BGBW with my MP

Photo: Kelson
Photo: Kelson

I did the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch with my MP, Andy Sawford, yesterday morning. I was grateful to Andy for popping in for an hour on his way to do some knocking on doors nearby.  He seemed to bring some luck with him because the bird total was the best I recall  for several years!

Andy and I talked about rural policy and where the Labour Party might be going.  We also talked about the Common Agricultural Policy and introduced pheasants.

As we talked, birds came and went, and Andy was pointing them out with some skill and great enthusiasm!

The birds? A total of 13 species: Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Dunnock, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and House Sparrow.

What did you see? And with whom?


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32 Replies to “BGBW with my MP”

  1. Well done on the thirteen species. We had 10, our Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tit, Wren, resident Blackcap and recent Lesser Redpoll went AWOL. I did mine with our 4 year foster child, he remained interested for 30 of the 60 mins which left me feeling that was a result as well as the 10 species.
    My MP is Owen Patterson, I invited him, but didn't get a response, as it turned out his substitute was more engaged with the environment, so again, a result!

    1. Dave - you didn't get a response from your MP? That's very rude of him!

      I've never seen Redpoll in my garden. Siskins are rare. I haven't seen a Blackcap here this winter either.

      1. Last year in the snow I took a picture of the feeder with the trifecta of redpoll, siskin and goldfinch on the three perches. And there was a Reed Bunting on the bird table.

  2. I did BGBW yesterday morning (no MP). Very quiet by the usual standards, only 5 species compared to the average of 10 I normally get. House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Blackbird and Starling. Even though Starlings are not, by a long way, the regular visitors that they used to be, they always seem to show up for BGBW.

    1. Steven - it's quite fun though isn't it? And the data have been quite reliable in showing some big trends in bird numbers.

  3. Harley did our real Garden Birdwatch yesterday because it was dry and got 13 species. I thought I would try doing it again early this morning to see how much difference the wind and rain would make, but I got exactly the same 13 species, but a smaller total number of birds. We got Goldfinch, Collared Dove, Jackdaw, Starling, Blackbird, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Wood Pigeon, Dunnock, Magpie and a Robin. The ones I expected but didn't see were Great Tits and our Wren. A huge flock of Fieldfare and Redwing flew past the back fence and I was really wanting them to land in the garden, but they didn't.

    1. Findlay - well done for not bending the rules! I think the two coal tits were the birds that pleased me most - I think I can see the Scots pines where they nest but I rarely see them in the garden - they've been more frequent than usual this year.

  4. So Mark, where are the Labour party going on rural policy (and on CAP and introduced pheasants?). Did you get a chance to mention introduced domestic cats, grey squirrels, rose ringed and monk parakeets and muntjac deer as well? Grey squirrels are particularly topical in the context of BGBW and supplementary bird feeding -

    Do tell please.

  5. Despite visit by sparrow hawk (no casualties but much panic!), 15 species recorded (13 last year) but numbers generally down. Goldfinch and chaffinch share top spot - 8 each. Only regulars missing were long-tailed tit and coal tit, but would have nice to have had yellowhammer and blackcap which have been seen occasionally this month.

  6. Well I stuck two fingers up at the RSPB, and went to my local Wildlife Trust reserve instead for a bit of peace and quiet !
    I do not buy into this whole Garden Birdwatch stuff, nor indeed to Butterfly Conservation`s similar scheme later on in the summer. What does it prove ? How the House Sparrow population has crashed ? Yeah, we know. We`ve known for the last thirty-odd years. What has the mighty RSPB done about it ? What can it do ? What can anyone do ??

    1. I was way down because of the weather I guess. Only 24 house sparrows was around half what I got last year, and in the 30s is normal everyday here. Never mind, I did it anyway and if it helps in some small way I' m happy.........
      Each to his own!

    2. Much of the "we've known for thirty years" has come from surveys like BGBW. I've been doing it now for 10 years and have seen the decline in house sparrows and starlings for myself. One thing it has done is get our neighbours listening to us and thinking about birds and their environment.

      1. Precisely my point Nigel....
        BGBW wil no doubt carry on for another thirty-odd years, with the RSPB saying that House Sparrows have declined even further. Monitoring, and doing something to rectify the matter, are two totally different things, as seen, for example, in the debacle that is the Hen Harrier situation on the fells of Lancashire.....

        1. BGBW is the reason people know there is a decline. You can't fund a conservation project without research, otherwise you're spending people's (generously donated) money on a guess. I wouldn't want to donate to a charity that guessed at solutions. Using a national network of volunteers to gain that research is a very effective way of doing this, as well as encouraging people to engage with the natural world (which is important in itself). The RSPB had a big project in London (one of the hardest hit places for sparrow decline, location identified by the BGBW) to identify the key problems, and solutions for the birds, which do vary depending on whether sparrows are rural or urban dwelling.

          What, exactly, are the Wildlife Trust doing to save the house sparrows now that the research has been done? A quick look at their website seems to suggest they are doing EXACTLY the same as the RSPB. Encouraging people to provide food, water and shelter in gardens, working with farmers to create winter food as well as planners and other land owners to create breeding season food and nest sites. A nice sign that the two charities are working alongside one another to protect this fantastic bird.

          All this conservation work, from both RSPB and WT, stems from the BGBW results. You can't do conservation work based on anecdotal evidence, you need continued science and research. Otherwise we'd all be killing buzzards because people say there are "unnaturally high numbers".

