Last weekend was the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, where hundreds of thousands of people around the country spend an hour recording the birds that visit their garden or park. Bird nerd that I am, of course I took part. But my sightings this year were far from impressive.
I didn’t get off to a good start. Sunday was a damp, blustery day. The sort of day when I see far fewer birds than normal. And Jazz, our neighbour’s cat, spent the first 20 minutes sitting under the buddleia, getting into the birdwatching spirit. Not helpful. Dr C offered to chase him off, but I demured – the count is not a competition, it’s trying to get reasonably representative snapshot. As Jazz spends quite a bit of time lurking in our garden, I figured his presence was fairly typical.
Still, I was relieved when he disappeared under the fence. No birds were foolish enough to visit the garden with him around (the pigeon feathers on our lawn hint at what happens to foolish birds). And it would just be embarrassing not to see any birds.
The timer sped on, and my concern increased. Finally, I heard a robin. Heard him, but couldn’t see him. Then eventually he showed himself. I could put something down on my list. Sadly he remained the sole avian visitor to our garden that hour – a big contrast with my results in 2014.
We have been seeing far fewer birds than usual for this time of year. I think that might be because of the mild weather we’ve had so far. Those that do visit the garden seem uninterested in the seeds, suet pellets and mealworms we put out, preferring the ivy berries. In recent weeks I’ve been recording around 5 species a day – about half what I usually expect in January.
Hopefully this means that the birds are finding plentiful food elsewhere, rather than a dramatic decline in the bird population. Data from the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch survey (collected every week, rather than once a year) will give us a better idea of the impact of our weird winter weather beyond the boundaries of my garden.
Today is the 2nd birthday of this blog, so to celebrate I’ve been back over my posts from the last year, and picked a couple of my favourites from each month. I quite enjoyed looking back – brought back lots of memories!
Photo Special: Isles of Scilly – I had to choose this one, really, as not only do I quite like some of these photos, but, as it happens, I’m actually in the Isles of Scilly at the moment. It’s a beautiful place with excellent wildlife watching opportunities.
Scrumping badgers? – it’s so exciting seeing badgers (even if I didn’t get any photos)!
Moles: perfectly adapted – I’ve still never seen a mole in the wild (alive, at least), but you can’t help admire how suited they are to their subterranean lifestyle.
Looking for Harvest Mice at an airport – this day of surveying for harvest mice at Gatwick airport was really memorable, even if we didn’t find any in the end. It’s fascinating to see what wildlife can exist even in the most unlikely places.
Dormouse licence! – It took a long time to get enough experience with handling dormice to obtain my licence, so this was quite a significant milestone for me. This year I’ve enjoyed having my own site to survey.
On the trail of wild beavers – I’ve really enjoyed following the story of England’s first beavers in the wild for hundreds of years, and it was amazing to see signs of them when we were visiting the River Otter.
Church speaks and acts on climate change – While the new government seems to be implementing as many policies as possible to increase climate change (fracking, cutting subsidies to renewable energy, imposing the climate change levy on green electricity, the list goes on), it’s encouraging to see the church take a strong stance on this issue
Election summary – I spent a couple of months during the election campaign trying to find out where the main British parties stood on various issues relating to nature, the environment and wildlife. I must say, I didn’t enjoy the process much – it was quite dispiriting. But this post summarised all that work.
Another year has passed, so I have another stack of data about my garden birds to wade through. I started recording data about the number of birds I see back in June 2010, so I’ve now got 5 years of data. In this post I’ll just share some of the headlines for the last year (June 2014 – May 2015).
This post outlines how I collect the data. In brief, I record the maximum number of individuals of a bird species I see at the same time in my garden, while sitting in my study working from home for the day. This year I have 23 days of observations, which is the lowest so far – I think I must have had more meetings at work. Darn this paid employment thing getting in the way of birdwatching! (I love my job really.)
Averages, minimums and maximums
On average, I saw 18 individual birds of 7 different species per observation day. This did vary quite a bit over the year – the lowest was 2 birds of 2 species (in September) and the highest was 39 individual birds (in October) and 12 species (in December). The total number of species I saw over the year was 17.
The species league table
We had one visit from each of the following birds (having had none the year before):
…and noticeable absences
This year we had no visits from wrens, goldfinches or siskins on observation days. This is the first year with no wrens or goldfinches recorded.
I’ve got another post or two planned looking at changes over the last five years, and also seasonal patterns in my garden visitors. (I even have hopes of presenting some of data in a more visual way than usual).
I’m not a fan of winter, but it does make watching the birds in my garden a little more exciting. This week I was thrilled to see a blackcap for the first time since 2012. Blackcaps are a pretty type of warblers, with soft grey feathers and a striking black (if it’s male) or brown (if it’s female) cap.
Blackcaps aren’t the only unusual visitor I’ve seen in the garden recently. I saw a female chaffinch the other day. I’d only seen chaffinches in the garden twice before, both times back in 2013.
While few days go by without a visit from woodpigeons, feral pigeons are much rarer in my garden. But I have seen them twice in the last couple of weeks, having not seen them since 2013.
Obviously the food we put out is attracting more customers, despite the relatively mild and calm winter we’ve had so far. Better make sure I keep the feeders topped up!
This is my diary of the wildlife where I live in Oxfordshire, and sometimes the places I visit. I am a 16 year old young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially Badgers and Hares. I have been blogging since May 2013 and you can read my old blog posts at www.appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk