Big Garden Birdwatch

The Big Garden Birdwatch weekend is here!

As usual the garden has been aflutter with birds in the days leading up to the Birdwatch, but come the day itself, everything went quiet! I had been dutifully keeping all the feeders topped up for the last couple of weeks, in the hope of establishing some kind of loyalty amongst the local bird populations. They may be loyal, but they are not very punctual, most refusing to do their turn in the allotted hour.

Fortunately some did eventually grace the garden with their presence; a total of 21 individuals of 7 species. So here’s the final tally:

  • 11 House Sparrows
  • 2 Blackcaps
  • 2 Blackbirds
  • 2 Blue Tits
  • 2 Long-tailed Tits
  • 1 Great Tit
  • 1 Robin

I only managed to count 11 sparrows in one go, but I reckon there were a lot more lurking in the bushes, just taking it in turn to make an appearance. The goldfinch, wren, pigeons, dunnocks, coal tits and starlings, that have been seen in recent weeks, all got shy and refused to show (they were probably doing the conga in next door’s garden out of sight of me and my notebook).

Long-tailed titHaving done the actual count, I thought it would be nice to take photos of all the species that had featured (give them their 15 minutes of fame). I could of course have counted and snapped at the same time, but wielding a pen and a camera simultaneously, just seemed like too much effort! Needless to say not all of the magnificent 7 chose to return for their photo op. The long-tailed tits were obliging, just too damn fast to get shots that did them justice – this was about as good as I could manage.

The blue tits are of course always photogenic and the sparrows squabbled to get themselves in the best shot.

Blue TitSparrows

I had seen both a male and a female blackcap during the count, but only the female returned to get her photo taken – eye to eye as it happens with the great tit.

Blackcap and Great Tit

Bird boxesSince the birdwatch had got us in an avian frame of mind, we decided it was time to put up the new birdbox the other half had bought me for Christmas (no sparkly jewels for me!)  New box duly installed on side of garage next to old one. We were really chuffed last year to get a family of Blue Tits in the old one (which got cleaned out today too while he was up the ladder), so fingers crossed they like the new des res (it’s not just a bird box, it’s an M&S birdbox!)

There’s still time to do a count for the Big Garden Birdwatch if you haven’t already. When I looked at their webpage just before posting this, they’d already had over 2 millions birds recorded by nearly 100,000 people. Why not join in?


Citizen Science

With the Big Garden Birdwatch coming up this weekend, it got me thinking about the other forms of Citizen Science (Citizen Smith’s nerdy cousin!) that the other half and I get involved with from the comfort of our own garden.  For amateur biologists like us, these projects are a great way of indulging our hobbies and hopefully contributing something useful with the information at the same time. Most of the ones we participate in require no specialist knowledge (phew!), no specialist equipment and often very little time. Yet when enough people contribute, they can provide significant amounts of information that the scientists couldn’t get any other way.

BlackbirdThe Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the oldest projects and has been going for over 30 years, allowing the RSPB to monitor long term trends in our garden bird populations.  You just need to watch the birds in your garden for an hour and count the maximum number of each species you see. For more information go to:

Small CopperThe Big Butterfly Count is a relative newcomer, having only started in 2010, but already it’s become the biggest butterfly survey in the world. Last year over half a million butterflies were recorded in over 50,000 counts – you couldn’t pay for that amount of data!  For this project all you need to do is record the maximum number of each of the target species you see in just 15 minutes during the 3 weeks the project runs each summer. For more information go to:

I’ve been monitoring the moths in our garden for a while now and last year took part in Moth Night in September.  Moth night runs for a different weekend each year with a different theme each time (this year it will be Hawk-moths). You can either run a moth trap in  your own garden or go to one of their public events. For more information go to: This year I’ve decided to go one step further and joined the Garden Moth Scheme. This project gets volunteers to put out moth traps in the garden once a week over the summer months and log their findings. Since I’ve been more or less doing this anyway, joining the scheme seemed like the logical thing to do. For more information go to:

Painted LadyIf you don’t want to get involved in anything too formal, some schemes just require you to log certain species as and when you see them. Butterfly Conservation runs a Migrant Watch for Painted Lady butterflies and Hummingbird Hawk-moths. These species are becoming increasingly common in the UK and may be indicative of climate change. You can help monitor this by simply logging any sightings of them (at home, work wherever you see them). Humming Bird Hawkmoth 3For more information go to:




Azure DamselflyThere are schemes for all sorts of species – we’ve logged dragonflies and damselflies at and reptiles and lizards at You name it there is probably a recording scheme for it somewhere.

Although I’ve always been interested in encouraging wildlife into the garden (hence the abundance of wilderness areas – honest that’s the reason!), it was taking part in a Garden Bioblitz a few years ago that really fired my enthusiasm. In a Garden Bioblitz you simply record all the species (plants and animals) you can find in your garden over a 24 hour period.  The first time we did it, the other half and I recorded 119 species – and that was before we had a moth trap! Hopefully this year we can improve on that. If you fancy having a go –

In short (after rambling on longer than I meant to), if you’re interested in wildlife and observing it anyway, why not put those observations to good use and submit them to one of these schemes?

