Sunday, 25 January 2015

Big Garden Birdwatch, and then some

A snap shot through the window of today's female Blackcap, the first of the winter, on the Christmas cake feeder. It appeared just after I'd finished the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, but visited on and off throughout the morning.
Unless you have been living in a cave with no outside contact for the last few weeks, the chances are that you’ll know this weekend was the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch event. I know many keen birders who don’t take part, and for some years I didn’t do so either, but when the kids were little it started to become an annual ritual in our household, as a way of opening their eyes to the natural world. Now they’re big and understandably have other priorities (not least university), so the ritual falls to me – and it’s one that I actually enjoy.

As this hugely popular citizen science survey lasts only one hour, you have to time your run right. One year I had a dismal seven species, a poor showing in my small but typically wildlife-rich urban oasis in north London. Today was better, with 37 birds of 13 species actually in the garden between 08:10-09:10. In order of appearance, they were Blue Tit (3), Blackbird (5), Chaffinch (3), Robin (2), Starling (2), Goldfinch (6), Great Tit (2), Magpie (2), Wren (1), Dunnock (1), Woodpigeon (4), Collared Dove (2) and Greenfinch (4). A Carrion Crow and three Black-headed Gulls which flew over fell outside the terms of the survey but took the garden day list up to 15 species, while no sooner had I finished and entered the totals into the RSPB website than the first Blackcap of the winter, a female, appeared on the Christmas cake feeder!
Spurred on by this good showing and as I anyway often do when I’m at home for a good part of the day, I kept a window list and extended the survey into an even Bigger Garden Birdwatch. It’s my garden, my rules for the overall day list, so anything and everything seen or heard in, over or from the garden gets logged. We were out for lunch and running errands for about two hours early afternoon, which might have cost one or two list additions, but the final tally was no fewer than 24 species – equalling the second-highest total I’ve recorded in 13 years and two months of regular observation (the record is 27 species in a day).
Goldfinches on the niger feeder acquired last autumn. At first they religiously fed on niger seed, but now will also visit any of the seed feeders.
I also continued to note totals of individuals recorded, resulting in a grand total of 123 birds counted. Even if a third of them were Black-headed Gulls flying over distantly to roost, I think that’s still a very respectable figure. The garden log for the whole day reads as follows (this time in order of abundance): Black-headed Gull (43), Goldfinch (13), Starling (11), Woodpigeon (10), Common Gull (6), Blackbird (5), Chaffinch (4), Greenfinch (4), Blue Tit (3), Dunnock (3), Carrion Crow (2), Collared Dove (2), Feral Rock Dove (2), Great Tit (2), Magpie (2), Ring-necked Parakeet (2), Robin (2), Blackcap (1), Coal Tit (1), Goldcrest (1), Green Woodpecker (1), Kestrel (1), Long-tailed Tit (1) and Wren (1).

Dunnock: a pair breeds. Could the third bird they chased off today have been one of last summer's offspring?
Before this winter Goldfinches would not have been predictable, but having finally discovered it they love my new niger seed feeder. The Green Woodpecker heard unmistakably ‘yaffling’ was only the third garden record, while Goldcrest and Kestrel are both garden 'vagrants'. There were no obvious omissions, though Jay is occasional, most winters Redwing is a possibility and Canada Geese occasionally fly overhead. I’ll have a quick listen before bed for Tawny Owl, another local rarity, just in case I can reach … you never know!


  1. My garden watch was very quiet with a lot of the usuals absent -too mild perhaps.

    On a different note, I read this article (link below) about the now-famous Nagaland Amur Falcons. The writer mentions that to their immense credit they have stopped killing the falcons but they are suffering economically as a consequence. This seems unfair and no reward for doing the right thing. I was wondering if Birdwatch might be interested in exploring this issue and perhaps raising the profile of the area to encourage a few much-needed birding tourists? Here's the article that made me think along these lines:

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Joe. Interesting article on the Amur Falcon situation in Nagaland - I think 'avitourism' may well come in due course, but these things take time, especially considering that the slaughter of the birds has only recently stopped. My guess is one or two smaller specialist companies might run trips there before it catches on more widely as a destination - from the sound of it the area is little explored and, considering its position geographically, this little-visited corner of India could have great potential. Thanks for bringing the NYT story to my attention.

  3. Thanks Dominic. Yes, it will probably take a while for things to get going. I might try contacting some birding tour companies to see what they think - it must be an amazing experience to see thousands of Amur Falcons together!

  4. Hi Dominic, I contacted 3 tour companies a little while ago now, but haven't heard anything from them. Maybe it's too much of an unknown region for them to want to consider!



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