Recording the Birds of Shropshire

Introduction

Since 1955, the SOS has been responsible for collating records submitted to the Society, publishing quarterly bulletins and an annual report. This page outlines the objectives of the recording system and sets out the preferred methods for submitting records.

Record Submission Using BirdTrack

While records are welcome in any format and can be submitted on paper or by email, the preferred method for submission of records is via BirdTrack. BirdTrack is an online bird recording system developed through a partnership among the BTO, the RSPB, Birdwatch Ireland, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club and the Welsh Ornithological Society (Cymdeithas Adaryddol Cymru). It is a year-round recording scheme that uses data from birdwatchers’ records to support species and site conservation at local, national and international scales. It also comes in a version for your smart phone, enabling you to submit records as you see the birds with your phone’s GPS providing the location information. BirdTrack provides facilities for observers to store and manage their own personal records as well as using these records to support species conservation at local, regional, national and international scales.

The SOS promotes the use of BirdTrack for the submission of records. It is a powerful and simple to use online system or phone app that allows users to upload partial or complete lists for the sites they visit. The County Recorder has access to these records, and will download all Shropshire records uploaded to BirdTrack on at least a quarterly basis, with all BirdTrack records used in the observations summaries in The Buzzard, and in the Annual Report.
But, to make the most of your records, there are a few things to bear in mind.

  • Allow County Recorder access: When setting up you user account, it is imperative that you tick the box to  ‘allow recorders to access your records’. If you are not sure if you ticked this box, log in to your account and click ‘my details & settings’, at the bottom of this section. It hopefully states that ‘you have asked us to forward records to local recorders’. If not, please email web.support@bto.org with your user_id and a request to change this setting.
  • Create lists for specific sites: If you are recording the species you see during an extended walk, don’t create a single list for the length of your walk. Rather, create smaller lists for the areas visited (and name them appropriately with the correct grid reference). For example, if you were to walk along the River Severn from Bridgnorth to Highley, create a number of lists along the way e.g. ‘River Severn, Bridgnorth’, ‘River Severn, Quatford’, ‘River Severn, Hampton Loade’, ‘River Severn, Highley’ etc. This ensures that the records are entered at the correct location (albeit an approximate location); a list of species from a ten-mile walk is of much less use.
  • Name sites correctly: Name the sites you visit based on the names on the OS maps so far as possible. Avoid the use terms such as ‘Garden List’, ‘Work List’, ‘My Grandad’s allotment’ etc. See the section ‘Site Names/Locations’ below.
  • Ensure the site grid reference is correct: When creating a list for a site for the first time, make sure the grid reference is correct. This is particularly relevant when using the BirdTrack app as it will create a new site using the grid reference of your current location, even if you are not at that location (e.g. at the pub or at home after a birding session) when the new site is created.
  • Sites near the County boundary: If you are visiting sites around the County boundary, you will need to keep separate lists for the site either side of the county line. This is most relevant in Shropshire in reference to records logged at Whixall Moss and within the Wyre Forest; when visiting these sites please include the County in your list name (e.g. ‘Wyre Forest (Shropshire)’)
  • Do not duplicate records: If you submit your records through BirdTrack, there is no need to send them to the County Recorder by any other means.
  • Include comments: The number of records submitted to BirdTrack within Shropshire increases each year. There is the temptation to create lists of species and numbers with little additional information, as these lists are often generated on phones in the field. But, the Annual Reports will become very tedious if they become simply a list of species and numbers by site. Include relevant comments on age, sex, noteworthy behaviours, breeding activity, habitat preference etc. whenever possible.

Record Submission via Other Media

The County Recorder is now able to incorporate records from eBird (https://ebird.org/home) into the Shropshire database. The app eBird is an international recording system, developed by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in the USA. While data can be imported from this system, the information tends to be less useful and has the additional disadvantage of locating observations by latitude-longitude rather than the British grid reference system. Nevertheless, we would rather receive eBird records than not receive them at all!

Submitting records using a spreadsheet is acceptable but not encouraged as it involves additional work for the County recorder. If you do use this method, please see these requirements for the spreadsheet format.

