Tag Archives: garden birds

Looking back at 2016

I’m looking forward to shaking the dust of 2016 from my sandals. But it hasn’t all been bad. Here are my highlights and lowlights from the year.

Highlights

I find January pretty tough – I’m not a fan of cold, and the lack of light gets me down. So a fun day out at the British Wildlife Centre with my fellow members of Surrey Dormouse Group was a welcome relief.

Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box
Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box

I love spring, and seeing the bluetits start to build a nest in my camera nest box meant the return home each day was exciting – what’s happened today?!

My Wild Garden 2016 challenge kept me busy over the year, as each month I tried to make my garden better for wildlife. For the first time this year I fed live mealworms to the birds – it was great seeing how well this went down with them, and something I’ll do again in 2017. We also installed an insect house, and it was great watching the bees move in. Perhaps my favourite Wild Garden activity of the year was creating the Bog Garden – lots of digging involved, but worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this year, now the plants have had a chance to bed in and grow.

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

As always, it’s a delight to watch hedgehogs in the garden, and even more exciting (and entertaining) to watch their courtship.

Dr C gave me a great new toy – a macro lens, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with that over the year. The Macrophotography course I did with Adrian Davies was particularly helpful. Some of the images I took that day even featured in my 2017 calendar!

Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower
Butterfly on bramble flower

It’s been a good year for my dormouse site. In one box check we had 9 dormice (including 7 youngsters crammed into one box!), and we’ve now had dormouse activity in every part of the site, which is great news.

16g dormouse found in May
16g dormouse found in May

And it’s great that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has now come into force. On a smaller scale, it’s lovely to hear that the beavers on the River Otter are breeding.

Lowlights

Work has been very tough this year (particularly in the first half of the year), so this blog has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. It’s frustrating, as I’ve loads of things I wanted to tell you about, and lots of photos and videos that need editing.

It’s not been a great year for my garden birds – the Big Garden Birdwatch in January, when we saw only one bird. The bluetits that started to build their nest in the camera nest box soon abandoned it. And when I looked at the data over the year from June 2015 to May 2016, it confirmed that we’ve had far fewer birds than normal.

The referendum result was staggering, and, to me, hugely disappointing. It’s still not clear how it will affect many things, including our laws for protecting wildlife and the environment. The whole campaign was a bit of a disaster – even those campaigning for remain failed to make a case on the positive things that EU membership has brought this country, including cleaner rivers, beaches and air, and protection for species like dormice. One thing is clear: we need make sure whatever happens next does not damage this protection.

2016 has seen a lot of beloved public figures die. Among them, perhaps the most famous tiger in the world: Machli, the lady of the lake. I was lucky enough to see her in the wild, back in 2006. She has had a long life for a tiger, and brought up many youngsters that will continue her legacy. But it’s still sad to think she is no longer ruling the temples and lakes of Ranthambore.

Bengal tiger
Machli

Let’s hope next year brings peace, reconciliation and restoration between people, and between humans and nature.

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Bird Nerd part 15: 2015-2016 data – catastrophe

If you have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I keep records of the birds I see in my garden. I have finally got round to entering and analysing the data from June 2015 to May 2016. The results make gloomy reading.

I have data from 36 observation days, spread across the year. On average, I saw eight individual birds from 4.5 species per day. This is the lowest average number of birds and species in the six years I have been collecting data, by quite some way. It’s a fall by more than half on the previous year’s average number of birds.

Average number of individual birds and species, 2010-2016
Average number of individual birds and species, 2010-2016

This averages hide a range from no birds at all (one day in February) to 19 birds from 9 species in June. In total, I saw birds from 16 different species.

As the graph shows, I started off with high numbers, which declined steeply in the first couple of months (as is fairly usual for the time of year). But the numbers never really picked up again, and December, which is usually the busiest month, saw very few birds visiting the garden.

Total number of individual birds and species, 2016
Total number of individual birds and species, 2016

How did different species get on?

The most regular visitor to the garden was woodpigeon, being recorded on 81% of observation days, followed by the reliable robin, on 78% of observation days. House sparrows were on seen on 36% of observation days, but turned up in numbers, giving a mean average of 1.8 individuals per observation day.

As the next chart shows, it was a bad year for most of the common species. The house sparrow population seems to have dropped dramatically from last year. I saw fewer starlings, collared doves and blackbirds than any previous year. Numbers of woodpigeons, magpies, dunnocks and jackdaws also seemed to be down on the previous year. Two species had their best ever year in our garden: robins and feral pigeons.

