The two primary aims of this project are to collate and standardise raptor data and in the medium-term build capacity to 1) help co-ordinate the existing raptor fieldworkers to provide a sustainable and resource-efficient network for monitoring raptors; 2) to co-ordinate and undertake primary field surveys to collect relevant biological data using robust methods (e.g. Hardey et al., 2006; 2009); and 3) to review the monitoring program and provide recommendations for improvements and future requirements.
In order for bird monitoring programs to be effective there are nine main criteria for deployment (see Koskimies, 1989), schemes must:
i) Be continual
ii) Be done in the same study area between years, or repeated at regular intervals
iii) Use comparable methods
iv) Cover as many species as possible
v) Provide good geographic coverage
vi) Cover all (marginal and optimal) habitats
vii) Detect both short-term and long-term population changes
viii) Be scientifically valid
ix) Have highly efficiency
The key resources available for raptor monitoring schemes, are i) the number of active raptor fieldworkers and ii) the geographic distribution and time available for fieldworkers. It is therefore essential to provide feedback and encouragement to raptor fieldworkers and be mindful to i) build capacity, in the recruitment (and training) of new fieldworkers; ii) establish collaboration (and standardisation) between all raptor fieldworkers from other NGO, educational and governmental organisations; iii) establish scaled monitoring targets to increase geographic and species coverage over time and iv) make the methodologies, data entry and reporting as simple as possible for all raptor enthusiasts.
In the UK and Ireland the sampling units proposed are generally within National Grid 10km squares. This resolution of study area is used widely across Europe (e.g. Saurola, 1986; 2005; 2008; Kovacs et al., 2008) and ensures representation of sufficient suitable habitat(s) and numbers/diversity of each species occurring.
Raptor surveys require surveyors to be mindful of the seasons in which species may occur in their breeding or wintering habitats. In the UK & Ireland the raptor year is divided into a wintering phase (typically September to February or early March) when some species may roost communally e.g. hen harriers or red kites and the breeding season (typically March to August) where birds are more vulnerable to disturbance. Some species will remain on breeding territories throughout the year, but in the breeding season activity generally comprises of:
· Territorial occupation phase (e.g. returning to the breeding territory)
· Territorial display phase (i.e. attracting a potential mate)
· Courtship phase (e.g. food passing)
· Nest building phase
· Egg-laying phase
· Incubation phase
· Hatching phase
· Young in nest phase
· Fledging phase
· Juvenile dispersal phase
Each raptor species, or indeed raptor individuals, may have variable duration or expression of each of these phases and Hardey et al. (2009) describes each of these in detail. It is critical that humans, including fieldworkers, also avoid unnecessary disturbance to raptors. It is necessary to carry out nest visits under a licence which is issued by the statutory agency and all fieldworkers should ensure they have appropriate licences before carrying out fieldwork.
Monitoring of raptors can be a rewarding, although sometimes difficult task, and requires long hours of observations and walking, but allows a great opportunity to access the countryside and enjoy wildlife.