Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

It’s that time of year again – the Big Garden Birdwatch. I think every year I write a similar post about that mixture of anticipation and frustration that this fantastic bit of Citizen Science brings. The usual feeling of “where have all my regular birds gone” followed by the joy a pair of blue tits bring when they appear in the nick of time to make the cut. The red kites last week were undoubtedly magnificent, but when you’ve been sitting freezing your proverbial off for an hour, the sight of a pair of blue tits can be just as rewarding.

I did our garden count on Sunday, an unfortunately blustery day, which I presume is what put a lot of our birds off; rather than just sheer wilfulness to avoid being counted. In the end I only recorded 27 birds of 7 species – way below our garden norm and less even than I can see just glancing out now.  But data is data, so I hope our paltry count will still be of use. So all I saw was:

  • 14 sparrows – there may actually have been double that but, they were in the bushes and impossible to count more for certain.
  • 2 collared doves
  • 1 wood pigeon
  • 2 magpies
  • 1 blackbird
  • 5 jackdaws
  • 2 blue tits

I did try to take photos of those that landed on the bird table, but our overgrown teasels were flapping about in the wind in my line of sight, so I only managed one of the jackdaws.

The blue tits were a bit easier as they were feeding in the apple tree closer to the house.

While, I watched a mainly empty garden, Chris took himself off to his workplace and did the Birdwatch there. Bird envy is a terrible thing, so I tried to be pleased for him when he came back with these photos of a Grey Wagtail and Chaffinch.

So that’s it over for another year. Apparently this year was the 40th anniversary of the Big Garden Birdwatch. It started as a survey just for children to do, but thankfully us adults are allowed to join in now too. Our garden birds often seem to make themselves scarce during this annual count, but it still gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to know that we’re contributing to a really useful bit of science. And sitting just quietly watching the wildlife in your garden for an hour, with no interruptions or distractions is no bad thing either!

 

Clouded Yellows & Big Butterfly Count

For one reason or another I’ve not had the chance to blog this last month, despite it being full on Butterfly Season. So to make up for lost time, this blog post is a bit of a catch up on all things butterfly in the Too Lazy world. Firstly we’re still in the midst of the Big Butterfly Count – one of the biggest citizen science projects in the world.

As I type this there have already been over 74000 counts and there’s still a few days to go. So if you haven’t done it already, get along to https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ and find out what it’s all about.

We’ve done several counts in both the garden and down the allotment. The lottie produced, not surprisingly a lot of “Cabbage Whites” – in reality a mix of Large, Small and Green-veined Whites. In the garden, our first common blue of the year obligingly turned up in time to get counted. Similarly it was nice to count Painted Ladies and a Red Admiral to add to the tally of Whites, Gatekeepers and other garden stalwarts.

A trip to Trench Wood in early July was prompted by reports of large numbers of Purple Hairstreaks coming down and settling low enough to get photos. Seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Trench Wood is always a delight and this year was no exception. The wood was full of the usual Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets, plus plenty of Whites and White Admirals.

The ever gorgeous Silver-Washed Fritillaries were also out in large numbers, tropical looking as they bombed around the open rides.

My target species for the day – the Purple Hairstreak – didn’t disappoint. Almost as soon as I left the carpark they were visible along the path, settling comfortably on the bushes either side. The reports I’d read hadn’t exaggerated – there were too many to count and I’ve never seen them settle so well at a reachable height!

A quick trip to the nearby Guarlford Straights gave me the chance to see some lovely butterflies practically on my doorstep. Common Blues were probably the commonest species, flitting about the dry grass in the sunshine.

Amongst the Common Blues I found at least one fairly fresh looking Brown Argus. It’s only a couple of years since we saw our first ever one of these, so it’s still a bit exciting to spot one.

Small Coppers were also reasonably common. Athough none would pose nicely with their wings open, I found the underside of the wings to be just as beautiful in a more subtle colour pallet.

Finally the high spot of the last few days was a trip to Venus Pools in Shropshire. It’s a small reserve (with as the name suggests, some pools) run by the Shropshire Ornithological Society, but it’s also really good for butterflies. In particular, Common Blues were everywhere – they should be renamed Abundant Blues! We’ve never seen so many in such a small area, including several courting couples like these.

