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Woodlark and Dartford warbler survey FAQs

WHERE CAN I FIND HELP WITH IDENTIFYING WOODLARKS AND DARTFORD WARBLERS?
In addition to consulting standard fieldguides volunteers may find the BTO identification training video at https://www.bto.org/about-birds/bird-id/bto-bird-id-skylark-woodlark useful, and also the sound recordings at http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Lullula-arborea and http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Sylvia-undata. Woodlarks in particular can be difficult to see so familiarity with the song and calls is essential for this survey.

WHEN DO WOODLARKS AND DARTFORD WARBLERS BREED?
Woodlarks start to sing and hold territories from the middle of February and lay eggs towards the end of March and in early April. Replacement clutches will be laid after nest failures and second broods are frequent. Dartford warblers begin nesting later in the year; eggs are laid from mid-April and adults are most active feeding young between mid- and late May.

WHICH HABITATS ARE SUITABLE FOR BREEDING WOODLARKS AND DARTFORD WARBLERS?
Woodlarks breed on heather and grass heaths, particularly those which have been mown, grazed or burnt, and areas of recently-cleared vegetation such as recently-felled conifer woodland and recently-cleared gorse. They will also breed in arable farmland, particularly in areas with field margins or where there is bare or open ground, such as within vineyards, some sparsely-planted crops and set-aside fields. Dartford warblers are more restricted to mature heaths with heather and gorse. 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. In particular, farmland tetrads should be visited early in the survey period to identify whether or not there are any areas of suitable habitat, as crop types and field uses may have changed since woodlarks were last recorded singing or breeding there.

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 woodlarks and/or Dartford warblers 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 woodlarks and Dartford warblers. 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 woodlarks and Dartford warblers are included in complete lists. In addition, in tetrads where there are singing tree pipits, it will be valuable if volunteers can record the locations of these on their maps so that territory numbers can be estimated. If tree pipits are present but no attempt is made to map their locations then this should be noted on the recording form.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SEE OR HEAR WOODLARKS OR DARTFORD WARBLERS ON A TETRAD BOUNDARY OR IN AN ADJACENT TETRAD?
There will be some territories that span two or more tetrads. If woodlarks or Dartford warblers 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 birds 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 territories in different tetrads. Noting breeding evidence such as birds carrying food and recently-fledged young helps to establish where the breeding territories are, but confirming breeding for all pairs is absolutely not necessary. Furthermore, the Schedule 1 status of both woodlarks and Dartford warblers means that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds at or near active nests, so nests should NOT be searched for and nesting birds should be observed from a distance.

 
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