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Waterford atlas surveys: FAQs


Waterford atlas surveys:
frequently-asked questions


Most of the points below are covered to some extent in the ‘How to Help’ and ‘TTV Instructions’ documents provided by the British Trust for Ornithology and BirdWatch Ireland, which we recommend downloading.  See also national atlas FAQs.  The notes below attempt to provide further clarification, or cover additional points, as well as covering aspects specific to Co Waterford.  


Updated 11/04/2008 (lates updated marked +). 


General (winter and breeding)



Should I help with Timed Tetrad Visits (TTVs) or Roving Records (RRs) or both?


If you’re confident that you can identify the majority of species likely to be encountered – including those heard but not seen – consider making TTVs to one or more tetrads.  Bear in mind that TTVs in winter will require less reliance on bird songs and calls, but that large flocks may be encountered in winter.  (Note also that, before doing a TTV, you should ensure you’ve ‘booked’ the relevant tetrad, in case someone else has already been allocated it, and also to ensure that you have online access for that tetrad.)


If you’re less confident, at least initially, you may prefer to contribute by collecting Roving Records, either in a specific tetrad or in any tetrads you happen to encounter birds in.  (There is no need to ‘book’ tetrads for RRs – data can be submitted online for any tetrad.)


Anyone doing TTVs can also, of course, contribute RRs for other tetrads.


Both TTVs and RRs will make important contributions to the Atlas, both nationally and locally.  TTVs alone will miss some species, and RRs will help ensure the species lists compiled are as complete as possible, at both 10-km and 2-km (tetrad) scale.  RRs will be essential as a source of information on nocturnal species like owls.



Is coverage needed of the same area (tetrads) every year?


No.  For the more intensive method (Timed Tetrad Visits), the basic requirement for each tetrad covered is two 1-hour TTVs in one winter, and two 1-hour TTVs in one breeding season.  Otherwise there would not be time to cover a large sample of different tetrads over the full survey period.  However, Roving Records can be collected from any (or all) winter or breeding seasons.   



What if there are birds I can’t identify?


If you come across an unfamiliar species, take a short description (or at least a mental note!) and check later with field-guides or with your local organiser.  (If you can take a photograph or a tape-recording even better – but make sure you stop the clock first.)  If you are still unable to identify the species, or are not certain of it, put a note to this effect on the survey form or in your notebook, but don’t submit the record online.


If some individual birds are seen or heard too briefly to be identified (inevitably this happens, though less with experience), they can’t be counted either.



What dates?


Winter records must be from the period 1st November to 28th/29th February, 2007/08 to 2010/2011.


Breeding season records must be from the period 1st April to 31st July, 2007-2011, except for breeding evidence earlier or later in the season (e.g. early nests or fledglings of species like Raven and thrushes, or chicks still being fed in the nest in August).   [Note: records from breeding seasons 2006 and 2007 are also being used for the Waterford atlas, but will not be used for the national atlas.]



Are precise dates needed for records?


Yes, as far as possible (required for online entry of data for the national atlas).  Or your best approximation e.g. if you remember encountering a species in “early June” but don’t know the precise date, you might report as 5th June.



What time of day?


In winter, TTVs can be made at any time during daylight hours, except that you should avoid the first and last hours (when birds moving to or form night-roosts may confuse counts).


In the breeding season, TTVs should be made during morning hours i.e. after dawn and up to about 1200 hrs BST (1100 hrs GMT).  This is because bird activity tends to die down in the middle of the day.  Counts at, or immediately after, dawn are perhaps also best avoided, as so many birds may be singing (the dawn chorus) that counts may be difficult and less comparable with counts later in the morning.


But, in both seasons, Roving Records can be collected at any time of day or night – the latter (or dusk visits) to pick up species like owls.



What weather conditions?


The National Atlas guidelines say to try avoid inclement weather when doing TTVs.  This helps ensure that bird activity isn’t unduly depressed, and that the observer can see and hear birds properly.  In Co Waterford, we ask that TTVs are not done during heavy or continuous rain, or during winds stronger than Beaufort force 4.   But it is OK to ‘stop the clock’ temporarily if you need to shelter from a sudden shower, as long as the weather improves afterwards.


