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!

 

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!

 

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: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch

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: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

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: http://www.mothnight.info/www/ 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: http://www.gardenmoths.org.uk/

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: http://butterfly-conservation.org/612/migrant-watch.html

 

 

 

Azure DamselflyThere are schemes for all sorts of species – we’ve logged dragonflies and damselflies at http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/ and reptiles and lizards at http://www.recordpool.org.uk/index.php 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 – http://www.gardenbioblitz.org/

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?