If some bird species make remarkably lengthy migrations, then 700 volunteer birders have just completed a very long journey of their own.
Eight years ago, the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club conceived the idea of producing a comprehensive atlas of species which breed or overwinter in the area.
The ground to be covered, including Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside, totalled more than half a million hectares - one of the largest ornithological recording areas in England.
This was divided into 1,440 two-kilometre squares, or tetrads, which volunteers visited in summer and winter.
“A huge task lay ahead. Recruitment drives were undertaken to galvanise ‘square bashers’ to go out and scour every corner,” says Tom Cadwallender, co-author of the atlas, along with wife Muriel, Tim Dean and Dick Myatt.
Now The Northumbria Bird Atlas has been published, with 199 species given the “full treatment” with description, locally-taken photograph and maps.
There is also information on another 82 species for which there is insufficient breeding or wintering data to justify a full account.
Volunteers came from the Northumberland and other bird clubs, the British Trust for Ornithology, wildlife groups and interested individuals.
Thousands of volunteer hours went into providing 375,000 records.
“The response was nothing short of magnificent. This willingness to complete survey work has been instrumental in ensuring that coverage of the county has been astonishingly complete,” says Tom.
“The atlas has been a labour of love for an enthusiastic army of volunteer birdwatchers.
“Every nook and cranny of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside has been scoured, in summer and winter, in search of birds.
“The book is the culmination of many thousands of hours of time, collecting and interpreting data.
“We have, for the first time in one volume, detailed maps of bird populations and distribution across summer and winter for the recording area.
“The atlas is a landmark publication. No ornithological stone has been left unturned.
“It has been such a monumental and many faceted undertaking that it could not have been achieved without a vast team of supporters and helpers.”
Financial help has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has enabled the club to make available 1,000 copies of the book to middle and high schools and libraries in the recording area, to spread the word about birds and conservation.
The book cover is the work of Northumberland wildlife artist John Steele, while corporate and individual sponsors came forward for particular species.
There will be a public launch for the atlas in the Clore Suite at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle on April 9 from 4pm to 5pm.
The atlas is £25 + P&P (£5.95) from Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also from Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s headquarters at Gosforth or on-line at www.nwt.org.uk/shop