Roving Records can be collected in any weather conditions, as long as you can confidently identify the species you submit.  But in very extreme conditions (heavy rain or combined rain and gales), it is usually not worth trying to record birds – except perhaps a quick search for storm-blown seabirds inshore or on your local lake…



What if birds move from one tetrad to another?


If you see a bird or flock move from one tetrad to an adjacent tetrad ('using' both i.e. not just flying over), you may tick the species presence in both tetrads as Roving Records.  If this happens during a Timed Tetrad Visit in one tetrad, and you start another TTV in the adjacent tetrad and see what are definitely the same birds again, you should only count those individuals for the first tetrad.  (But you may tick the species in the 'extra' column for the second tetrad.)  When covering adjacent/nearby tetrads on different days, however, there is no no need to worry about birds that may have moved - i.e. count all birds during the TTV as usual even if it seems 'obvious' the same flock of birds is involved.



Should I submit records of (recently) dead birds?


This question has been the subject of some debate among atlas organisers in Britain and Ireland.  The feeling currently is that records will not be used by the national atlas, as there is a (small) risk that a corpse in a specific location could have been carried there by a scavenger, or by a motor vehicle, or by some other means.  But local atlases may be able to use these records, especially for poorly-recorded species like owls - so, for Co Waterford, please email details of any dead birds found, at least for the more interesting species.



Do I need to fill out paper forms?


Not necessarily - most observers will probably use a notebook for recording in the field (rather than writing direct on large forms), and you can input direct to computer using the online atlas system.  However, you should familiarise yourself with the information that is needed (for Roving Records or Timed Tetrad Visits as relevant), and perhaps have a copy of the forms and instructions with you in the field for reference.   Also, when inputting TTVs online, it may be easier to work from forms (having transcribed from a notebook), as the onscreen layout for TTVs matches the pages of the TTV form.


Observers without internet access or not wishing to input records online themselves can submit forms, at the end of each season, to their local or national organiser.  Those forms will be computer-input centrally.



Can I edit/modify my records online?


Yes, if you need to add or change details, you can now edit or delete Roving Records and Timed Tetrad Visits, even on another date (after initially confirming your records). 



Can I contribute to the Atlas via BirdTrack?


Yes, any records submitted to the online BirdTrack system will be used as Roving Records for Atlas purposes, at least for sites that fall within single 10-km squares.  To help with this, observers submitting BirdTrack records will be asked to clarify later whether or not their ‘sites’ fall within a single tetrad or a single 10-km square. 


Alternatively, a BirdTrack 'site' can be defined that matches a specific tetrad by entering its grid reference online:  e.g. when entering 'casual records' to BirdTrack, if grid reference is entered as letter S, digits 40, tetrad T, this creates a site called 'IS40T', and records entered will be plotted for that tetrad by the national and local atlas.  In the 'comments' field, specific locations can be entered for some records - e.g. a record of Little Egret in tetrad X29Q might have a comment "@ Cunnigar tip".



What about 'double-submissions' of records to the Atlas and other surveys?


This is not a problem – you can submit the same records, in different formats, to more than one BTO or BirdWatch Ireland survey, e.g. winter records to the Atlas, BirdTrack and I-WeBS, or to the Atlas and Garden Bird Survey.  If all records refer to a single tetrad (or single 10-km square), this may result in some duplicate records being incorporated in the Atlas – but this is not a problem, and is preferable to records being missed.



What if a tetrad is entirely (or mainly) sea?


Roving Records can, in theory, be submitted for any tetrad along the coast, or within ‘countable’ range of the coast.  This applies both to tetrads that have some land (but whose midpoint is below the Low Water Mark) and those that are entirely sea.  Such tetrads may be important feeding or roosting area for species like seabirds, divers and seaduck, so it is useful to have these records.  Be careful, however, as it is easy to assign birds ‘at sea’ to the incorrect tetrad if distances or directions are misjudged.


For the National Atlas, the priority for Timed Tetrad Visits are tetrads whose midpoint is above Low Water Mark – other tetrads are flagged with ‘Not TTV’ on the online system.  This is a simple rule of thumb to ensure that there is enough land to allow comparable 1-hour TTVs in all tetrads covered.  However, counties (such as Waterford) that are doing a more detailed local atlas may wish to collect timed data from such ‘partial’ tetrads also.  And if there is enough land to ‘fill’ an hour’s surveying, TTVs may also be submitted to the national survey even for tetrads that are mainly sea.  Please contact your local organizer for further guidance if you’d like to do timed visits in such tetrads.



