Great Garden Birdwatch
However hard I try, I always seem to approach The RSPB Great Garden Birdwatch as a challenge, rather than the annual opportunity to take part in an important bit of citizen science that it undoubtedly is – where a negative result is as telling as a positive one. It’s been going for 36 years now, thousands of participants. Given that gardens in the rural, suburban or fully metropolitan areas make up a substantial part of our wild bird habitat, the data collected is of vital importance. It’s illustrated the decline of once common species like house sparrows and starlings, the effect of the trichomonosis virus on others – notably greenfinches – and the shift in the behaviour patterns of one-time migrants like blackcap and, more recently, chiffchaff.
The designated weekend happened to be one where the weather pattern shifted from ice and snow to warmer and wet, so the colder day, Saturday, was probably the one to choose for more birds – still being drawn to garden feeders by the lack of feeding opportunities elsewhere. I was busy that day so had to settle down with binoculars, pen and paper for an hour on Sunday morning. It’s always a frustrating business as regular visitors fail to turn up and, sure enough, no sign of the goldfinches that I’ve been cherishing with expensive nyger seeds, or the pair of long-tailed tits that zip in and out unpredictably. However, overall, not a bad haul, twelve species, including a pair of bullfinches, glowing with colour, lots of tits and blackbirds and our jay who perched in a tree for about twenty minutes as though to ensure he was seen. The undoubted star of my show was a single male redpoll: small brown bird with a pink-flushed chest, a carmine spot on the forehead and lightish eyebrow stripe that gives it a rather grave expression.
By now my list, together with thousands of others from all over the UK, will be being processed by the RSPB – individual birds and then species counted, cross-referenced and compared with past years. And how varied those lists will be. My sister on the shores of Loch Fyne had herring gulls and hooded crows on hers, and was able to add red squirrels and roe deer to the “other wildlife visiting” section. My stepson who lives in the middle of Kettering has been observing from his study window a red kite regularly swooping down into a neighbour’s garden. There’s a bird that wouldn’t have been on our garden lists in 1979.
Jenny Dixon – Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Photo by Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) (Redpoll – RSPB Sandy Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons