National concerns over how to protect breeding populations of wading birds and local worries about dwindling numbers of winter wildfowl featured at the 2023 Hertfordshire Bird Conference.

More than 80 HNHS / Herts Bird Club members and guests learned how the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is supporting efforts to halt an alarming reduction in the number of Curlews and other internationally important breeding populations of wading birds in Britain. 

They also heard from Josh Kalms of the Hertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust about the bird life of Stocker's Lake near Rickmansworth, including signs of 'short-stopping' where fewer winter wildfowl cross from the continent. Anyone who missed the conference, or would like to watch the main presentations again, will find video links posted below.

Paul Noyes, Wader Project Officer at the BTO, said the number of Curlews had halved since 1995 and their  range had contracted by 20 per cent. Attempts to reverse the decline required more understanding of factors that ranged from changing land use and farming practices to the food available for chicks and levels of predation. The BTO's recent monitoring work with landowners had revealed sheep and hedgehogs raiding nests alongside more-expected foxes and crows. (View full presentation.)

In his talk, Josh Kalms described an impressive range of water and land birds that can be viewed at Stocker's Lake, where the reserve includes waterlogged Alder Carr habitat beside the former gravel pit. But he noted how sightings of some visiting wildfowl species, such as Smew, have declined in the past 25 years. Open water where they winter in Denmark and the Netherlands no longer freezes so often, giving the birds less need to cross to Britain. (View full presentation.)

Mike Ilett, co-author of Birds of Hertfordshire (1995) also referred to the impact of 'short-stopping' in his review of changing county records in the ten years since survey work for the atlas was completed. Species apparently affected include Goosander, Goldeneye and Gadwall as well as Smew.

Recent Hertfordshire records also reflect the national loss of visiting Turtle Doves in summer. There has been little confirmed breeding by Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and the county appears to have lost its last colony of Tree Sparrows at Tyttenhanger.  However, some species ranging from breeding Ravens to less-popular flocks of Ring-necked Parakeet have increased in numbers. (View full presentation.)

The latest update on rare bird records and other sightings came from Graham Knight with his 'What Did You Miss?' review of 2022. The year brought over 17,000 records from 425 observers, covering 196 species (some subject to verification).  Rarities included Green-winged Teal, White-tailed Eagle, Stone Curlew, Glossy Ibis, Hoopoe and a good year for breeding Peregrine Falcons. (View full presentation.)

Also at the conference, Hertfordshire BTO representatives Martin Ketcher and Murray Orchard gave an overview of current surveys and appealed for more volunteers to help with organising and carrying out surveys, including a current search for breeding Woodcock.

Congratulations go to Ian Williams, voted winner at the conference of the Hertfordshire Bird Photograph of the Year competition with his picture of the vagrant Hoopoe, seen at Hinxworth in June. The runner-up, Jan Brown, photographed a Starling in colourful, light-catching detail in her garden. The winners and short-listed photographs can be seen on the Herts Bird Club website.

The conference was jointly organised by Herts Bird Club and the BTO and was the first to take place 'live' since Covid restrictions. We are grateful to Alister Leggatt and colleagues at Affinity Water for hosting the event at their offices in Hatfield. Alister gave his 'traditional' update on the current state of local water resources, including a dry start to 2023 after a very wet November. (View presentation.)