My BGBW results

One more than I saw! By S.Möller (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One more than I saw! By S.Möller (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve just finished my hour-long Big Garden Birdwatch count – I didn’t need a long piece of paper to keep count.  The total was four house sparrows and that’s the lowest species total, bird total and house sparrow total ever for my garden.  Oh well – that’s the point of it – to count what birds are there – so I did.

Tweeting my observations live was fun.  Clearly some people have done very well, and some very badly – that’s in the nature of life and wildlife recording.  I think it is very interesting that lots of people are saying that their counts yesterday were much higher than they would have been today.  in many parts of UK there was cold and snow yesterday whereas today is warmer, the snow has melted and here in east Northants it was very windy.  It would be interesting to see how much Saturday counts vary from Sunday ones this year.

But I enjoyed doing the count.  The lack of birds was interesting.  I would have bet that I’d see a blackbird, or two, or three or even four but there was none – that’s interesting.  And despite full bird feeders none of the usual goldfinches visited today – interesting.

One more than I saw1 I, Tony Wills [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
One more than I saw1 I, Tony Wills [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I enjoyed watching a pair of house sparrows too.  They appeared after 12 minutes from the thick ivy on the garden shed.  They certainly didn’t fly in – and they were quite obviously sheltering from the wind.  After a while of sitting, they went back into the ivy and I wonder what they got up to there? Then the female appeared for a while before heading into the cover again.  A while later they emerged and started hopping towards the feeders to join another two house sparrows that had arrived when the neighbour’s cat arrived and scared them off! Clearly events were conspiring against a high total today.

Such are the local and everyday events that will affect the bird count in a single garden.  but these things even out.  I can remember other years when I have seemed bless3d by far more birds than I would usually see in my back garden – this year evened things up for me.  And of course the huge number of people involved in BGBW mean that the luck is shared out across the gardens of the country – we can’t all have picked the ‘wrong’ time to do the count.

Much of the value of the BGBW is that it is fun! I enjoyed it and I bet you did too. In the past it has been a thing to do with the kids as a family.  And it’s a nice quiet time for connecting with nature.

One more than I saw! By PierreSelim (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
One more than I saw! By PierreSelim (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
But are the results of value?  I think they are potentially valuable as has been shown in the past.  They aren’t a country-wide monitoring scheme on which to base big policy decisions but BGBW has in the past faithfully reflected, and accurately and quickly, the results of more scientific surveys.  BGBW has shown the decline in house sparrows and starlings and song thrushes, and the increases in  collared doves and wood pigeons.  It has reflected the changing weather conditions with influxes of fieldfares and redwings in some years and has even reflected waxwing years.  The increase of wintering blackcaps have also been shown in BGBW results (I saw a blackcap in the garden about 40 minutes before I started my ‘proper’ count – typical!).

By participating in BGBW we are all having fun and adding a small bit of knowledge to the whole.  It is a model for citizen science – fun, easy, very popular and really reflecting changes to populations.

Even on a day when I saw only four house sparrows then it was a pleasure to take part in this long-term collective garden bird love-in.

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29 Replies to “My BGBW results”

  1. Yes, it's fun! I am in central London this weekend, and decided to do the BGBW more because I felt I "should" than because I expected to see much, or enjoy it very much. I am looking out of a fourth-floor window over a rather dreary townscape of rooftops, enlivened (a little) by a few balconies and a handful of pot-plants. I decided that every surface I could see within 30 metres or so constituted my "garden". I expected a few feral pigeons and not much else - but in the event I notched up a blackbird and a carrion crow as well. And I saw a beautiful cormorant in full breeding plumage fly over - big white thigh patches, lots of white on the head. Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis? Who would have predicted that my total, in this unpromising location, would beat Mark's?

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  2. Mark, you say 'It would be interesting to see how much Saturday counts vary from Sunday ones this year' but, unless I am mistaken, there seems to be no place on the paper form or the online submission to say on which day, or at what time, the BGBW count was done.

    For what it's worth, my wife's count in our garden this morning - after the snow had gone - logged 12 species, headed by 8 Blackbirds, 6 House Sparrows and 6 Starlings; but a few days ago we had 20 Blackbirds, and single Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush. I have caught 26 different Blackbirds in the garden this month, and we still see new, unringed, ones, almost every day.

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    1. David - Ahh. I haven't filled in the form yet. I'm sure you are right and that's a small shame, then. Wish I'd been in your garden!

