Big Garden Birdwatch 2016
It’s come round again: this year’s Great Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB when the Society asks us to spend just one hour noting the birds that visit our garden or local park. So Saturday morning finds me filling up seed feeders, replacing the decidedly elderly fat bar with a glistening new one, checking the birdbaths and scattering brown bread crumbs on the lawn. Then I settle down in the garden room (views on three sides) with my notepad, binoculars and a sustaining cup of tea.
It’s always a frustrating business – birds I regard as dependable regulars fail to turn up in the allotted hour: where are the pair of bullfinches I see every day, the two or even three dunnocks that are on every weekly BTO record I’ve ever made? This year even the ubiquitous great tits failed to show. My score was a pathetic eight species and only small numbers of those.
Fortunately for my self-esteem, the RSPB had already warned that this year’s numbers were likely to be low, and not necessarily for bad reasons. The warm winter so far and abundant crops of seeds and berries last year means that there is still food out in the countryside. It’s the really cold weather that drives birds, including migrants from further north, to rely on our garden feeders. No redwings, fieldfares, bramblings or redpolls have been spotted in my garden so far this year. I reflected ruefully on this, as flurries of icy snow swept across the scene outside my window! Luckily when a watery sun broke through again, two siskins – those pretty olive and yellow finches – landed on the seeds. In a bad winter they are constant visitors and I’ve seen crowds of eight or nine jostle for position – but it’s good to have these two. They are confident feeders and settle down for a lengthy tuck-in so I can admire the delicate streaks on the breast of the female and the darkening cap of the male, smug in the knowledge that at least one of my records will be of interest.
In fact, it’s very important to send in all records even when they seem rather negative. Over the decades that the Birdwatch has been going on vital data has been collected and it’s even more important now we are trying to understand the impact of climate change on our wildlife. It looks likely that more winters in the future will be like this one.