Today was the first day of the year I'd made a real effort for the University Birdwatch Challenge. This is an inter-university competition, set up by A Focus on Nature, to encourage university students to birdwatch, and then BirdTrack, all the species on their campus: http://www.afocusonnature.org/projects/university-birdwatch/ .
So far there are only 4 officially registered teams (Bangor, Aberystwyth, Cambridge and Manchester), but hopefully more will join soon. It was this competition that was the main driver behind me setting up the official Bangor Uni Birding Group. So far I've had 5 or 6 students interested in joining the Bangor team, and becoming regular BirdTrackers, but I suspect it'll take a few group sessions before these people are comfortable IDing on their own. I've produced step-by-step guides to set up BirdTrack accounts, with the correct recording site, so it's only the ID skills (and perhaps enthusiasm) that will let the team down now!
Zac has yet to return to Bangor (he's currently the country's best BirdTracker this year), so I started the challenge off today at our university botanic gardens (Treborth).
In 2 hours I managed to spot 26 species, despite helping a lecturer set up a practical at the same time, and count 169 individuals. This included 5 Siskin, a largish Blackbird flock (assumed continental migrants), 58 Herring Gulls and a hungry looking Sparrowhawk. It was nice to get out and about and test my call ID, which I haven't had time to practise much recently. I was glad to know I could still pick out Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Siskin, above a group of people talking. Also interpreting the alarm calls as a sign to look up gave me some great Sparrowhawk views.
The particular highlight was non-birdy however. 2 Red Squirrels had happily discovered the feeders put in place for the practical, and we got great views of these cute critters. Despite several attempts on Anglesey, I still hadn't seen Red Squirrels in Wales, so I was very pleased that my first were on University grounds and felt like an apt reward for giving myself the morning off work.
I'm aiming to set up a campus bird race in March (once uni deadlines are quieter), with some other environmental societies, to really get more people bird tracking!