Tag Archives: RSPB

Bird nerd part 13: Big Garden Birdwatch 2016: where were they all?

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.

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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.

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Defend Nature

The laws that protect otters are under threat: defend nature by supporting the RSPB campaign to protect the EU Nature Directives
The laws that protect otters are under threat: defend nature by supporting the RSPB campaign to protect the EU Nature Directives

We have some special, wild places in Europe (and the UK), and some remarkable wildlife. This isn’t by accident: without strong protection in law many of these places and species would be no more. The EU Nature Directives, laws which protect precious species and places, are under threat.

European leaders are considering making the Directives weaker. Now is not the time to be despondent about politics, despite last week’s results – it’s time to take action to protect what we value. Take action now to tell them EU leaders that you support the Directives, and the protection they offer to our wildlife, and don’t want to see them weakened. And share this with others, so they too can defend nature.

 

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

Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

It’s the last weekend in January, which means it’s time once again for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I’m doing my hour of observation as I type, (lunchtime on Sunday) and conditions aren’t promising. It’s tipping down with rain, and blustery with it, so I don’t expect to see many birds. I put out food first thing this morning, but had to refresh supplies before I started counting as most of it had already gone.

Last year more than half a million people took part across the UK. The data generated by this annual event helps us keep track of how garden birds are doing across the UK. Headline findings from last year’s event included the continuing decline of starlings and house sparrows, both of which are ‘red listed’, which means they are of highest conservation concern. We have to hope that this year will see better results for them. On a more positive note, sightings of siskins, fieldfares and jays increased last year compared to 2012.

So, what I have seen in my garden over the last, blustery hour? No big surprises.

  • 5 house sparrows
  • 2 starlings
  • 1 dunnock
  • 2 blackbirds
  • 2 collared doves
  • 2 woodpigeons

I think if the weather had been kinder I would have expected to see a robin and a bluetit or two, based on my ‘bird nerd’ sightings over the last couple of weeks. But who can blame the birds for finding somewhere sheltered to keep out of the rain. Now I’ve finished my hour I think it’s time to light the fire and settle in for the afternoon!

Only connect: children and nature

This week the RSPB launched a report about children’s connection with nature. This looked at empathy for creatures, having a sense of oneness with nature, having a sense of responsibility for the environment and enjoyment of nature. According to a survey of 1,200 children from the UK, conducted as part of the research, only one in five children had a good connection to nature. If you would like to see how connected you are with nature, you can take the survey here.

Being connected with nature is important for all of us. Previous work done by the RSPB has suggested that spending time in nature is good for us both mentally and physically. But it’s also really important that children have a good connection with nature, as if they don’t value it then they are not going to look after it when they are older.

Reading about this report made me think back to my own childhood, and try and work out why I became interested in nature. I can’t think of a damascene experience, but a few early memories do stand out.

Frogs and slow worms
I remember spending lots of time playing in the garden when I was young, chasing frogs and finding slow worms. I was surprised a few years ago, when Fat Cat brought in a frog, how hesitant I was about picking it up. I certainly had none of that squeamishness when I was a child!

Acorn treasure
The infant school I went to used the park as a playground. There were some magnificent oaks in the park, and I remember each year gathering acorns as treasure. Green ones still in their cups were the ones I prized most. All these years later the sight of an oak tree laden with acorns still thrills me, and I often can’t resist gathering a few acorns.

Wildlife Watch
When I was a bit older my mother’s godmother bought me membership of Wildlife Watch (the Wildlife Trusts’ club for children). I remember a brilliant weekend on Dartmoor, learning to identify antiseptic moss, dambusting, visiting a badger rehabilitation centre, and going for a midnight walk on the moors.

Reading animal stories

I was always an avid reader, and I think the animal stories I read as a child played an important part in getting me interested in wildlife. I’m sure some experts look down on anthropomorphicised animals in children’s books, but I think beautiful stories like the Brambly Hedge books, Wind in the Willows, and later the Animals of Farthing Woods and Duncton Woods can help children learn to love wildlife and nature.

