Life as a survey volunteer on Dersingham Bog…

As the survey work on Dersingham Bog National Nature Reserve goes from strength to strength and the Stonechat project continues to be such a success, it’s an appropriate time to pay tribute to our hard working volunteers and say thanks to Roger, Irene, Tony, Molly, Jason and Allan for all their efforts this year.

SAM_3753We are still very actively recruiting volunteers for our survey work on the reserve and would very much like to hear from anyone interested in joining us as we plan next year’s survey work. The main focus of our survey work is to survey, monitor, nest-find, and ring where appropriate, our iconic Dersingham Bog species of Stonechat, Nightjar, Woodlark and Tree Pipit.

But rather than us extolling the virtues of volunteering on the Bog and how rewarding it can be, it’s easier to let one of our volunteers, Tony, sell it for us…NJ 2 chicks-Kestrel box site 183

Having recently retired into the area, and being an enthusiastic birder, I was keen to explore local opportunities to volunteer.

One interesting piece of work that caught my eye as I searched the internet was that of the NW Norfolk Stonechats group on the Natural England Reserve National Nature Reserve of Dersingham Bog. Their website provided fascinating information about Stonechat activity on the Reserve, together with an invitation to get involved if you could spare some time.

I made contact with the group and with impressive speed, I was receiving a comprehensive briefing from Natural England in their office in Wolferton on their work on the Reserve, together with the necessary Health and Safety stuff.  No mention at all of midges, I recall!

Juv Stonechat1A week later I was on the Reserve to meet Roger and Irene, two current and experienced volunteers, and begin my initiation into the fascinating world of Stonechats. The project aims to survey, nest find and colour-ring breeding Stonechats on the NNR and record adults and juveniles outside the breeding season. The project also gives insights on whether individual birds are site faithful, as well as generating data on productivity and fledgling survival.

Over the next few weeks, my initial concern about knowing very little about the target species, and being worried about doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, was replaced by growing confidence and a genuine interest in these characterful birds. This personal development of mine was solely down to my two ‘mentors’ who between them had many years of knowledge and experience to share. And share they did! In such a positive way that I was soon hooked and really enjoying the hours spent observing Stonechat.

Triangle - SC 2nd nest 20181I was taught the art of observing and interpreting Stonechat behaviour, and encouraged to offer opinions and have a go at finding a nest or two. It’s a great feeling when it all comes together and a nest is located, young observed in the nest, the young are ringed and then successfully fledge!

And then things got even better when I was invited to take part in a Nightjar Survey on the Reserve. What an enthralling experience that was!

NJ + 2 chicks 15 days-RLine 201813Again, I was fortunate enough to team up with Irene, who is both passionate about Nightjars and very happy to share her comprehensive knowledge on the subject with a complete beginner (who would have thought Nightjar equalled churring?!). What an amazing bird!

Species nest finding and monitoring sessions on the Bog have continued and every visit brings something new – with learning different or unusual behaviours for both Stonechat and Nightjar. With plenty of encouragement and guidance, I have been fortunate enough to have helped find both Stonechat and Nightjar nests. What a thrill!

Although the season is coming to an end, I look forward to helping out with the monitoring of existing and prospective Stonechat territories over the winter on Dersingham Bog NNR, and hope that this year our winter is kinder to the birds than it was last year.

TP 1st brood Phils Heath 2018_001And I haven’t even mentioned how delightful it was to wander around the Reserve accompanied by the song of both Woodlark and Tree Pipit. Nests for both species were found this season, and survey work on the reserve next year will include both these species and I look forward to learning more about these two fascinating birds. All the nest monitoring and colour-ringing on Dersingham Bog aims to inform the management work on the reserve and enable reserve staff to plan future work for the benefit of all these iconic heathland species.

If you have even a small interest in nature, with a bias towards birds, I recommend without hesitation getting involved with a group like NW Norfolk Stonechats. They are a very welcoming and knowledgeable bunch, and the work is fascinating too. And it’s good for you and the birds!

RS + IB Triangle May 20183_001If anyone would be interested in finding out more about the volunteering opportunities for survey work on Dersingham Bog, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Survey experience is not essential as training can be given. Although if, like Tony, you have already participated in survey work in the past, that would be welcome. Experience with the 4 species involved is also not essential as training on Stonechat, Nightjar, Woodlark and Tree Pipits is all part of the support given to our volunteers. Contributions from ringers would also be welcome, to back up and assist Roger.

So please contact us for more details or help spread the word that we’re recruiting!


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