count. If you know of others that you would like me to add to the list, please let me know!
- BTO Heronry Census
- British Trust for Ornithology Garden Birdwatch
- Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels
- National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme