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Breeding stonechat survey FAQs

WHERE CAN I FIND HELP WITH IDENTIFYING STONECHATS?
In addition to consulting standard fieldguides volunteers may find the BTO identification training video at http://www.bto.org/about-birds/bird-id/know-your-chats useful, particularly for distinguishing female and juvenile birds.

WHEN DO STONECHATS NEST?
Stonechats start to lay eggs from the end of March and could be feeding young in the nest from mid-April onwards. Fledged young will appear in May and then second or even third broods are possible. Stonechats build a new nest for a subsequent brood so care should be taken not to confuse a later breeding attempt by one pair with a second pair. Note also that a male may still be tending fledglings from a previous brood whilst the female incubates a new brood.

WHICH HABITATS ARE SUITABLE FOR BREEDING STONECHATS?
Stonechats breed in open areas where there are scattered raised perches or other observation points. They prefer gorse, heather and bracken, so heaths and commons and other areas of gorse and scrub are usual habitats. They will also breed in rough grassland. In Sussex the preferred areas are the heathlands, the more open areas of the South Downs where there is gorse and scrub, and more low-lying grassland areas such as the Pevensey Levels and some of the river valleys. For the purposes of the current survey, in any tetrad only areas of potentially suitable habitat need to be surveyed, and volunteers may find it useful to make an initial reconnaissance visit to each tetrad to identify these areas of suitable habitat.

AM I EXPECTED TO SURVEY THE ENTIRE AREA OF MY TETRAD?
For the purposes of the current survey, in any tetrad only areas of potentially suitable habitat need to be searched (see comments above about preferred habitats). Volunteers may find it useful to make an initial reconnaissance visit to each tetrad to identify these areas of suitable habitat. If in any tetrad there is a very large area of suitable habitat, it is acceptable to conduct a single complete survey by making two or more visits; volunteers should indicate on the recording form the visits that make up a complete survey.

AM I EXPECTED TO SURVEY PRIVATE LAND?
Survey volunteers must only access private land with the permission of the landowner. A letter can be supplied to give to landowners if required. In practice, many areas of suitable habitat will be open access land or it will be possible to survey them from public rights of way. If it is not possible to access an area of potentially suitable habitat or to view the area from a public right of way, volunteers should indicate this unsurveyed area on the map of the tetrad.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THERE IS NOT ENOUGH SPACE ON MY MAP?
Printable maps of tetrads at a 1:50,000 scale are provided. If in any area of a tetrad numerous observations of stonechats mean that it becomes difficult to mark these observations clearly on the map, volunteers should make photocopies of the area at a 1:25,000 scale and use these or use a separate tetrad map copy for each observation. In some cases a large-scale sketch map of the area may be helpful.

SHOULD I RECORD OTHER SPECIES SEEN DURING MY SURVEYS?
It will be very valuable if volunteers can record other species seen during surveys, as long as this does not reduce the accuracy and completeness of the recording of the required information about stonechats. Other species can most easily be recorded in BirdTrack www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/birdtrack. These records are most useful in the form of complete lists (recording all species seen) and volunteers should ensure that stonechats are included in complete lists. Casual records are also valuable, especially for some species of conservation concern that may be encountered in habitats where stonechats breed, such as corn buntings and lapwings on the South Downs and woodlarks and Dartford warblers on heathlands.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SEE STONECHATS ON A TETRAD BOUNDARY OR IN AN ADJACENT TETRAD?
There will be some stonechat territories that span two or more tetrads. If stonechats are observed on the edge of a tetrad the volunteer should mark on the map the exact locations where they observe the birds and use the margin of the map, i.e. the map area outside the actual tetrad, to mark the observations made in the adjacent tetrad. If stonechats in the same territory are also observed and recorded (and they may not be) by the volunteer surveying the adjacent tetrad this will become apparent at the analysis stage.

Similarly, if birds are observed in an adjacent tetrad but not in the tetrad being surveyed, these should be plotted on the margin of the map and if possible notes should be made as usual about activity and habitat. The volunteer surveying the adjacent tetrad may miss those birds or observe lesser breeding evidence and it is also possible that the adjacent tetrad has not been allocated to be surveyed at all.

DO I NEED TO CONFIRM BREEDING FOR ALL PAIRS IN THE TETRAD?
The aim of the survey is primarily to find out the numbers of pairs in different tetrads. This means that two visits may well be sufficient if it is clear where the different pair territories are. Noting breeding evidence such as birds carrying food and fledged young helps to establish where the breeding pairs are, but confirming breeding for all pairs is absolutely not necessary. Pairs seen together are evidence of probable breeding; note that the activity codes do not include code P for "pair" but the number of adult males and the number of adult females at an observation location should be noted on the recording form and this information will confirm a pair to be present together.

 
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