So here we are at the end of January and it’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch time again. If you’re not familiar with the Birdwatch concept, all you need to take part is a pen, a piece of scrap paper, a view out of the window and an hour. During that hour you need to record the sightings of the total number of each species of bird you see at any one time on your patch. So you can’t count two robins unless you see them both simultaneously (and I find robins are particularly sneaky when it comes to flitting out of sight just when you think you’ve seen a second one!)
I love the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend and usually can’t resist doing the count more than once. Normally we try to do it over lunchtime when we’re sitting near the window anyhow. Lunch is usually interrupted by the dash for the binoculars – was that really two blackbirds down the end of the garden or cunning starlings pretending?!
I also always hope for something a little special. Over the years our garden has treated us to some unusual visitors. One year it was redpolls and another it was redwings. The redpolls required snow and very frosty weather which seems a bit unlikely this year. The redwings also seem to need it cold to make an appearance but they’re not quite so fussy. One January a flock of at least fifteen turned up! The first day I saw one it was just a single bird which subsequently I decided was eyeing up the territory and had spotted the tree at the end of the garden which was still covered in red berries. The following day he returned with his friends and the flock descended to strip the tree, turning it from red to green in about an hour – not a berry left! Another less common (and less welcome) visitor might be a sparrow hawk. We have seen them on several occasions in our garden, on one occasion causing chaos as a collar was chased down into our patio doors in panic.
However, one species we dread seeing during the Birdwatch is parakeets – the curse of
Southwest London! Some days we can see more than 20 on our cherry tree. Whilst their antics can be highly entertaining, evidence does seem to suggest they drive away some of the smaller birds and, if nothing else, they simply steal their food. If a flock of parakeets descends during our Birdwatch count, we may as well give up as nothing else will appear until they take their leave.
So how did we fare with Birdwatch 2016? Well it certainly wasn’t one of our finest.
We had several goes at it and saw 14 species overall. Our best total bird count was 25 and included Great Tits, Collar Dove, Chaffinch, Wood Pigeon, Blue Tits, Robin, Goldfinch, Long Tailed Tits, Wren and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Parakeets! The surprise was the Wren. A tiny secretive bird with its distinctive up-turned tail, it emerged from underneath the dense ivy leaves and flitted across to hide in a winter clematis.
So what is the point of the Big Garden Birdwatch? It has now been running for some thirty years and during that time has gathered important data showing, for example, a 50% decline in the UK’s sparrow population and a 75% decline in starlings. Knowing there is a problem is the first step towards doing something about that problem and without a doubt, this is one way of raising awareness of a changing environment.
For more details of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, go to the RSPB website.