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.
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.
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.