Over the last couple of weeks I have been busy setting up the Cabot Tower Bird Study Group – an urban visible migration study and raptor watch. I have been increasingly convinced of Brandon Hill’s potential for spotting birds migrating through Bristol and have been waiting all summer for Cabot Tower to reopen, so that I could check out its potential as a vantage point to scan the skies across the city. Since its reopening, I have spent a lot of time there watching for movements of songbirds, swifts, swallows, martins and birds of prey and have been rewarded with some great sightings of peregrines roosting on Bristol’s rooftops, sparrowhawks hunting around the tower and buzzards soaring over the city. The only problem has been that the majority of the migratory birds likely to be moving over Bristol generally prefer to do their globe-trotting first thing in the morning and I haven’t been able to get up there quite early enough to catch them.
I have a bit of experience in urban high-rise birding, having been part of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group during the autumn of 2010 and occasionally in spring 2011 and I know that it pays to keep your expectations low, as urban centres are not exactly well known migration hot-spots and often it’s just the view that you are rewarded with.
Occasionally however, the conditions are right and even in the most urban of locations like the centre of the City of London, birds like the tiny and typically rural meadow pipit can be seen bouncing across the skyline during the spring and autumn migration periods. Urban studies like these are important because their records can help us build up a clearer picture of how the growth of our towns and cities is effecting the behaviour of our wildlife.
The Urban Birder, David Lindo encouraged me to set up a sister study to his London based T42 study in Bristol, and after speaking to the right people, I have now been granted permission to gain access to Cabot Tower as early as necessary for the purpose of studying bird movements and migrations over Bristol. I have had a little help from Ed Drewitt and the support of the BOC and the Avon Wildlife Trust and with a bit of publicity in the Bristol Evening Post and on the Bristol Culture website, I now have a few people interested in joining me. The Cabot Tower Bird Study Group is now ready to start logging its sightings with the BTO and comparing them with the Tower 42 BSG to take some positive steps towards finding out which birds are visibly migrating over the major cities of southern England.
Our launch will be on Sunday, with David and Ed both in attendance and we are hoping to see plenty more of the sights already logged this week during a few preliminary sessions -including groups of meadow pipits (my first at Brandon Hill), migrating pied and grey wagtails, buzzard, peregrine, sparrowhawks and last Friday, a large conspiracy of 21 ravens flying directly over the tower. We will also be on the look-out for the first few redwings arriving, but after seeing my first ever Brandon Hill starling this morning (which I thought might never happen) who knows what might turn up?..