Website helps birdwatchers follow migrants' epic journeys

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The Independent Online

Think of it as the world's biggest birdwatching notebook. It seems fantastic, but the internet is making it a reality, and it has been launched at the hobby's jamboree, the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water.

Think of it as the world's biggest birdwatching notebook. It seems fantastic, but the internet is making it a reality, and it has been launched at the hobby's jamboree, the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water.

BirdTrack is a database where any birdwatcher in Britain or Ireland can store their personal records daily, and watch them feed into a giant picture of birds coming and going, and stopping and nesting, across the British Isles.

Thousands of people are expected to respond, says the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the leading national bird research organisation, which is setting up BirdTrack with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Birdwatch Ireland, the Republic's main bird group.

BirdTrack is a year-round extension to Migration Watch, a hugely successful BTO database. For the past two years, it has provided a vivid online picture of the miracle of spring bird migration, when millions of summer visitors from cuckoos to chiffchaffs pour into Britain from their winter quarters in Africa.

Migration Watch has made the process visible, with animated maps of bird arrivals updating daily and weekly, based on the sightings of thousands of observers recorded via its website. Anyone can log on to it whenever they like.

BirdTrack will continue to show spring migration, but it will also show species leaving for the winter, and winter visitors such as fieldfares and redwings from Scandinavia which head north when spring comes.

Britain has the world's biggest concentration of birdwatchers - the RSPB has more than a million members - so with more people having internet access the participation potential is huge.

The data will be used to support species and site conservation efforts, and to provide more insight into the status of scarce species.

"This will benefit both birds and birdwatchers," said Dawn Balmer, the BTO scientist in charge of the project. "Thousands of people are birdwatching every day but what they have seen has not got through to organisations working on species and site conservation."

To take part, visit the BirdTrack website www.birdtrack.net to register free. Birders already in Migration Watch can use the same user name and password. Queries can be e-mailed to birdtrack@bto.org

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