Amongst the Common Blues, were the occasional Brown Argus and Small Copper.


Also present were Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Large, Small & Green-veined Whites, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper & Meadow Browns. But the real reason we’d driven 50 miles was reports of Clouded Yellow butterflies. For two weeks prior, we kept seeing gorgeous photos of Clouded Yellows at Venus Pools on social media. Having never seen one, this seemed the perfect opportunity. We spotted our first one almost immediately – unmistakeable bright yellow, but very, very fast. Only once did one stop long enough for us to grab some quick photos.

So not the finest pics, but recognisable enough to count as butterfly no. 47 on our quest to see all the British species. Well worth the 100 mile round trip! So all in all this last month has been a butterfly filled delight. Fingers crossed all this hot weather won’t spell trouble for the caterpillars and next year’s butterflies.

 

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Last weekend was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite bits of citizen science to participate in. Unfortunately it was one of those dull, grey January days where the sun just doesn’t come out – and nor did many of the birds. Coupled with that, my camera was in for repairs so I couldn’t even take photos of the ones that did appear. I persevered though as it would have been a shame to miss out on it this year, having done it for the last few years.

So I spent an hour crouched behind my camouflage netting hoping neither the birds nor the neighbours could see me (neighbours think we’re mad enough as it is without seeing the camouflage!). As always seems to be the case, the birds which moments before had seemed so plentiful, all disappeared as soon as I got my notepad out. But my masterplan worked as I’d topped up all the bird feeders just before and they couldn’t resist indefinitely.

The sparrows were abundant as usual. I’ve no idea how many we really have visiting the garden, but I’m sure it’s much more than the 13 I managed to count in one go. I suspect we have closer to 25 or even 30, but they’re impossible to count all together, so I stuck with the 13 definite that I could see at once.  Next largest presence was the jackdaws – 5 of whom put in an appearance on the bird table. These are at least big enough and obvious enough to be much easier to count.

The rest of the birds came in just ones and twos: blue tits, robin, blackbird, goldfinches, starlings, woodpigeons, crow, dunnock, blackcap (female) and magpie. A total of 32 birds of 12 species. As usual I had several no shows – birds that have graced our garden in the days before and days after the count. These include the wren, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits and chaffinch – all of whom I’ve seen today.

The RSPB give you a nice little pie chart when you upload your results. It only shows 10 species, so misses out the crow and the blackcap, but at least represents 30 out of the 32 birds I saw.

You can also get a similar representation of the national results so far. So as of this afternoon, sparrows were leading the way nationally, as they were in our garden. But there was no sign of our second most abundant bird, the jackdaw, in the nation’s top 10. Perhaps we are just in a hotspot for jackdaws, or they particularly like the selection of bird food we put out here?

This year’s results for our garden were very similar to last year’s (https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/01/28/big-garden-birdwatch-2017/). So it’s good to know there are no dreadful declines here at least – keep putting out the bird food and they will come!

While I was skulking around the garden, Chris went for a walk near his work in Malvern. He didn’t do a bird count as he was moving around too much, but he did see a few more interesting birds than I did.

Jackdaws we do of course have in the garden, but I liked this fluffed up one.

Although Chris did at least have a working camera, unlike me, he was still plagued by the same dull grey light that made taking decent photos a bit difficult. So apologies that these next 3 photos aren’t exactly fabulous, but the birds themselves were. A great spotted woodpecker, a kestrel and a tiny goldcrest. Not a bad trio to spot on one walk.

And as if seeing all of those wasn’t good enough, he even managed to come home with some decent photos of a wren. It’s obviously not the same wren that torments me daily in our garden (I swear it danced in front of the window today knowing I still have no camera), but it’s great to get any decent wren photos. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best, so here are my favourite 4 photos.

So a bit of birdy citizen science for one of us and a bit of bird photography for the other. A weekend well spent I reckon.