A Frost , A Moth and A Snail

Finally this week, the frosty morning I’ve been waiting for! Jack Frost had visited my beloved teasels leaving them glinting in the early morning sunshine.  The asparagus fronds (long overdue for a haircut)  took on an almost ethereal blue hue, making them far more attractive than they are in their non-wintry state.

Frosty teaselFrosty asparagus

The cold snap didn’t last long though and last night was mild enough to put out the moth trap, although I didn’t hold out much hope. But I got up this morning to the triumphant catch of one moth and one caterpillar!

The caterpillar turned out to be that of an Angle Shades moth – one of my favourites (I’m conscious of sounding a bit like Bruce Forsyth now “You’re my favourite” to every moth I find!) The photo of the caterpillar was taken this morning; next to it is an adult Angle Shades moth snapped in warmer months.

Angle Shades Caterpillar

Common Quaker 2The moth turned out to be a Common Quaker – quite early in the year for this species, which I guess just shows how mild the winter has really been here in Malvern at least. In hunting round to find a suitable leaf for my Quaker to sit on for his photo shoot, I also found this teeny, tiny snail. It was only a couple of millimetres long, so apologies for the less than perfect photograph. I think it may be a Common Chrysalis Snail (Lauria cylindracea), Tiny Snailbut it was so small and I’m so not good at mollusc identification, that I can’t be sure. If anyone has any other ideas, I’m happy to be corrected. There are probably lots of other species of mollusc lurking in the garden – I clearly need to rummage around in the leaf litter more!


One final random fact  – it is apparently a Wolf Moon this weekend.  Not expecting too many wolves to be baying at the moon in Worcestershire this weekend, but I like the idea that each full moon of the year traditionally had its own name.

Golden Afternoon

I’ve been waiting for the winter to bring cold, crisp mornings to get some nice frosty shots of the garden. No such luck. The damp December has given way to a cold but dull January – the garden bathed in grey mist not sparkly white frost.  So it was a welcome relief when something eventually flew into the garden worth photographing. A flash of gold this afternoon as a lone goldfinch finally decided that the giant teasels I had so lovingly grown were worthy of his attention.

Goldfinch 3I’d grown the teasels (or more accurately just left them to grow and do their own thing) specifically for goldfinches as they’re supposed to be one of their favourites. But despite them being munched on by other birds this is the first time they’ve attracted their target audience – result!

Unfortunately the grey day (and lack of stealth on my part) prevented me getting any really good shots. But the birds still looked stunning and were a very welcome flash of colour on a dreary January day.

Goldfinch 2 Goldfinch 1

New Year’s Resolutions

Well 2015 is over and I reckon it’s been a pretty good year for the wildlife in the garden. The final tally includes:

  • Elephant Hawk-moth155 species of moth recorded in the garden, plus about 6 more seen out and about. Most of the 155 came to the moth traps, but a few were more adventurous and made it as far as the bathroom!
  • Common Blue28 species of butterfly bagged, of which 17 appeared in the garden at least once during the year.


  • Bee on buddleia12 species of bee in the garden (which reminds me I must do a bee post soon). At the height of the summer (such as it was) the garden was buzzing with bee activity.


  • Box Bug7 species of shieldbug in the garden, including a rarity for Worcestershire – the Box Bug (which remains the only wildlife to have used our new bird bath!)


  • Hedgehog3 mammal species in the garden (grey squirrel, hedgehog and regular if unidentified bats) plus one family of mice living in the garage.


  • Toad3 amphibian species (toad, frog and common newt) visiting our pond/bog and surviving attacks from our garden furniture.


  • SparrowhawkOne sparrowhawk (and consequently one less sparrow) in the garden. Numerous other small birds though eating their way through a small fortune’s worth of bird seed.


  • Blue Tit on Suet FeederOne family of blue tits successfully fledged from our bird box, after 6 years of it sitting empty. Fingers crossed for a repeat next year.


  • Swollen Thighed BeetlePlus numerous beetles (including my personal favourite – the swollen-thighed beetle), molluscs, ants, wasps, hoverflies and other assorted invertebrates.


  • TeaselsAnd finally of course to maintain the “too lazy” ethos – zero weeds were harmed in the making of this list!


So that brings me to 2016 and some New Year’s resolutions. As there is virtually no chance of me succeeding with any of my usual resolutions (cut down the drinking, lose weight, grow taller, read the classics, write a classic, stop fantasizing about George Clooney etc. etc. etc.) I thought I’d make an alternative list of things I might actually achieve.  So for 2016 I hope to:

  • Try and see at least 4 more species of butterfly – there are lots of great wildlife reserves within easy distance of Malvern, so hopefully we can bag at least some of the following: Grayling, Wood White, Purple Emperor, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Silver-studded Blue and Green Hairstreak.
  • Have a go at beetle trapping. Having more or less got the hang of the moth traps, it would be good to expand our insect repertoire.
  • Dig a new pond – one that actually has water in, not just soggy mud.
  • Replace at least some of the overgrown weeds with more butterfly and bee flower beds.
  • Work out what species those unidentified bats are – it’s been bugging me for years!
  • Get that moth tattoo I’ve been toying with for ages!
  • Learn to photoshop convincingly so I can fabricate evidence of the above when I fail to achieve these resolutions too!

Wishing all lazy wildlife enthusiasts a happy, healthy and environmentally friendly 2016.