Budding bird watchers based at Souter Lighthouse enjoy 'race' to register feathered friends, but survey reveals worrying trends

Budding bird watchers have been taking part in a “race” with a difference, to survey the different species in South Tyneside.
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Five teams, two in and cars and three on foot, set off from Souter Lighthouse at 8am on Sunday (January 8), taking in beauty spots including Marsden cliffs, the Cleadon Hills and Boldon Flats, in an eight-hour race to see who could spot the most different species of birds.

The annual event was organised by the National Trust and led by ranger Jason Thompson, who was joined by 18 volunteers.

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Jason, 51, said: “The teams had the freedom to go anywhere in the borough of South Tyneside. It was a fantastic day and we saw lots of species including stonechat, mediterranean gulls and even peregrine falcon, as well as sea birds such as cormorants and gannets.”

Volunteers taking part in the National Trust annual bird race.Volunteers taking part in the National Trust annual bird race.
Volunteers taking part in the National Trust annual bird race.
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Jason led the winning walking team, which also included Daniel Harrison, Annalise Lewis, Neil Arkley and John Chapman, who covered around 14 miles and saw 61 different species.

The winning driving team saw 81 different species.

Jason added: “Whilst the competition is a fun way to get people involved, there is a serious conservation side, which is to monitor the bird populations in the local area.

Bird watchers on the annual National Trust bird race.Bird watchers on the annual National Trust bird race.
Bird watchers on the annual National Trust bird race.

"We have been running the bird race for 30 years and so we have a lot of data we can compare this year’s results to.

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"This is why these sort of events are really important as the more people who take part, the better picture we have of what is happening.”

And while Jason is pleased his team won the competition, he is becoming increasingly concerned about what recent surveys have revealed.

He said: “The winning walking team saw over 70 species last year and so we are obviously down on that number. We are particularly seeing a decline in common bird species such as House Sparrows, Starlings and Thrushes.

“Due to climate change, we are also seeing a change in the birds wintering and migrating to and from our region. The Black Cap is summer warbler which used to migrate back to Africa in the winter but are now staying here, while the Wax Cap no longer migrates down from Scandinavia.

"I think we have seen one this year.”