General (winter)



What state of tide?


This mainly applies to Atlas surveys in winter.  There are no absolute restrictions, but at coastal sites counting at mid to high tide will increase the chances of birds on the sea being closer to shore, thus easier to identify and count.  Obviously, the species and numbers present in a given tetrad may reflect the state of tide – e.g. feeding waders may be absent at high tide.  But, on average, across sites and observers, counts will have been made in a range of tidal conditions, thus tidal influences will tend to average out – or, when interpreting maps of the final results, the influence of tide can be borne in mind.



Can I combine (winter) atlassing with wetland bird counts (e.g. I-WeBS)?


Yes, as long as you’re happy that Atlas fieldwork doesn’t not reduce the quality of your I-WeBS counts, and vice versa.  For smaller wetlands (within a single tetrad), e.g. small lakes, it may be practical to do the wetland count first, then finish off by searching for other bird species in the same tetrad.  Or one overall survey may be practicable, if the wetland is counted part-way through a one-hour TTV.   For larger wetlands, it may be easier to finish counting the wetland as a whole, then revisit and resurvey particular tetrads for all species. 


Bear in mind, too, that any species you submit as part of I-WeBS counts will automatically be copied to the Atlas for use as Roving Records, at least for wetland sites or sub-sites that fall within single 10-km squares.  Also, if you’re counting ducks and waders, but see or here some landbird species during your count, we’d encourage you to submit the latter as Roving Records.



Roving Records in both seasons



For Roving Records, should I concentrate on particular areas?


Areas near home or that you regularly visit may be the most convenient for Roving Recording purposes.  But coverage of other areas – either elsewhere in the county (or other counties), or in a wider radius around your usual area (e.g. the whole 10-km square nearest home) – would also be valuable.



Are Roving Records needed for all species?


RRs will be most important for scarcer or more elusive species, like birds of prey, Kingfisher, Jay, Red Grouse etc and, in particular, owls and other nocturnal or crepuscular species.  But to help improve coverage, both at 10-km scale and tetrad scale, records of all species are potentially useful.  This is especially so in Co Waterford, where we hope to map as many species as possible at fine (tetrad) scale.  So, even for a common species, don't assume someone else will have recorded it in the same tetrad.



Should I submit Roving Records at tetrad (2-km square) or 10-km square scale?


If possible, please submit Roving Records at tetrad scale – this will ensure that they can be used both nationally (10-km mapping) and for more detailed local purposes (e.g. tetrad mapping).  However, if you are unsure of the tetrad, but are confident of the 10-km square, submit at 10-km scale.



Are counts needed for Roving Records, and can they be submitted online?


For the purposes of the national atlas, counts are, strictly, only needed for species encountered during the main 1-hour Timed Tetrad Visits.  (Counts are not needed for species during ‘extra time’ i.e. after the main TTV is completed, although you may wish to keep a note of numbers if a scarcer species is encountered.)


Counts are not needed by the national atlas for Roving Records, but may be of value locally, especially for scarcer species or larger flocks.  Currently, counts cannot be submitted using the online RR system, but this facility will be added shortly (and it will be possible to add counts to records already submitted).   For RRs, counts will still be optional i.e. there is no need to keep a count for all species seen (unless you're doing a TTV).   For Co Waterford we suggest that you keep a note of numbers of any species you think might be of particular interest or of particularly large flocks, and enter them with your RRs when the online system allows this.  Alternatively, or in the meantime, counts may be entered as ‘casual’ records using the online BirdTrack system – enter the tetrad name (e.g. IX69F) in the site-name box.



Timed Tetrad Visits (TTVs) in both seasons



For TTVs, should I do one hour or two hours of counts on each date?


The main requirement is one hour early, one hour later in the relevant season-  in winter an hour in November or December and an hour in January or February;  in summer, an hour in April or May and an hour in June or July.


