I've just returned from a fantastic weekend spent at the 79th BTO conference. The theme was Putting Birds on The Map 2007-11 highlighting the forthcoming publication of the latest Bird Atlas. Given the scientific basis of the BTOs work I was expecting some fairly dry lectures with lots of graphs and tables but instead the facts and figures were presented in an entertaining and accessible way.
The conference kicked off on Friday evening with Debbie Pain of the WWT presenting an enthralling tale describing the extremes of endurance, exhaustion and exhilaration of the expedition to help save that enigmatic species the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. A flavour of her talk can be found in the video clip here . She would have won the prize for the cutest picture of the conference, if there had been one, with her photos of the tiny recently hatched baby sandpipers.
Sarah Wanless also held everyone's attention with her talk on the challenges facing the auks of her study population on the Isle of May. At the rate the North Sea is warming it could be soon quite pleasant to go swimming in the sea off Lowestoft. With the aid of trackers attached to the Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills they're also starting to find out where the birds go in winter. Puffins head off over the top of Scotland into the Atlantic, Guillemots and Razorbills hang around in the North Sea for the winter
Of course, much of the rest of the conference covered the how,what,when and why of the atlas. Amongst many contributors Simon Gillings provided us with lots of interesting facts in an Atlas A-Z, David Gibbons from the RSPB described the value of the atlas to the RSPBs work in informing its conservation priorities and Mike Toms described the work of the BTO in collecting data for other Orders including mammals, butterflies and dragonflies. Did you know the BTO collected over 900,000 mammal records in 2011, far more than the Mammal Society gathered? Andy Musgrove also gave us a light-hearted look at the next Atlas due in 2027-30 including his predictions for future breeders. Black-shouldered Kite definitely appeals but I'm not so sure whether I'm quite as keen on Peacocks becoming established (there are already breeding records) and Black Swan looks to me to be well on the way to Category C with the number of records across the country.
The conference wasn't just about the talks. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, with old acquaintances to be remade and new ones forged. Many thanks to the BTO staff themselves who were so welcoming. Did I really stay up until 3.30 in the morning two nights running engaged in conversation with so many of them?
One last thing, 50000 volunteers submitted data to the Atlas project and the BTO is eternally grateful to them for all their hardwork but the BTO itself only has 17000 members. I've mentioned this before in an earlier post but I'll repeat it again. They deserve your support and right now they are offering membership until June 2013 for just £1. Click here to sign up and put my name in the 'Referring member' box. Many thanks.