Average number of birds from common species, 2010-2016
Average number of birds from common species, 2010-2016

How does this fit with the national picture?

According to the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden Birdwatch survey (which my data feeds into), There were low average numbers during the second half 2015. But they report that many of the seed-eating and insectivorous species were seen in very high numbers toward the end of the year,  something my data doesn’t reflect. There were low winter migrant numbers, which could have been driven by relatively mild winter.

Looking at the individual species, the latter half of 2015 does seem to have been bad for house sparrows, collared doves, blackbirds and starlings nationally.

What caused this decline?

I don’t really know what caused the decline. I haven’t changed the food, water or shelter features in the garden for birds. A couple of possible factors spring to mind.

  1. Last winter was very mild, so maybe birds didn’t need to visit the garden so much for food
  2. Cats and kittens: our garden is now used by next door’s cat – he probably arrived during this period. And our backdoor neighbours have got a couple of naughty kittens. So perhaps these are scaring the birds away.

And of course there’s the bigger picture that’s affecting birds nationally: Jazz, Roja and Kiki are not responsible for low numbers of birds nationally. Climate change, habitat loss and farming intensification are part of the longer-term story.

What to do?

I can’t change the weather, so I guess if I want to see more birds, I may need to discourage the neighbourhood cats. I am not sure how best to achieve this, without making the garden unappealing to Fat Cat as well, which would be a shame (she’s not a hunter – she once got scared out of the garden by a baby bluetit). Maybe we could use some kind of cat repelling sound device that we could turn off when Fat Cat is taking her constitutional stroll.

What do you think?

  • Have you noticed any decline in the number of birds visiting your garden?
  • Do you have any alternative hypotheses for why the birds have disappeared?
  • Do you have any suggestions on how I can discourage the neighbours’ cats while not spoiling Fat Cat’s chance for fresh air and grass?

Bird Nerd Part 11: headlines from the last year

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).

Methods

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

Average numbers of birds seen per observation day, and proportion of observation days seen on
Average numbers of birds seen per observation day, and proportion of observation days seen on

Notable visitors…

We had one visit from each of the following birds (having had none the year before):

Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Male blackcap
Male blackcap
  • Chaffinch
  • Blackcap
  • Pied wagtail
  • Song thrush

…and noticeable absences

goldfinch
Goldfinch

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.

Coming soon

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).

Bird nerd part 9: finding a home for my data

I’ve been keeping records of the birds that come into my garden since 2010. By now, that’s quite a lot of data. Once a year I get round to entering it into a spreadsheet, and trying to analyse it a bit. But apart from a few posts on my blog, and my own personal interest, the data are not really achieving much. Now I’ve finally found a use for the data, as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch survey.

I found out about Garden BirdWatch (which is different from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch that takes place in January each year) at an event organised by the local BTO representative. Members of the BTO, and people like me, who have taken part in previous surveys (Nestbox Challenge, in my case) were invited to hear about the different surveys the BTO run, and a fascinating talk by Ed Drewitt on Urban Peregrines. I’m not a proper ornithologist (mammals are more my thing), so I felt a bit like an imposter at the event, but the Garden BirdWatch does sound like it’s designed to take the sort of data I collect each week.

Garden BirdWatch summary data
Garden BirdWatch summary data

So, I signed up, and have now entered my data back to July last year. I haven’t worked out how to enter my earlier data yet, but I hope this can also be uploaded somehow. Once the data is on the website you can look at summaries of it, although I’m not sure if they go into the level of detail I try to when I analyse my data. But at least it’s now helping researchers to monitor the health of our bird populations.

 

British birds photo special

Goldfinch
Goldfinch
Blackbird
Blackbird
Eagle owl
Eagle owl – there are a few pairs of eagle owls at large in Britain
Tawny owl, perfectly disguised in the dappled woodland light
Tawny owl, perfectly disguised in the dappled woodland light
Robin in the snow
Robin in the snow
Woodpigeon in the snow
Woodpigeon in the snow
Young starlings
Young starlings
Male house sparrow on seed feeder
Hungry house sparrow
Bluetit gathering nesting material
Bluetit gathering bits of twine to use as nest material
Kestrel stare
Kestrel
Goslings
Canada goslings
Barn owl
Barn owl
Pheasant
Pheasant
Heron
Heron