  7. 13 species in this garden yesterday, predictable but nice to see. More blue tits than usual, sparrows about the same as previously, a single starling. No politicians attended, but on the subject of politics and the environment, it is encouraging to note our North of England community has had its proposed allocation of new houses (on land removed from green belt, and the subject of much controversy) reduced in the overall local Council development plan from 900 to 400. Regardless of arguments over housing, the reason for this policy change is apparently our general proximity to moorland with various high level designations, for breeding upland species, under the European Habitats Directive. As the local action group says: 'It looks like the birds have saved us!' A timely reminder of the significance of environmental issues in the continuing debates over Britain and the EU.

  8. Only 8 species here today, with low numbers. The persistent rain probably didn't help though. Surprised not to see any finches, and I realise that the Wood Pigeons that used to plague the garden have essentially disappeared. In the time-honoured tradition of something 'interesting' turning up after the hour is up, we had our first Redwing of the winter in the garden shortly after we stopped counting...

  9. Hi Mark. Yesterday we spent 4-5 hours in Oxford Botanical Garden persuading visitors to do the BGBW and handing out the forms. The kids went round the garden with a crib sheet of likely sightings and we ended up with 30 spp. Not submitted, of course, because more than an hour spent!

    Did our own count, Mrs E and me, this morning during a 17hr powercut all wrapped up warm and with a bowl of porridge, and got 18spp: blackbird, blue tit, carrion crow, chaffinch, coal tit, dunnock, goldfinch, GSW, great tit, greenfinch, jackdaw, lesser redpoll, magpie, pheasant, RL partridge, robin, woodpigeon and wren. Inevitably as soon as we finished collared dove and sprawk arrived!

    Pretty good we thought.

  10. Great pm when the rain stopped but the best birds were over the hedge with a pair of Ravens displaying. They danced over the fell and played with the wind. Amazing.

  11. I did it on Saturday and my husband will hopefully do it today. I saw two robins, blue tits, great tits, sparrow, four wood pigeons, male and female blackbirds, two pheasants and my favourite bird - nuthatch. Just as the hour was nearly up a small group of long tailed tits flew in - only four, usually in a group of nine. Was a dark afternoon and gradually the clouds built up and we had a short violent thunder storm. Our resident wren didn't make an appearance.
    Well done your MP - he sounds great.

  12. Eight species in urban Northampton - blue tit, great tit, dunnock, wood pigeon, collared dove, blackbird, robin, chaffinch. Up from last year (5 if I recall correctly).

    "Lancastrian" above seems to be missing the point of the BGBW. As other contributors have noted, the reason we know about declines in the abundance of species is through initiatives such as this. But also, it gets member of the public (and especially children) interested in local wildlife, which has got to be a good thing.

  13. I did BGBW for the first time ever. Unfortunately I got the same number of birds as the number of votes Kevin Philips Bong (Slightly Silly) received in the Monty Python Silly Election - no birds at all. Not a sausage. B***** all.

    It probably didn't help that I only put feeders out ten minutes before the hour I started (not) counting and the weather was pretty rubbish. As I returned to lock the garage just before the hour I heard a pied wagtail calling from somewhere near and during the survey hour 2 l-b or herring gulls, 1 wood pigeon and 1 carrion crow flew over the houses at the back of the garden; I appreciated seeing them even if they couldn't count them. The 'seen from the garden' list includes these fairly frequently plus collared dove, starling, blackbird, goldfinch and even kestrel, corn bunting and skylark - but I've yet to see a bird actually land in our garden so the result is not entirely unexpected!

    Mrs MK was out shopping and our daughter (nearly two) was asleep, although she enjoyed scooping up the loose bird feed from the pick 'n' mix the previous day and chose a new feeder for us, which is now out in the garden with premium seed mix in it. Didn't ask our MP this time though liked the idea - he's probably had enough of me given the letter I wrote recently about OP and offsetting! Strangely I enjoyed being part of it despite the negative result. Does make me wonder how many gardens are rubbish like mine (hopefully it will get a bit better over the years) and as more land is built on with more gardens with decking, astroturf and remaining trees lopped or cut down how the land area from which wildlife is excluded is inexorably increasing.

    Also wondered if there would be value in doing BGBW over the course of the year -same hour of the weekend either every week or at regular intervals - in the same way as weather observations used to be taken at the same time every day. But then I suppose that's what Birdtrack is for and someone would have to process the industrial quantities of data this all year round BGBW generated.

    To end on a positive, when I left the house just before dusk I heard a song thrush singing and a robin call, both firsts for the seen or heard from list - reinforcing the sense that I was glad to be part of BGBW and would do so again and encourage more wildlife in the garden. Funny how nature can often end a day on a positive randomly like that.

    1. MK - many thanks. I agree that it is partly the 'being part of it' that I enjoy.

      Of course, if you keep doing BGBW then as your garden becomes more wildlife friendly under your management your counts will rocket!

      For a scheme that does do regular counts - see the BTO Garden Birdwatch.

      1. It's important to also add that for a scheme such as Big Garden Birdwatch, a zero submission is also a valuable data point, however boring it might be for the observer!

  14. My MP didn't come and see me.

    He probably wouldn't have liked what I would have said so it was a wise choice of his to turn me down.

    The decline of the House Sparrow was documented in BBS and CBC surveys over a 25 year period, and also the BTO's GBFS. BGBW isn't the reason we know there's a decline. However, BGBW does get people to think about birds and maybe even the wider environment for a whole hour or two.


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