Nature is fascinating and beautiful and disgusting enough to capture the imagination of any child, given a chance. I’m determined to help my god daughter and nephew to grow up connected to nature. I want to give them a chance to experience the wonder and joy of exploring our natural world. I’m not sure where to start, but I have a few ideas.

Were you connected to nature as a child? What got you interested in wildlife?

How to build a mini pond

Frog
Frog

As a kid, I loved the pond in my parents’ garden. It was brimming with frogs and newts (and leeches). My brother and I spent many happy hours catching frogs (the tiny, just-got-legs ones were the easiest to catch, and the cutest – poor little froggies being chased by curious kids). So when I finally got a garden of my own, I was determined to build one.

Building a pond is a great way of increasing the value of your garden to wildlife. It attracts invertebrates, amphibians (who eat slugs – horay!), and can be a vital water source for birds and mammals if it’s designed well. As I mentioned in my first post, our garden is rather small, and since Dr C objected to me turning the whole lawn into a pond, I had to content myself with a mini-pond. But even a tiny pond can be really valuable to wildlife.

Living in England’s equivalent to the Champagne region, the obvious container for our pond was half an old wine barrel, obtained from our local vineyard. Old tin baths, belfast sinks and other similar containers can also make good mini-ponds.

To make it easier for hedgehogs and frogs to access, we decided to recess it, so the top was about level with the decking. Dr C valiantly got on with the digging while I tried to clean up the barrel. After several scrub-outs, the water was still turning wine red, so as we didn’t want drunk frogs, we decided to line it with pond liner.

Once the pond was in place, we used old bricks and stones to create different levels within the pond. This is important so frogs and hedgehogs can easily climb out, and birds have a shallow bit to bathe in. When we had the landscaping sorted, we put the pond liner over the top and stapled the edges to the top of the barrel so they didn’t move.

Creating different levels in the pond
Creating different levels in the pond

We added a couple of handfuls of pond compost, and then filled it with water from our water butt (if you’re using tap water, you have to let it rest for 24 hours so all the chlorine can evaporate off, before adding any plants or creatures).

Picking plants for a small pond can be a bit of a challenge, as you need to find something that won’t spread too much. We managed to find a dwarf water lily for surface cover (most water lilies like to be planted quite deep), and then picked a couple of native oxygenating plants plus a small iris for the edge. Waterside Nursery have a good range of wildlife friendly pond plants.

Newly planted pond

Newly planted pond

I’ll save telling you how the pond has fared for another day, but here’s a sneak preview…

The mini pond
The mini pond

If you’re keen to have a go at creating your own pond, the RSPB provide some good guidance. Waterside Nursery’s website also contains lots of useful advice about building a wildlife pond and picking the right plants.

Welcome to the Wild South!

To start my blog, I thought maybe an introduction to my wildlife garden might be in order. We (Dr C, Fat Cat and I) live in a small town, and have a small garden (about 7.5m by 7.5m). Since we moved in (back in 2009) we’ve been gradually trying to turn it into a haven for bugs, birds and other beasts, and have had more success than I anticipated.

The RSPB have some brilliant resources for making homes for wildlife, and many of the ideas we’ve used have come from that.

When we moved in, the garden had a couple of decked areas, a lawn, a couple of borders and a small box hedge. A rampant buddleia has been an attraction for butterflies, bees and birds. Since then we’ve added a bird feeding station, a barrel pond, a small area of meadow, a hedgehog house, birdboxes, some small trees in pots, a wood pile, a raised vegetable bed, an insect log, a bird bath, and probably some more things I’ve forgotten.

Since then we’ve seen 25 species of bird in the garden, along with hedgehogs, a fox, mice, a slow worm, frogs, various pond life and numerous insect species. It’s been really satisfying seeing how quickly wildlife starts to make use of the things we’ve provided. Watching the garden has been a real source of pleasure to me, and I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

The meadow
The meadow
Raised bed & buddleia
Raised bed & buddleia
The mini pond
The mini pond
Bird feeding station
Bird feeding station