30 Days Wild – Day 5 – Apptastic

It’s Day 5 of 30 Days Wild and it’s been a bit of a miserable one weather wise – grey skies with intermittent drizzle all day here in Malvern. Add to that frequent gusts of wind, making any attempts at photography almost impossible. So I thought I’d try something new for me – I’d get all techy! I don’t really do apps on phones (must be an age thing!), but today I thought I’d go crazy and download a few wildlife ones, to see what it was all about. I picked half a dozen or so that seemed vaguely relevant and equally important – that were free!

It was easy enough to install the basic app for each of them, but actually using them proved a different matter in some cases.

First up the Great British Bee Count app. Run by Friends of the Earth, this app is for use between the middle of May and end of June – ideal for 30 Days Wild. You can either just record spot sightings of individual bees or do a timed count of a particular species on a particular plant. It was easy to use and would be great for kids. The only problem I found was that if you did the timed count you had to decide what bee you were looking for on what plant. I did a couple of 60 second counts of first honey bees on red valerian and then tree bumblebees on alliums. Needless to say the correct bee species never appeared on the correct plant in the relevant 60 seconds, so I recorded several zero counts. Admittedly this wasn’t helped by the fact that I was trying this on a dull day with not that many bees about.

I had more luck just recording spot sightings of individual bees. You could even add photos from your phone, which I presume they can use for verification purposes. Unfortunately me and my phone are rubbish at photos – see left, but I can’t blame the app for that. I particularly liked that you could choose different habitat types including allotments – not least because we have just got one and I was down there practising with the app! All in all this was an easy, fun app to use – just pick a sunny day though!

Next one I tried was Birdtracker from the British Trust for Ornithology. This one I did struggle with a bit. I put food out on the bird table and started the app up. But first I had to register with BTO, which it turns out I’d done years ago and forgotten my password. So then I had to wait for them to send me a password reset e-mail. By the time I’d done that the birds had eaten all the food, so I had to put out more. You then had to select a site you would be recording from – I was trying it in the garden, so tried to pick that – but the image on the phone screen was so small, I ended up having to go back inside to do it. It seems the smallest area you can pick is a kilometre square – seemed a bit excessive for our modest garden (wish it was that big!). By the time I’d sorted that, more food was required on the bird table. There is so much information on this app that the writing is very small (to my middle aged eyes). I know I could zoom in, but then I could only see a tiny part of the info and had to keep zooming back out. By the time I’d worked it out, yet more food was needed on the bird table (the birds at least must like this app!) Finally I managed to submit a few sightings. It did seem like this was intended for someone who had already collected their sightings and so had a list already written out – they could then input the data relatively easily. On the plus side, if you did it regularly it would be a good way of keeping track of what you saw in your garden. Also I did manage to see both the robin and the collared doves that had refused to appear for the yesterday’s bioblitz!

I tried out two apps from the Wildlife Trusts – both of which were very good and easy to use. The 30 Days Wild one gives you random acts of wildness to try out. If you don’t fancy the one it suggests, just click again and it comes up with something else – ideal on a dull day when you’re lacking inspiration.

The Nature Finder app was probably my favourite one today and I expect will be the one we use most. You can use it to find nature reserves near where you are – particularly useful if you’re on holiday. Or you can use it to suggest Events that are coming up – I found a couple that we might go to in the coming months. Or you can use it to find information on a particular species. All really useful tools in an app that was easy to use – perfect!

Next up was the Dragon Finder app – not as you might expect for dragonflies, but for amphibians and reptiles and run by Froglife. We’ve put in a tiny pond at the allotment, which has already attracted lots of wildlife, so I tried out the app there. Again this app is easy to use and didn’t require any special ID or techy skills. I managed to log one common newt and one sadly deceased common frog.

I did also download a butterfly and a dragonfly app. Thanks to the soggy weather I didn’t see any of these to be able to try out the apps properly. The butterfly app looked fairly straightforward and the dragonfly one a bit more complicated, but that may just be because I am more familiar with former than the latter.

Most of these apps have the common purposes of gathering data from people all over the country. Citizen science like this can hopefully provide lots of useful data for the scientists studying the particular group. These apps will also hopefully engage people who might not otherwise consider submitting sightings and get more people interested in the wildlife around them. So even if technophobes like me struggle a bit with some of them, they can only really be a good thing. And after all I can always go back to a pen and paper if necessary!

