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For the love of Welsh birds; Birding state of play in a nutshell.

The Breeding Birds of North Wales, published next week, is the product of seven years of work by 700 people, mostly unpaid birdwatchers. RSPB Conwy manager Julian Hughes heralds a landmark publication NORTH Wales is not a small place: 6,307 sq km, almost 2,500 sq miles. So producing a detailed assessment of the status of every bird species that breeds in the region, was never going to be an easy undertaking.

It wasn't just a case of making a list of birds. Watching their behaviour could determine whether a bird was likely to be nesting: a male robin singing, a reed warbler dropping purposefully and repeatedly into the same clump of reeds, a blackbird carrying broken eggshells away from a hedge.

All signs that would add another dot to the map.

The enterprise was aided greatly by the British Trust for Ornithology, which built a website to capture all the records for a British and Irish Atlas over the same period.

More than 700 people surveyed a section of North Wales, and others contributed reports from their own gardens. Daily Post readers helped too, reporting Swallows and House Martins nesting around their houses, barns and sheds.

Why did we all do it? Because it was actually a lot of fun. I spent time in places that I wouldn't otherwise ever visit, each sighting adding to our knowledge of birds in North Wales.

It was delightful to bump into homeowners and dogwalkers who shared their sightings, pointing out nests that I may have missed, like the Spotted Flycatchers nesting in the porch of a cottage I had just walked past in the Conwy Valley.

Over the last year or so, a handful of volunteers has analysed more than 250,000 sightings, producing maps, writing text and providing the photographs that will appear in the book.

When it is finally revealed, at a launch at RSPB Conwy next LOSER: The Cuckoo's call, a traditional sign of spring, is becoming scarcer, especially in the lowlands. They are found in 17% fewer tetrads than in 1970.

Females lay an egg in the nests of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, whose numbers have also declined. Declines in moths may be a crucial factor - caterpillars are an important food - as might changes on their migration or African wintering grounds.

FIND OUT MORE THE Breeding Birds of North Wales is published by Liverpool University Press at PS45.

But there's a special PS20 offer for orders before October 1. Details:

FEATHERED WINNERS AND LOSERS LOSER: Black Grouse were once widespread in Wales. Increases associated with young forestry were followed by decline as trees matured. By 1995 just 139 males remained.

A conservation programme has seen numbers increase to over 300, but they have contracted by onethird of their 1970 range, to a few sites in the north east.

WINNER: Blackcaps migrate to Iberia or north-west Africa for the winter, and haven't suffered the declines of warblers that winter south of the Sahara.

Blackcaps have spread to Anglesey and the Llyn, where they were rare early in the 20th century. Their distribution has risen by 9% since 1970.

Blackcap STEVE CULLEY Black Grouse Pic: KEITH OFFORD LOSER: The Ring Ouzel, a summer visitor, breeds in heather on steepsided valleys. The Atlas shows a contraction away from the moorlands of northeast Wales; they are found in 29% fewer tetrads than in 1970.

Snowdonia is now the stronghold, but if the changing climate forces them to retreat uphill, the bird's future in North Wales is uncertain.

WINNER: Until recently, the Little Egret was a rare bird in North Wales, but milder winters since the 1990s aided their spread from the Mediterranean. In 2002, a pair bred in the Menai Strait and in 2006 a colony was established near Bangor. A second colony grew from a single nesting pair on the Conwy estuary in 2007.

Ring Ousel Pic: MALCOLM GRIFFITHS Little Egret Pic: ADRIAN FOSTER LOSER: The demented "yaffle" of the Green Woodpecker used to be numerous and widespread in North Wales. Farming improvements of old pasture land in the 1950s and '60s reduced the availability of ants and resulted in loss from one-third of the tetrads occupied since 1970.

Sadly, there are now few places in Conwy, Anglesey or Meirionnydd that you might see one.

WINNER: The Goosander, which nests in trees, is a success story of the late 20th century.

The first proven breeding was on the Vyrnwy in 1970, and they have spread to most mainland rivers, and nest on lakes and reservoirs too.

They are distributed thinly across the region, with just a few dozen Woodpecker JOHN LAWTON ROBERTS Goosander week, I'm sure they'll breathe a sigh of relief.

Behind the cover painting, a fine image by Philip Snow of Peregrines and Choughs at South Stack, are hundreds of pages that benchmark the state of birds in the region.

The birdwatchers also raised thousands of pounds towards its publication, and to ensure that copies go to every library, secondary school and local authority in the six counties.

It should inform conservation, land and marine management for decades to come.

? A total of 289,208 individual bird records were submitted for analysis. ? The sightings were catalogued by "tetrad", a 2km x 2km square. There are 1,796 tetrads across North Wales - every one was visited for this project.

. ? Some 169 bird species were recorded as breeding during 2008-12. ? Carrion crow was the most widespread species, occurring in 93% of tetrads. Wren and Chaffinch were second and third. ? RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands had the highest number of breeding species (80) of any site. Seven of the top 12 sites are managed by the RSPB. ? Biggest declines: Turtle Dove, Corncrake and Little Tern. Gone completely are: Bittern, Common Gull, Nightingale, Corn Bunting and Woodlark.

. ? Biggest increases: Goosander, Greylag Goose and Mandarin Duck. Those to have colonised the region since 1970 are: Little Ringed Plover, Cetti's Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Little Egret, Hobby, Osprey and Honey-buzzard.


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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 26, 2013
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