Each year thousands of birdwatchers participate in official surveys designed to monitor bird numbers. I take part in the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) Waterways Breeding Bird Survey which involves recording the birds I see and hear on 2 visits during the breeding season to a stretch of the river Coquet near to where I live. I have to set off quite early each time to make that slow trudge along the river, armed with clipboard and binoculars, noting down each adult bird I encounter. It can take up to 90 minutes to walk the 2.5 km and I need to follow a set procedure, recording only the birds immediately in front of me or upto 100 metres either side and making sure that I don't count the same bird twice.

This year my visits took place on 2 May and 13 June. I recorded 37 and 36 species respectively, making a total of 48 across the two dates. Not surprisingly for Northumberland, I saw no Swifts at the start of May, but the reasons for seeing neither Canada Goose nor Mistle Thrush in mid June are less clear. Two sightings of Sandwich Tern on 13 June were a delightful surprise so far inland, although I have recorded these seabirds once before during the 12 years I have undertaken the survey. Best of all on 13 June was my sighting of Tree Sparrow - a new bird and the 69th species for the list. Here lies the importance of surveys in monitoring avian trends. Tree Sparrows had crashed and had virtually disappeared across much of the UK, but this local sighting is part of a larger and welcome trend. Even sparrows can bounce back!

Mark Winter

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