Tag Archives: birds

Bird Nerd part 5: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 results

Last week the RSPB released the results of the 2014 Great British bird watch. Once again house sparrows topped the list, with an average of 3.8 seen per garden.

The survey was carried out by almost half a million volunteers  across the UK. It involved watching a garden or park for an hour during one weekend in January, and recording the maximum number of birds of each species seen at one time.
So how do the results compare to the average number of birds I saw in my garden this January? The table below shows the mean number of birds observed per site in the UK as a whole, Surrey, and my garden. As you can see, the results are pretty similar.
House sparrows also topped my list. Unlike the rest of Surrey and the UK, I didn’t see any goldfinches. Dunnocks did make it onto my list though.
Top 10 bird species seen: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 and my garden
Top 10 bird species seen: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 and my garden
But how does this compare to previous years? Compared to last year there has not been a huge amount of change in the average numbers of birds seen for the top 10 species nationally. For my garden, there has been a drop in the number of starlings, and smaller drops in the numbers of several other birds, but that may be down to the mild winter meaning birds don’t need to visit the feeders in my garden as much as last year.
Top 10 birds seen in my garden in January 2013 vs January 2014
Top 10 birds seen in my garden in January 2013 vs January 2014
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Ugandan wildlife pictures

Vervet monkey
Vervet monkey
Pied kingfisher
Pied kingfisher
Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee
Elephants against the backdrop of the Rwenzori mountains
Elephants against the backdrop of the Rwenzori mountains
Hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
African fish eagle
African fish eagle
Buffalo wallowing in a mud bath
Buffalo wallowing in a mud bath
Lion's stare
Tree climbing lion

Here are some of my favourite pictures from our recent trip to Uganda. Hope you enjoy them! Butterfly Water lily Sleeping tree-climbing lion Alert lion

Lion on termite mound
Lion on termite mound

A day in the life of nesting sparrows

Today is World Sparrow Day. Who even knew there was such a day? To mark this important occasion, I thought I’d give you an update on how our sparrows are getting on.

The sparrows have been busy over the last couple of weeks, building a nest in one of our boxes. This of course is good news. What makes it even more gratifying is that they’ve chosen the box with a camera in, so we can keep a close eye on their progress.
This is the first year we’ve had sparrows nesting in the camera box, so I’m not sure quite what to expect. While bluetits lay one large clutch a year, sparrows usually lay 2 to 3 clutches of 2 to 5 eggs, so we may get to see several broods this year if we are lucky.
Our sparrows are still at the nest building stage, so haven’t started laying yet. I’ll keep you posted!
In the meantime, here’s a high speed overview of a day of hard nest building.

PS. You may have noticed I’ve given the blog a bit of a facelift – let me know what you think! Hope you like it.

Nest Box Challenge

Last week was National Nest Box Week. This annual event aims to encourage people to put up nest boxes for birds, and comes in mid-February, as birds in the UK start to think about where to nest. Nest boxes are important in towns as, while there may be plenty of food for birds, there are few natural tree holes for them to nest in. Now, there’s not much room in my garden for more nest boxes (we already have 6). Not wanting to miss out, I decided to mark the week (and the hints of spring we’ve had in the last week) by installing the camera into the nest box at the front of our house.

This is fourth year that we’ve had a bird’s eye view of what goes on inside that nestbox. So far we’ve not had great luck. The first year a pair of bluetits started to build a nest, but didn’t complete it. The year after, 11 eggs hatched, but with only one parent feeding the chicks, none of them made it to fledging (it was also a very wet spring that year). Last year another pair of bluetits started building a nest, but didn’t complete it. It would be nice this year if we could see some chicks make it as far as fledging, particularly since I think the weather over the last few years has not been kind to our local bluetits.

Watching from my study on Friday there was a pair of bluetits spending quite a bit of time in our back garden, so hopefully they’ll decide the nest box at the front is their ideal home.

Early last year we also installed a terrace of sparrow boxes, and a robin box. These weren’t used, but who knows, maybe this year they’ll be occupied.

As another way of marking National Nest Box Week I’ve signed up to the British Trust for Ornithology’s Nest Box Challenge. This involves monitoring the nest boxes in my garden, and sending data back to the Trust. So I’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s going on in our nest boxes. I’ll let you know if there’s any news!

Bird nerd part 2: summary stats

So, having collected all this lovely data, what do I know about the birds that visit my garden? Here are some summary stats from the last three years of data collection.

  • In 2010-11 I saw on average 7 different species per observation day. In 2011-12 this went down to 6, and in 2012-13 it went up to 8.
  • In 2010-11 I saw on average 14 individual birds per observation day. In 2011-12 that went down to 12, and in 2012-13 it went up to 15.
  • These averages hide quite a bit of seasonal variation: September is generally pretty quiet, while the bird table is unsurprisingly busy in December and January.
  • The most regular avian visitors to the garden were: bluetits in 2010-11, being seen on 55 out of 64 observation days, starlings in 2011-12, being seen on 35 out of 43 observation days, and woodpigeons in 2012-13, with only one observation day out of 44 when they didn’t make an appearance.
  • The most numerous visitors to the garden were starlings by far (which won’t surprise anyone who has seen hoardes of them descend on a bird table), although in the last year house sparrows have almost managed to catch them up.

    Bluetit
    Bluetit gathering nesting material

Changes in which species visit over time

As I mentioned in the first ‘Bird nerd’ post, altogether I’ve seen 26 different species of bird in the garden, although never all in the same year. In 2010-11 I saw blackcaps on 15 observation days (in the winter), but only once in 2011-12 and once in August 2012-13 (which is a shame, as they are pretty birds).

There have been no records of jays since 2010-11, but even then they were not frequent visitors. Other birds missing in 2012-13 that I have seen (infrequently) in other years include crows, greenfinches and siskins.

On the bright side, in 2012-13 I saw chaffinches and some kind of warbler for the first time. It’s quite encouraging that 4 years after moving here we’re still spotting new species.

Future analysis to be done

The few stats I’ve presented here are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I could examine from my data. One question I would like to look at is how the weather affects bird numbers. I’ve got very basic data on weather for most observation days, but only as far as whether it was sunny, snowy, rainy or overcast. Since we had solar panels installed last June I now have data on sunlight. My theory is we get more bird visits on sunny days than rainy or overcast (controlling for the month of the year), but we’ll see if the data supports that…

Let me know if there are any other questions you would like me to look at – for example, if you’re interested in a particular species or comparison over time…