Richard Bland, amateur naturalist extraordinaire, has done the same Downs walk on 750 Sunday mornings, logging the birds he sees and hears for the British Bird Breeding Survey.
On bird walk: Half past seven at the peregrine watch point, heading south and it’s very dull, very windy, almost too dark to see birds or flowers but it’ll soon get lighter. Kestrel playing with the wind. One of the things about seven thirty in the morning on a Sunday, is that the birds are hungry and the traffic is light, comparatively.
At home: I came to Bristol in 1961 to teach history at Clifton College so lived in Clifton for, fifty years. I have always been interested in birds and was a member of the British Trust for Ornithology which is an organisation no one’s ever heard of which basically does research into birds which is used by the government an the RSPB and other people for conservation. And it was quite an exciting time in ornithology because the BTO was pioneering new ways of surveying birds and I became increasingly fascinated by the importance of urban areas for birds. The tradition of the time in ornithology was that towns were a no no for birds, completely useless, and that you had to go out into the countryside and the reservoirs and the woods and so on to find birds, and I began to realise that really this wasn’t true in Bristol, that the Downs themselves were better, some species had higher populations than they did in the countryside.
On bird walk: There’s a very nice gull, I think it’s a Herring Gull, soaring over the gorge, they are very common, we’ve got a whole lot coming over the sky. They probably roost out at Steepholm and come back into the city to gorge on all the rubbish that’s been left behind on the streets last night, and get themselves fat for the winter.
At home: So I began to do fairly regular walks around the Downs, and I would record the birds, I would map, the bird territories that I found there. So I have got dozens of files of one kind or another from the past and this has become a growing involvement. I retired in 1996 and have become a sort of full time naturalist since then. And there’s also been a new survey system developed by the BTO from 1994 called the Breeding Birds Survey which is based upon 1 km squares, and I began this experimentally with a 1 km square covering the south area of the Downs.
On bird walk: I’ve got binoculars with me, I’ve got a clipboard with a standard form on it and a biro – very extensive equipment. What I simply do is a standard walk and I record all the birds and I record all the plants in flower. Raven – wonderful noise – two ravens. Cronk cronk cronk is the noise. You’ve got to use your ears as much as your eyes.
At home: My records show the seasonal changes in the numbers of birds so I can more or less predict, every week I do the walk how many of what species I will see but it also, because I’ve done it over 15 or 16 years, shows changes, long terms changes in the patterns of numbers. One big change is the complete collapse over that period of time of starlings, I’ve ceased to see them at all. Another big change is the feral pigeons. Their numbers used to be up to 200 in the middle of winter, 250, and they have come right down so that now I will see perhaps 50 at most in the middle of the winter.
On bird walk: Every week of the year I do this standard walk because if the same person does the same thing on the same track then the results that he gets, the changes from week to week, are real and significant and comparable. That’s a peregrine falcon just dived down, its nest is just below here in the summer and it maintains a territory right through the winter.