30 Days Wild – Day 4 – Garden Bioblitz Part 2

It’s day 4 of 30 Days Wild and I spent the morning taking more photos of the wildlife for our Garden Bioblitz. I’d started the bioblitz at about 09:30 yesterday, so I was trying to cram in as many more species as I could before 09:30 this morning. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my camera has packed in (I hope temporarily) so I was having to use Chris’s camera and swap lenses back and forth.

The day started at 04:30 to beat the birds to the contents of the moth trap. I had hoped for a good haul to boost my species tally, but the trap was fairly quiet – possibly because it had been quite windy last night. Still there were some nice moths including a few of these beautiful and distinctive Angle Shades – virtually impossible to mistake these for anything else, which I like in a moth!

Star of the moth show was the Elephant Hawkmoth making a timely debut for the year in our garden. I’ll never tire of these stunning moths with their bright pink bodies. If you were to make a toy moth, I reckon this would be it.

I put a specimen of each moth in the fridge (it does no harm but keeps them calm until  you can photograph them) and went back to bed for a couple of hours. 8 o’clock though and I was back up photographing said moths, then scouring the garden for more wildlife. I hadn’t managed to photograph any birds yesterday, so I topped up the feeders and waited expectantly to see what would show up. As usual the sparrows were the first to show, landing on last year’s teasels to check things out before heading to the bird table.

The starlings and jackdaws came next, followed by the blackbirds and pigeons.

There were several no shows for birds that normally frequent the garden – no sign of the robin, wren, collared doves, great tits or gold finches. A blue tit just appeared in the last minutes to scrape into the bioblitz total. For the last few days I’d been seeing a big black bird, bigger then the jackdaws, so was disappointed initially when it didn’t show for the camera. But then I downloaded the trail camera which had been running for the last couple of days and there he was – a carrion crow.

The trail cam also picked up a couple of hedgehogs – one of which looks like our old foster hedgehog Meadow – i.e. it was a big chunky looking hog!

There were of course bees in the garden, although being a busy bee myself chasing everything else around I didn’t actually manage to get that many photos of them. But here are two favourites – a Buff-tailed Bumblebee and a Common Carder Bee.

There was also this bumblebee mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris).

Our snails were also being sneeky and hiding away over the last 24 hours – several species that I know we get refused to show. Fortunately both the White Lipped (top) and Brown Lipped (below) appeared out of the Pendulous Sedge to get their photos taken.

I also found three species of slug including this large yellow one and the stripy ones which I think are Iberian slugs.

I spotted this tiny nymph of the Speckled Bush Cricket, when I saw its antennae poking over the edge of a buttercup. Unfortunately the buttercup was blowing about in the wind a bit – hence the less than perfect focussing!

While turning over stones, I disturbed loads of woodlice. The top one is a Common Striped Woodlouse and the ones below that are Common Rough Woodlice. The bottom pinky one may just be a variant of the latter, but I hoping it might be a 3rd species – just waiting for someone on i-Spot to confirm one way or another.

 

Beetles are the largest insect group in the world, so it would have been a bit weird if I hadn’t found any in the garden. My favourite Swollen-thighed beetle of course appeared, but so did this lovely shiny Black Clock Beetle.

This tiny carpet beetle was making the most of the flowers.

One group I’ve never really studied is the centipedes/millipedes. This beauty turned up under an old piece of wood. I’ve yet to work out the species though (suggestions gratefully received).

So that’s a selection of our bioblitz species for 2017. As always I ran out of time, so didn’t manage to root about in the pond, or look for ants, flies, grass moths and a host of other things. It was also a bit disappointing that no butterflies or shieldbugs or ladybirds appeared in the last 24 hours, but then that’s the way it goes. The bioblitz is just a snapshot of what you can find in the garden over a day. I love that it gets me looking for groups that I don’t normally study (easy to get in a bit of a rut with the bees and moths and butterflies and forget the others sometimes) – always good to broaden my wildlife horizons.