Please note that observers who submit their records via BirdTrack or eBird should not also send them to the County Recorder in another format as this will result in duplication of observations.

Site Names/Locations

When records are submitted to the County Recorder directly, it aids data input greatly if observers use the site codes. However, the name of the site should be given as well as the code as this provides a cross-check when the data are entered onto the computer. Observers who submit records regularly will quickly become familiar with the codes which apply to them. Site Codes are available to download (in MS Excel format) here.

An extensive gazetteer, listing all locations within Shropshire given on 1: 25 000 scale OS maps, is available here.

Where a site code is not used, all records should be submitted with a grid reference, preferably to six figures. (For help with grid references, select this link.) Grid references should also be given if there is a need to be precise as, for example, giving the a breeding site of a rare species.

In summary, always try to include site codes, site names and grid references. However, if you don’t know them, please don’t be deterred – send the records in anyway!

When Should Records be Submitted

Observers are asked to submit their records on a regular basis throughout the year, preferably at the end of each month or at least quarterly. This is essential if the quarterly bird reports in  The Buzzard are to be up to date and interesting. It also helps spread out data input and reduces the end-of-year rush.

What to Record

All records are valuable to the Society, but especially those enabling distribution patterns to be confirmed, or permitting changes in status to be monitored. An example of this would be monthly maxima from regularly watched sites; this could include, for example, an individual garden. Of less value are individual daily records of the very common species from one location, which does no more than confirm the continued presence of a species at a site. In this case, a monthly record would be equally valuable. Of particular importance are records in the following categories:

  • Proved or probable breeding
  • Arrival and departure dates of summer migrants
  • Arrival and departure dates of winter visitors
  • Unusually large numbers of an individual species
  • Birds seen away from their normal habitat
  • Birds seen out of their normal season
  • Regular counts at well-watched sites e.g. of wildfowl and gulls
  • Monthly maxima from individual sites
  • Counts of visible migration or hard weather movements
  • Wherever possible include comments on age, sex and state of plumage (e.g. ‘non-breeding adult male’). Notes on aberrant plumage and moult are also useful, as are comments on habitat preference, food and associations with other species. Indications of changes in status are welcomed, particularly if supported by data. Negative returns should be submitted if birds are absent from a site they previously frequented.

Records of Rare Birds

Shropshire Ornithological Society acknowledges the pleasure that birdwatchers obtain from seeing rare or unusual birds. In Shropshire, this can, in exceptional circumstances, include nationally rare species but, more often than not, it is birds which are rare or uncommon in the County. As a consequence, the Society endorses the exchange of information which enables individual birdwatchers to see such species, subject to the observance of the “Birdwatchers Code” at all times.

The County Recorder is available to advise observers as to whether any problems could be caused by the release of news of rare species but, ultimately, it is the finder’s choice and, if asked to do so for whatever reason, the County Recorder will maintain confidentiality.

Records of rarities, or other species of special interest, should be reported immediately as this gives other observers a chance to see the bird and will help you with supporting evidence to confirm the species you think you have seen. Telephone calls, mobile phone text messages and the use of social media all help to spread the word quickly. Do not forget that, if the bird is a County or national rarity, the record is unlikely to be accepted without some evidence, which will include a written report and, where available, photographic or film evidence. Select this link for a downloadable (MS Word) copy of the Rarity Record Form.

Birdwatchers who find a rare or unusual bird should remember that the welfare of the bird comes first. Members of the Society must observe the “Birdwatchers Code”. In particular, do not harass any bird, particularly migrants which may be exhausted.

Rare Breeding Birds

If a rare bird is breeding, you should consider whether it is advisable to keep the site confidential. If you feel that protection is necessary, inform the County Recorder who will consider the most appropriate course of action. It is also worth remembering that such sites may be threatened in a number of ways (e.g. development and other land-use change), in addition to the activities of egg collectors. It may be important, therefore, to ensure, again through the County Recorder, that the statutory (English Nature) and non-statutory (RSPB and Shropshire Wildlife Trust) professional nature conservation organisations are aware of such sites so that they can also seek to ensure their protection.

It is the policy of the Society that this type of information should remain confidential and that precise site details should not be published unless adequate protection measures are in place. However, information is given to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) which monitors the status of such species nationally and which maintains similar confidentiality.

