Fun, and well worth the effort

It was more of a challenge than usual to fit doing the Big Garden Birdwatch into a busy weekend but I am glad that I did.

Looking out the window and eating crumpets and Marmite whilst drinking tea isn’t the most arduous form of field work I have known – and there is always the chance of seeing something unusual.  My usual unusual sighting is a blackcap – I hardly ever see those in the garden except when I spend an hour doing the BGBW and then they have been quite frequent.  But this year’s unusual bird was not a blackcap.

The sunflower feeders were well-attended and goldfinches reached a peak of 14 birds, with greenfinches getting up to 6 and chaffinches a respectable 3.

At one point 2 pairs of blackbirds were both sitting on the fence together and a robin appeared briefly.  This year there was no wren (can I remember when last I saw one in the garden?) and although a dunnock was singing next door almost throughout the hour none appeared in my garden – or at least if they did then I missed them.

It was about half way through before I saw a house sparrow and just one – that’s a low count for my garden.  A pair of collared doves and up to three wood pigeons came in and went away.

The unusual bird, a first for the garden, was a female brambling, feeding with the chaffinches and the goldfinches on sunflower seeds.  She appeared twice and stayed long enough for me to enjoy her.  It’s a simple pleasure – the first of a relatively common species that you see in your garden – but it made my day and added to the enjoyment of recording all the other species.

I’ve often been asked in the past whether there is any real value to the BGBW and I do believe that there is.  Its longevity, its standardised albeit very simple method, and the large number of people taking part right across the UK make it a useful, though rough, barometer of bird fortunes in our gardens.  It has faithfully mirrored the general trends of more specialised and expert surveys so it must be more or less right and therefore valuable.  If, suddenly, blue tits got much rarer or there were a plague of bramblings, then the BGBW would spot that as quickly as other monitoring schemes.

So I do the BGBW, still, through a sense of duty but also because I really enjoy it.  Even if I had not seen my first brambling for my garden I would have enjoyed setting aside that single hour to look for and at birds.  I enjoyed looking at the two male blackbirds getting a bit shirty with each other on the fence, and watching the goldfinches massing in a tree before swooping down to feed.

And If you have done a BGBW this year then do remember to send in your form of enter the data online – I’ve done mine!



15 Replies to “Fun, and well worth the effort”

  1. Ever the good scientist, Mark !

    But when did you last simply stop and stare at a simple bit of habitat for an hour ? And I wonder how long that Brambling’s been there as you rush breakfast to get to your computer or car ?

    Think of all those people across the country who’ve stopped and contemplated the natural world and actually looked at the stunning Goldfinches on their niger seeds rather than just noting them and dashing off to the next task.

    1. Roderick – absolutely agree. Stopping, and looking, and thinking, and watching are good things to do.

  2. Excellent couple of days! Although did more than 1 hour chose the best hour within the several sat in kitchen. Hope thats nor cheating too much? LOL. Had 27 species in a one hour period and a great 48 spuggies at go!
    Always worth it.
    On another matter, the nature week, over the past couple years had had no local collections. I even went to the local large supermarkets and they agreed. But nothing. I advised the each year still nowt. Recent email for this years’nature week and still nothing local: questioned on Twitter now there are local collections? Want to help want to give my time just seems strange is this normal?

  3. Think the big benefit of BGBW is introducing newcomers to birds and the RSPB forum as lots more on the forum since the weekend,undoubtedly some will drop off but considerable number hopefully find a new hobby and will help to make public opinion more bird friendly.Some birds need all the help they can get.

  4. And I thought I was the only one with a craving for marmite on my crumpets. They’re even better with scrambled egg as well!
    Our BGBW was undertaken as an event at a local garden centre which also has a lovely garden. We undertook BGBW on both days, an hour in the morning and an another in the afternoon. Also walks around the garden where we had put up bird feeders earlier to attract in the birds. An added bonus was a wonderful show of early snowdrops. A maximum of only ten spp. in the best hour but included 6 Lesser redpolls and 17 Long-tailed Tits. The total for the garden walks was 31 spp.
    Had to do our own BGBW between 8.00-9.00am on a foggy morning. Very quiet, only 9 spp. when usually 15-17. Sorry about the Wren Mark. Put up one of those little woven roosting pouches, we get 6-7 wrens roosting each night at present.