The TTVs forms and online data-entry screens provided for the National Atlas also provide the option of doing a second 1-hour count on each date.  This is partly to help counties that wish to collect 2 hours of counts on each date for local atlas purposes.  However, in Co Waterford, we are not asking for a second hour on each date – we would prefer that you do an hour in a different tetrad, to help ensure coverage of as many different tetrads as possible.  (But if you happen to be in a tetrad for longer than an hour, keep a note of any extra species encountered, or of any extra breeding evidence recorded in summer).


An important exception to all this is in the breeding season, if you are only able to make a single visit to a more remote tetrad.  In this situation, a single 2-hour count late in the breeding season (i.e. in June-July) is acceptable.  A single, 2-hour count earlier in the season is not sufficient, as some migrant species (e.g. Spotted Flycatcher) may not yet have arrived.



What is ‘extra time’ used for on the TTV form?


This is used for any species you record in the same tetrads on the same date as your main 1-hour count, but outside of that hour.  For example, at the end of an hour’s TTV you may encounter extra species on the walk back to your starting point. 


If you ‘upgrade’ the breeding status of a species in extra time – e.g. you hear singing Blackbirds in the main hour, but see an adult carrying food afterwards -  this can be entered in the ‘status’ column.



Can I ‘stop the clock’ during a TTV?


This can be done if you need to concentrate on counting a large flock of birds, or a breeding colony, or if you otherwise need to take a break.  (For example, you may need to talk to an interested passer-by!)  Also, if you need retrace part of your route to get to a different part of a tetrad, it makes sense to stop the clock to avoid re-covering the same area and possibly double-counting some birds.  Make sure, though, that you record for a full hour in total, by keeping a detailed note of start/stop times or using a stopwatch.



What parts of a tetrad should I cover during a TTV?


Try to plan a route for each visit that will take you through, or near, all the main habitats in the tetrads within the space of an hour.  Use the Ordnance Survey Discovery Series map for the tetrad to help with this.  The idea is to sample representative habitats within the tetrad, to maximise your chances of detecting a range of species and getting a good idea of their abundance (relative to other tetrads).



How can I cover a tetrad adequately in an hour?


Especially in a tetrad with varied habitats spread out over a large area, it is easy to feel that an hour is not enough.  The TTV methodology for the national atlas aims to collect information that is, as far as possible, representative of the main habitats within each surveyed tetrad.  Inevitably, some habitat types (and bird species) will be missed during timed visits.  However, when national results are derived from surveys of multiple tetrads within each 10-km square, on average this should give a good picture for the 10-km square as a whole.  Also, pilot studies for the national atlas showed that basic coverage of a more tetrads is a better investment of time than more detailed surveys of fewer tetrads.   For local (Co Waterford) purposes, extra coverage after the main hour's count, or Roving Records collected on other days, will help ensure that additional habitats or areas are covered and thus extra species detected.  


What about tetrads that include land in more than one county? 


For Timed Tetrad Visits, the national atlas organisers recommend that the whole tetrad be surveyed, i.e. that coverage include parts of the tetrad in different counties.  In practice, this is most important if each county's section includes a substantial amount of land, or additional habitats. 


For local (Waterford) purposes, we are also looking for a breakdown of which species have been seen inside the Waterford county boundary, and what level of breeding evidence has been recorded in Waterford.  We would also like to know approximately what proportion of each hour's counting was done in Co Waterford.  This information will need to be reported separately to the local organiser - if possible, provided as additional notes on a copy of a TTV form.   At the moment, a county breakdown of actual counts is not a priority.


As a practical rule-of-thumb, for Co Waterford purposes, any county that makes up less than 15%  of the land/freshwater area of a tetrad can probably be ignored, i.e. fieldwork confined to the remaining county.  For relevant tetrads, this would ensure all TTV records relate to one county only, and examination of maps for the specific tetrads involved suggests it is unlikely that any important extra habitats will be missed.   For border tetrads with <15% of their area in Co Waterford, most likely these will be covered as 'partial tetrads' for local purposes, with species recorded being submitted as Roving Records for national purposes.



+Which birds do I count in TTVs?


In winter, count all birds using the tetrad (land or sea) – i.e. resting, feeding or apparently foraging – but exclude (or keep a separate note of) any birds flying directly overhead (or along the shore) without being seen to take off or alight within the tetrad (and not behaving as if searching for food).  Remember that birds of prey apparently hunting/searching (e.g. hovering or circling, or flying direct low over the ground) should be counted as 'using' the tetrad. 