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  3. I did my count yesterday and suspect that I did better than I would have today - the snow that covered the place yesterday has gone and it is windy and showery today compared to cold but sunny yesterday. For me the most interesting things are the relative shortage of house sparrows - only 2 compared to 20 chaffinches - and also a shortage of tree sparrows.

    Tree sparrows are quite common around here and in the hard weather last year we got as many as 20 feeding on some components of the bird seed mix we used. I have seen no more than 2 or 3 this year. The mix we used last year contained large seeds and corn which brought in pheasants and wood pigeons. This year I have gone for nyger seed which I thought the tree sparrows would really go for. Not so it seems - though chaffinches and goldfinches seem to love it, and even the odd greenfinch and redpoll turn up (though not during my hour count).

    Another oddity perhaps - there are flocks of siskins in the alders along the river near here but we NEVER get them feeding on our feeders. They even mix with the goldfinches but only the latter come into the garden.

    Sadly, no linnets.

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  4. "Another oddity perhaps"

    A robin in Tesco's in Salisbury, in the Polish Washing-up Liquid aisle. I don't suppose that would count?

    But Great Joy! A GSW on my Fabulous Fat Balls. I haven't seen or heard one for a couple of years

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  5. I was going to make the point that I see David Norman has already made - there is no section on the form to record which day the count was done, so comparison of Saturday to Sunday will not be possible. I have often wondered about this (I do the BGBW every year) - the day, time of day, and weather conditions must affect the bird numbers but this data is not recorded. Will garden visitor numbers be "artificially" raised this year because lots of us did our count yesterday in mostly snowy conditions? I have certainly seen greater numbers of ground-feeders in the garden over the last week in the snow than I can ever remember seeing before.
    Generally, with this being a country-wide and popular activity, I presume the spread of times and weather conditions will "even out" the figures? But this year was different - Saturday saw much of the country covered in thawing snow, and Sunday seems to be (from what I can gather) mostly snow-free, wet and windy. So Saturday's results are going to differ more widely (I would think) from Sunday's and more markedly than in previous years.
    I wonder what the results would be like if we all had to do the count over the same hour?

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    1. Anne, perhaps those who did the survey on Saturday and submitted their results on Saturday will have them logged by the computer at the RSPB end of things, but it might be a problem if they did the survey on Saturday and logged their records on the Sunday for example you and I make a comment on here and the time and date are logged and displayed.

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    2. Anne - interesting points, thank you. if we all had to do the count at the same time it would reduce the number of counts very dramatically I guess. If we had 'had' to do it yesterday then I wouldn't have taken part as I was counting my losses at Cheltenham racecourse (if only Imperial Commander had held on!)!

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      1. Sorry I hope my comment hsan't been mis-read etc, I was just suggesting either Saturday or Sunday (I didn't exactly say, my fault) the results as they came in might have been logged/recorded by the computer programme at the RSPB, though I do feel it might have made for an interesting comparison if they had put a "time" section on the survey to see if their is a pattern certain birds visit feeders. For example I see a Sparrowhawk more in the a.m. at my feeders then afternoon and often I get more Blue Tits late pm.

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      2. Douglas - I did my count on Saturday bit didn't get round to submitting them online until today. A simple extra box in the form to say Sat/Sun, am/pm might be helpful perhaps.
        Mark - I agree that limiting the hour would (in reality) greatly reduce the number taking part. Wouldn't it be great, though, if everyone in the UK just stopped whatever they were doing and watched birds together for an hour! 🙂

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        1. Anne - that would be great indeed. One of the things I really like about BGBW is the knowledge that I am doing something that involves hundreds of thousands of others - you, Dennis's better half, many other readers of this blog and thousands and thousands of people who share my love of and interest in nature.

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  6. I can't believe how few birds we are seeing today. It's a shame because we usually do really well for birds. It is very windy today and we have had an impromptu visit from BT who needed to prune one of our trees, so I guess this wouldn't help. On the upside, we have planted a lot of new bird-friendly plants lately, so with any luck we will do better next year.

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  7. Well I had a good count today even though the thaw is well and truely in but it was a bit of a cheat as my birdies are completely geared up to an 8am breakfast. I has most of the usual suspects, starlings, dunnock, bue tit, great tit, chaffinch, jack daw, crow, magpie, blackbird. The coal tits, seagulls, robin came late so were not counted. The bullfinch also did not visit today. We have had a long cold snap and the birds are very reliant on feeders but I will start to reduce the dependancy and encourage natural foraging as the weather imroves.