  5. Sounds like everyone has filled their boots with finches. Here in East Lincs I had one cock Chaffinch and that was in minute 57! Usually get up to 6 plus Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Lesser Redpoll is now extremely scarce around here. Anyone have a Hawfinch? We’ve totally lost them too, to be fair there were never many in the last 20 years.

  6. Hi Mark

    I always enjoy the act of going out into my garden and feeding the birds. It’s good to give nature a helping hand and in turn it is good for the soul. It doesn’t matter how big or small your garden is and that’s the beauty of nature watching – leave an area to go wild, add a few seed baring plants, bushes or just add a few hanging feeders and you’ll soon attract the birds and other wildlife. I think the Big Garden Bird Watch is a fantastic tool to encourage people, young and old and of all abilities to develop an interest in birds and appreciate their benefits and existence. I get so much pleasure out of watching and listening to our garden visitors and afterwards they always leave me with a sense of well being. After many years of feeding birds each day, you soon get to know your ‘regulars’ and their habits and you can sense their appreciation for those juicy sunflower hearts put out for them, especially on these cold frosty mornings.
    This year my bird count seemed to go very quickly. My regulars as I call them include House Sparrows, Chaffinch, Goldfinch Robins, Black Birds, Collard Doves and Greenfinch all came in and out regularily throughout the hour. None of which I take for granted mind, especially after the snow we’d had the evening before, but I think it’s a good sign that these are my regular garden bird species and perhaps indicates we have a stable no’ in and around the neighbourhood here in Calderdale. I get the occasional Wren now and then, plus lots of Starlings too. But more surprisingly this year I have had a large number of Song Thrush visiting. During the count we had 3 on the garden at one point which is quite unusual. I have noticed more Song Thrush in the neighbourhood this January than the last couple of winters and so I do hope this a good sign and hopefully, numbers are increasing locally.
    I would like to request while I’m here if possible, that the RSPB might consider a redesign in some of their seed feeders? To include a solid one-piece perspex feeder with just a detachable lid and hanger – for easy cleaning, longevity and ultimately to further deter my resident Squirrels! They are masters in feeder vandalism and the smaller ones can squeeze through bars and many of the plastics used are soon chewed etc. I have a few designs and colour schemes floating around in my head & on paper so should anyone at the RSPB reading this be interested in them, just let me know!

  7. I got very excited about a Jackdaw landing in the Garden and the 2 handsome male House Sparrows were very pleasing. If nothing else it’s a great way to enjoy and re evaluate the more ‘common’ birds, although some are getting rarer. So perhaps we should treasure things like Sparrows more – and Jackdaws!

    1. Gert – yes indeed. Nobody thought that house sparrows, starlings and song thrushes would be on the red list when the BGBW started.

  8. My ‘garden’ is a beech tree that grows close to the building I live in. I’m on the 3rd floor and I hang my feeders on the near branches (makes refilling and cleaning interesting). I feel lucky in that I live in inner-city Ediburgh and happen to have a small wood of around 20 beech trees occupying the gardens between the tennement blocks that line the streets about here.

    I tend to spend a good number of hours staring out the window – I could manage a BGBW most weeks! There’s been countless woodpigeons, blackbirds, magpies and a few other corvids along with the little jobs; tits, chaffinches the odd robin, greenfinch and dunnock and my mega was a sparrowhawk one morning.

    The chaffinches are new this year because I noticed my old feeders weren’t very friendly for them to use because previously they’d show up but not hang about. I set about remedying that and now they’re the majority which makes me happy I was able to help them out.

  9. Yes Mark did the BGBW but just the usual birds,which is really what we would expect but these days they seem more important than years ago and the interesting thing is perhaps the fact that birds like Goldfinch have taken great advantage of the number of people now feeding birds.

    1. Dennis – that’s good. I filled up our feeders today – feels like pouring coins into them instead of sunflower seeds!

  10. We saw a wren on the feeders over the Christmas holidays Dad, did it not get into Birdtrack?! Perhaps you were blogging during the sighting. Glad you had a good BGBW!

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