Records Requiring a Description

Records in the following categories require supportive descriptions, which must be accepted by the relevant records committee before they are published in the Annual Report:

  • National rarities, which are forwarded to British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC)
  • County rarities (species identified on the SOS Description Species list)
  • Unusual races of species (e.g. “Blue-headed” Wagtail)
  • Out of season migrants

Why is a Description Required

Although some observers consider that reports of scarce or unusual birds which are submitted by relatively inexperienced birdwatchers require some substantiation, they sometimes question why more experienced observers are required to submit descriptions. The Society considers that there are two reasons for this.

(1) While observer experience should rightly be taken into account when assessing records, it is essential that a consistent standard is applied. Only thus can future researchers be assured of the scientific and historical accuracy of the data. We have a duty to operate an objective and consistent records discipline and, whilst most observers are confident of their own records, they will readily agree that not every claim of a rare bird or unusual sighting is acceptable. It follows, therefore, that some assessment is required for those birds considered to be rare or unusual for the County, and that this must be applied uniformly and fairly.

(2) Descriptions of rare birds provide a repository of information on the field characters and behaviour of birds. It is frequently through the examination of carefully taken descriptions that new field and behavioural characteristics come to light. Personal expertise is undoubtedly improved by the discipline of note taking.

County Records Committee

The Society has agreed that the Conservation Sub-Committee should act as the records committee for Shropshire. The Sub-Committee has in turn formed a separate rarities group to consider all records of birds which are rare or unusual in the County. Records of national rarities are forwarded to the BBRC for adjudication.

Copies of the County Rarity form are available from the Recorder or here. The Recorder also has copies of the similar BBRC rarities form for national rarities.

Where circumstances permit, the finder(s) of a rare or unusual bird is/are encouraged to get other observers to substantiate the identification and to submit supplementary notes; single observer records are usually the ones most difficult to assess. Any observer who thinks they may have found a rare or unusual bird, but are unsure of the identification, or who simply would like to get someone to confirm the record, should contact the County Recorder who will determine the most appropriate action to take.

What Kind of Description is Required

The essentials are brief details of the circumstances of the sighting and, more importantly, a description of the individual bird as it appeared at the time. This seems obvious but many submissions either dwell on the circumstances but provide very little description detail, or are simply details of what the species looks like, rather than the individual concerned. Rather than repeating details from a book, it is important to describe them from observations at the time. Very often, not all the details will have been noted, but this will not invalidate the record if enough was seen and confirmed to make the identification safe. A rare bird is, by its nature, unexpected and it may simply fly by or dive into a bush, never to be seen again. All you can do is make the best of it and write down exactly what you saw and heard, but don’t be tempted to fill in the gaps.

Description Check-list

Always try to include information on the following.

Size – If possible, judge size directly against another bird which is present or, if this is not possible, compare with whatever is available. At worst, give some general impression in comparison to species which, although not present at the time, you are familiar with.

Shape – Once again, if possible, judge shape against another species. Try hard to make comparisons all the time. A wader may be “long-legged” but it is much more valuable, if you can say “the legs were longer than the Redshank alongside it”. Try to note structural details which might be useful, such as whether the wings project beyond the tail, or the legs extend beyond the tail in flight.

Actions – All movements such as walking, hopping, wading, swimming, diving, soaring, and gliding are useful to note. Try and record such things as whether the bird wagged its tail, whether it flew from a perch to the ground and then hopped about or whether it slipped quietly though foliage, never keeping still.

Colours – Start with the general and move on to the detail. Write down the most striking features first. Try to be systematic; a good approach is to start at the front and work back! Make a special note of specific features such as eye-stripes or rump patches. Don’t forget the bill and legs.

Sounds – Hard to do, but try your best! Comparison with familiar species is often a good approach. Descriptions such as “harsh”, “high-pitched” or “nasal” help.

To Sum Up

Although some species are maintaining their numbers and a few are increasing, many other species are in decline. Good quality data on the numbers and distribution of birds in Shropshire are essential to inform conservation programmes at both local and national levels. Always remember that your records count.

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Page updated: 10/04/2021