Monitoring the mountain blackbird through Community Science

April 12, 2016

This spring sees the launch of Moors for the Future Partnership’s newest moorland wildlife survey - recording ring ouzel and redwing in the South Pennines.

These migratory thrushes - one migrating to the UK to breed in the summer, the other arriving in the autumn to overwinter - may act as good indicators of moorland health and a changing climate.

Ring ouzels arrive in the UK in spring to breed, having made the journey from their wintering sites in North Africa or southern Spain. Birds often make their way to the same distinct areas of the UK year after year, where they have been observed to have developed their own regional dialects!

Nesting on rocky outcrops or amongst dense moorland vegetation at the foot of crags they feed their growing young on protein rich invertebrates including earthworms and cranefly larvae. Once fully fledged, juvenile birds switch to a sugary diet of berries - usually bilberry and rowan - before making their journey south for winter. Successful breeding therefore requires protected, undisturbed nest sites as well as a mosaic of habitats to feed on – importantly including moist soils and plants that fruit at the right time.

Unfortunately in recent years ring ouzel numbers have declined rapidly and concern has risen over isolated breeding populations scattered across the fragmented uplands of England and Scotland at a diminishing number of sites. They are now Red-listed as a species of conservation concern.

The Peak District National Park, British Mountaineering Council and partners have been working closely to care for and protect ring ouzels on the Sheffield Moors by raising awareness about how moorland users and ring ouzels can coexist in our uplands.

By recording casual observations of ring ouzels in the Peak District and South Pennine Moors we can monitor their arrival and departure, distribution and habitat use – and how these change over time.

The Community Science project, run by Moors for the Future Partnership and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will rely on volunteers to record their sightings of these seasonal songbirds.

Sarah Proctor, Project Manager said: “Involving local communities gives us the best chance of collecting large amounts of quality data about these migratory upland birds.

The aim of the project is to provide a wide range of opportunities for people to collect valuable information about how our uplands are changing, whilst also inspiring people to take an interest in moorlands and look at them a bit closer”.

Whether by postcard, free smartphone app (MoorWILD) or online (www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/community-science) you can send us your ring ouzel and redwing sightings, including information on habitat use. 

Community Science started in 2013 initially focussing on moorland birds, butterflies and bees, but has expanded to include mountain hares and vital peat-forming Sphagnum mosses.

The man behind last year’s hunt to find Britain’s national bird, David Lindo, gave his backing to the project: “As far as I am concerned, the only way to really get conservation messages out there is to encourage volunteers to participate in citizen science. Exactly what you guys will be doing. It is people like you that help to create the cornerstones of our increasing knowledge of the natural world.”

To find out how more about the project and how you can get involved go to: www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/community-science

Moors for the Future Partnership

Cors Caron Copywrite Drew Buckley Photography
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