I’m still identifying photos and gradually uploading them to the i-Record website, so I won’t know the final tally for a while yet. So far I’ve only managed to load 32 species, which apparently puts me 10th on the bioblitz league table. Sounds good until I realised the person in the top spot at the moment has 167 species – I’ve got a way to go yet!

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

Today has been all about the birds. It started when I switched on the tv to check our new nest box camera. I was amazed to discover something had left a “deposit” in the box  – clearly visible via the camera. Never have I been so excited by a poop in a box! While regaling Chris with the momentous event, it got even better – a blue tit appeared on screen in the box, had a look around and removed the poop. We hadn’t yet got the software to record the video feed (that arrived in the post about an hour later of course!) and I was too surprised to even grab the camera to take a photo of the telly. So you’ll just have to take my word for it. (I could post a photo of the stain left by the poop but that is probably more than anyone wants to see) Hopefully this is all a sign that the blue tits approve of the box and will start using it as more than a toilet in the next few weeks.

The main focus of this weekend though is the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite examples of citizen science. This birdwatch is also the world’s largest wildlife survey – an amazing achievement. We’ve been making sure the bird feeders have been well topped up the last few weeks and there have certainly been plenty of birds in the garden recently.

assorted-birds

So I sat down late morning in the garden to do my allotted hour of bird watching; camera and notepad at the ready. Although not everything showed up in the hour, I was really chuffed to record 14 species and 30 individuals – a significant improvement on last year when I only got 21 individuals of 7 species. I do love a graph and the RSPB sent me this little pie chart (well half a pie) of 10 of my species.

birdwatch-results

So topping the list was the house sparrow with 12 birds – I’m sure we actually have about 20, but I could only manage to count 12 at any one time. Last year I counted for the hour then took photos afterwards. This year I tried to get photos of everything as I counted them, although the best I could manage was 2 sparrows in one shot. I’d tucked myself away in the corner of a garden so that I disturbed the birds as little as possible, so I was actually a bit far away for taking photos – hence the dubious quality in some cases (excuses, excuses).

sparrows

The next most common bird today was the jackdaw – three appeared but only two ever seemed to land at the same time.

jackdaws

Collared doves and blackbirds both managed 2 individuals. The collared doves landed nicely together, the blackbirds of course kept their distance, so I’ve only got one.

collared-doves

blackbird

We’ve got a pair of blackcaps that regularly visit the garden and both male and female showed up within the hour. The female was more nervous though so I only got a shot of the male.

blackcap

The robin, a starling (one of 4 we sometimes get) and the song thrush all turned up on cue for a change.

robin

starling

song-thrush

Earlier in the morning I’d seen several long-tailed tits, a great tit and a pair of blue tits. Of these only a single blue tit deigned to put in an appearance during the hour.

blue-tit

I’d put up a new niger seed feeder just a couple of days ago and the goldfinches had found it almost immediately. I’d seen 3 or 4 of them on it yesterday, but today I was grateful when just one arrived. Unfortunately when positioning the niger seeds I hadn’t considered trying to take photos from the other side of the tree – so there’s a few too many twigs in the way!

goldfinch

A magpie, a dunnock and a wood pigeon all appeared briefly, but out of range of the camera. The final bird was a wren. This wren has been tormenting me for weeks. It has a tendency to appear whenever I’m in the garden without the camera. If I do have the camera, it appears but hides behind as many twigs/branches/weeds as it can find. So believe it or not this is probably the best photo I’ve ever managed to get of it – which isn’t saying much!

wren

I’d had the trail camera on while I was counting, just in case it could pick up something I’d missed. It didn’t spot anything different, but it did film this goldfinch – probably the same one I photographed from the other side of the tree.

01280016

Of course once the hour was up and I was back on the sofa, the birds returned en masse to taunt me. Leading the mockery was the woodpecker, which I haven’t seen for weeks but chose to land on the bird table just after I’d submitted my results. The long-tailed tits flew back in and the wren perched on the most photogenic spots possible – safe in the knowledge that I couldn’t get a photo from this distance!

Anyone thinking of taking part in the birdwatch has until Monday to have a go. Full details on: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch

As I now have the image capture software all loaded, I will probably be spending the rest of the weekend watching an empty nest box with only a dubious stain on the bottom!