In the breeding season, the same guidelines apply except that only birds other than juveniles fledged the same year should be counted (although species presence can be noted on the basis of juvenile birds seen, and ‘NY’ recorded if nestlings or very recently-fledged birds are seen).  In the ‘breeding status’ column, use code ‘F’ (flight) but don't record a count for any direct-flying species that don’t appear to be using the tetrad.  But, as in winter, species that are obviously foraging in flight, e.g. Swallows, should be counted.



How accurate do counts need to be?


Counts of small numbers of birds will tend to be more accurate and reliable (though even then not all birds actually present, even close by, will be seen or heard i.e. counts will usually be minima).  For larger flocks, you can ‘stop the clock’ if necessary.  Even then, it may sometimes be necessary to make a rough estimate of a flock, if it flies off before you have time to count it properly.  In general, for large flocks (e.g. waders or Starlings) a good compromise is to count 5 or 10 birds, then continue counting in ‘blocks’ of 5 or 10 until you reach the end of the flock.  For both estimates and ‘block counting’, accuracy/reliability will improve with practice – but, however you do it, the Atlas will make use of the best information you can provide.



What if I do my first TTV but am unable to make a second visit later in the season?


Ideally, we would like the same observer to make both visits, but if really necessary a different observer may take over for the second visit.  If you’ve made your first visit but think you’ll be unable to make the second visit, you should contact the local organiser, who will try to arrange another observer.  Alternatively, if only the first visit is available for a particular season, the records can be used (or submitted) as Roving Records, but two visits will need to be made in another year.



Do I need to cover the same tetrad(s) both in winter and in the breeding season?


No – you can choose one or other season, or both, whichever suits you best.  But, in practice, many observers will cover the same tetrads in both seasons – they may know the area well, or just be interested to see the seasonal changes in birds using a particular area. 


In Co Waterford, where a local breeding atlas has already been underway since 2006, it may also be the case that a particular tetrad has already been covered in the breeding season.  If so, further breeding-season coverage of that tetrad may not be a priority, although many tetrads will probably get re-visited towards the end of the survey.



Do I need to re-count my tetrad(s) every year?


No - each tetrad needs visits only in one winter and one breeding season, any time during the years of the survey.  However, Roving Records from other survey-years will also be welcome, as they include additional species or extra breeding evidence.



Do I need to provide a ‘tetrad population estimate’ (as part of TTVs)?


No – this is optional, and in Co Waterford we are not asking that this information be provided.  If you feel comfortable doing so, you can attempt to provide an estimate of the total population of birds of a given species in the tetrad (adult birds in summer), based on your two visits, the proportion of the total available habitat you’ve covered and the behaviour/detectability of the species.  But this is not a priority in Waterford, and we would prefer you concentrate on the main survey methods.



Timed Tetrad Visits (TTVs) in Breeding season



+How do I count colonial-nesting species?


For nesting seabirds (in Waterford these are Fulmar, Cormorant, Shag, gulls and auks), Grey Heron, Little Egret, Sand Martin and Rook, if you encounter a colony during a TTV, keep a note that a colony is present, and at a minimum tick ‘colony present’ in the Colony Sheet included at the end of the TTV form. 


You may then add an (optional) count or estimate of the number of apparently occupied nests at the colony.  However, do not count individual birds at colonies, i.e. exclude those birds from the main TTV count. 


Do, however, count any individuals (other than juveniles fledged same year) of colonial species encountered away from colonies.


Apologies if this is rather complicated!


See also specific advice below re breeding seabirds.


+What if I encounter nesting seabirds during a TTV?


If you encounter nesting seabirds, keep a note of the species and their breeding status (e.g. adult on nest, nest with young etc) and tick the Colony Sheet.  In Co Waterford, a separate full survey of breeding seabird is already planned for 2008-2009, in parallel with the Atlas, thus we will not require detailed counts during the main Atlas coverage.  You can add an estimate to the Colony Sheet if you wish, but bear in mind that a complete survey (even of a small colony) may take a considerable time, if all suitable vantage points are checked.


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