Wildlife Conservation BSc Fieldtrip: Passerines, plants and pizza

As part of the Applied Ecology and Conservation (WCON5390) module, we set out to Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory to learn about habitat management, bird, bat and moths surveys and habitat surveys. Wildlife Conservation student James Bronthon tells all.

‘The Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory research centre sits in east Kent where it is perfectly positioned to monitor birds migrating to and from the continent. Students visit the site to learn about habitat management to promote grassland, freshwater and coastal biodiversity. The residential field trip takes places over a number of days with each group spending 24 hours onsite.

Our day started at 11am after catching the bus to Sandwich, then making way to the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. We settled into our rooms on arrival, then had an introductory presentation about the Observatory, which detailed the wildlife of the area. The presentation pointed out that, while the Observatory does focus on birds, there is a wealth of other wildlife (such as rare plants and moths). As an observatory, it uses bird ringing as a key way to record data of migrant birds (which we got to witness the next day).

We then headed out to see our surroundings and learn about the management of the sites various habitats, including grassland under different types of management, the beach (where we had a windswept lunch), the world famous golf course, and the  bird hides overlooking ‘The Scrape’. A highlight of the trip was the much-loved area dubbed “The Scrape”, a human-made shallow lagoon which attracts a myriad of birds, from hen harriers to snipe to lapwings to mallards. In fact, you’d be unlucky to see fewer than 15 species of bird at any one time (although due to a very wet winter and early spring, the water level was a little higher than is optimal). Nonetheless we sat and watched exciting birds including lapwings.

Next, after a deserved cup of tea and some biscuits, we conducted a grassland survey in pairs, designed to compare different management techniques, which during the earlier walk, we learnt the species that might benefit from such management. The data was then compiled and forms the basis for the second assignment of the module.

We then returned to the centre for vegetarian pizza and a bit of rest. After dinner, students put out moth traps, and went on a guided bat walk, listening to bat calls using ultrasonic bat meters. My group were not lucky with the bats, but we did see a barn owl, which was a first for me and a major highlight of the trip. We then got some shut eye in anticipation of our early morning of bird ringing.

We set out to the bird mist nets 6am, with students being split into two groups to observe the nets being set up. While waking up at 5am may seem like a step too far for some students, witnessing how data on birds is collected, as well as the rationale behind it all was well worth it. We also learned about other approaches to monitor birds, such as a Heligoland trap.

Our mist netting was successful, catching a handful of birds. It’s was fascinating seeing the birds close up, and learning about just how far away these ringed birds can be re-seen or recaptured in different countries. As some birds are exceptionally long-lived, the more migratory among the species can travel thousands of miles.

The final activity before departure was processing our moth traps. The experience was a great way to study moths, with the warden of the Observatory keenly showing us the differences within moths and regaling us with facts. By 9.30am, it was all over and we went our separate ways. Overall, the trip was well worth it.’

James Bonthron is studying for a BSc (Hons) in Wildlife Conservation with a Year in Journalism 

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