    I am fortunate to have a quiet feeder at the back and a noisy one at the front and take account of ground feeding birds with floor feeders. I do have a wide variety of foods on offer, niger seeds, sunflower hearts, peanuts [whole and kibbled], quality mixed seed, meal worms and make a large bird pudding every day of all of the above plus wholemeal bread and cereal, beef lard [unsalted], apple and minced beef. Cordon bleu for birds!
    I am fortunate as myself and none of my neighbours use herbicides or pesticides and a big plus is also that there are no cats around. I leave the leaf litter down and my small garden has lots of pots and lots of corners to support insects. I grow a lot of plants too that encourage other wildlife too. I have a few insects houses and also bird boxes that seem to be used more for roosting than nesting in. I also keep the back evergreen hedge thick for roosting sparrows an have two further thick hedges at the front.

    I always know when the local peregrine is on the prowl as there is not a bird in sight!

    I may complete a bird survey with clients in work tommorrow if I get the time as the species there, being in woodland near a lake in a very rural area are amazing and fortunately we have a keen bird spotting maintenance man who has feeders all over the grounds. All last week I was watching the long tailed tits and the grounds have resident, nuthatches, jays, treecreepers, greater woodpeckers, greenfinches and many more species.

    Happy birding 🙂

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    1. Julie - welcome and thank you for your comment. Your garden sounds perfect for birds. Happy birding to you too!

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  8. That's four more house sparrows than we had in our garden Mark, but we haven't seen one for several years, or starlings. We managed a total of eighteen spp on Saturday morning which was very gratifying and then today several bankers appeared which didn't show up yesterday (wren, red-legged partridge, pheasant, carrion crow, siskin). Some kind soul from the RSPB regional office dropped us in it and we had a visit from the BBC who filmed us talking about BGBW in our garden which went out on the local eveing news on BBC1. Seemed to go quite well although not many birds came to the feeders with a big camera just a few feet away. Very interesting though.

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  9. Sparrowhawk came in and killed (well almost) a blackbird ten minutes in. Of all the times! After a while of standing on the still struggling blackbird, the sparrowhawk flew off with it, hopefully to eat as much as it could in peace further down the garden. Well that was a few fat balls, sultanas and porridge oats turned into sparrowhawk food! Of course the remaining 10 blackbirds disappeared. It took them 45 minutes to find the courage to come back, then they did in their expected droves, although only counted 17 today, down on the 20+ earlier in the week. Pretty much everything else disappeared too, expect blue tits and great tits who seemed unaffected by the killing witnessed earlier. So can't tell whether the low numbers, and low species count this morning relative to most other days over the last few weeks, was due to the sparrowhawk or the dramatically warmer weather and the first day with no snow and no frozen ground.

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    1. Did you see any sign of the rest of the sparrowhawk 'flock' that Songbird Survival insists are roaming our countryside decimating blackbirds everywhere? Maybe it was a scout? The horde could be coming your way!

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  10. 8 herring gulls was good but it took a slight chjange in the wind for them to be able to get down on to the world's biggest bird table - the garage roof! Followed in the the dying seconds of the hour by the first dunnock in th garden this year...No house sparrows here, they don't seem to like crossing the main road, the street opposite is full to tthe brim with them.

    The weather being so different on the two days shouldn't matter as all the previous surveys have been done over two days and no doubt some of those will also include varying weather conditions. I think it's great that 500000 people take part - the results have be statistically significant with that number of oberservations! Even more participants would be even better.

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  11. My garden looks over the fell and I felt things had been quiet for some time so before I went down to watch the match I scanned the fell side and got 3 Ravens [badly persecuted round here], a Buzzard and a Red Kite which is rare round here. The only other odd thing about this kite was every time I see a kite on my way to Leeds to watch the football we win. So low and behold we beat Spurs in the cup! Sadly the records are not suitable for the BGBW.

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  12. I had a surprisingly good BGBW for a change. 65 birds and 13 species (OK so 30 of them were wood pigs). I did mine on Saturday, we still had frozen snow but the sun was out and it was much milder (about 2C). The birds were really vocal, they sounded relieved it was warming up at last

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  13. I think regardless of how the results are used getting people to sit and watch birds for an hour is an amazing thing in its own right! we are spending less time in nature and anything that it encourages it must be positive in my book.

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