Sunday, 18 January 2015

Dates for the diary - RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 24-25 Jan 2015

The world's biggest wildlife survey, the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch is now in its 36th year. Last year alone about half a million people across the UK took part counting an incredible 7.2 million birds. This year's event takes place this weekend - 24/25 January, people are asked to count the numbers of different types of birds and other wildlife they see in one hour of watching in the garden (or other location) over the weekend, and then submit these results to the RSPB. The results from the survey give a good overall picture of how our garden birds are faring, their populations in turn being a good indicator of the health of the wider countryside. 

Further information and details of how to take part at  

The results of 2014's survey showed the following 'top twenty' birds - those most frequently reported in gardens; House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Starling, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Collared Dove, Robin, Magpie, Dunnock, Long-tailed Tit, Feral Pigeon, Greenfinch, Jackdaw, Coal Tit, Carrion Crow, Wren and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

We were lucky to have this Song Thrush as a regular visitor to our old garden. Sadly their numbers are in serious decline (currently a red-listed species) and they weren't amongst the 20 most reported garden birds in BGB 2014

Long-Tailed Tit
One of the first things to be done in our new garden was getting some bird feeders up. Our neighbour has a fantastic bird feeding station in place, and (in a slight spirit of friendly competition!) we now also have a good selection of feeders containing different foodstuffs set up to try and tempt a few birds 'through the hedge'. It will be interesting to see the differences in types and numbers of birds that we see this year being in a new garden with different surroundings.

Our last garden was also in the suburbs but backed onto a small area of woodland with open countryside close by so we used to get a wide variety of birds that you would associate with those habitats. Great-Spotted Woodpeckers and Nuthatches and Treecreepers (the latter never on the feeders), Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were all regularly seen and occasionally Redwings in the winter feeding on cotoneaster berries. 

Blue Tit
Plenty of smaller birds were also regular visitors that featured in our previous Big Garden Birdwatch submissions - Great/Blue/Coal and Long-Tailed Tits, Dunnocks, Robins and small numbers of House Sparrows. Of the finches Chaffinches were regular visitors, the occasional Bullfinch and Goldfinch, and the even more (or should that be less?) occasional Brambling. Woodpigeons and Collared Doves would make regular appearances, and we would also see a good selection of corvids including beautiful Jays, large Rooks (that broke more than a few small tree branches trying to reach a fat ball feeder!), Jackdaws (that would nest in the chimney - so we didn't use the fire) and Magpies. Occasionally a Sparrowhawk would shoot through sending all the others literally flying (even Rooks would make a quick exit which I found surprising, though as a flocking bird they are less aggressive than other more solitary corvids and as such don't take their chances).  


Male Kestrel - a surprise visitor (taken through window)
On one occasion a Kestrel caused upset to the smaller locals by making quite an abrupt (crash?) landing in the garden and staying on the ground for 15 or so minutes before flying away. (I'm not sure what had happened there but just when I was about to go out and check if there was something wrong, he flew up and away apparently fine.) 

Another bird that we had as regular winter visitors to the garden, (and featured in our BGB records) were Pheasants, sometimes lots of them! One winter I counted at least 15 individuals visiting the garden in what tended to be single sex groups. One bird in particular, a large male, became quite tame and would run towards the french doors we had if I was spotted in the kitchen and would take bread, seed, suet pellets etc. from only a few feet away (of course he became a personal favourite!). I'm opposed to pheasant shooting (and any other variety of killing for fun/entertainment for that matter) so was quite happy for our garden to be a relative safe haven for the pheasants that managed to evade the guns.

Male Pheasant - this individual was incredibly tame

RSPB Big Schools' Birdwatch

In addition to the Big Garden Birdwatch there is also the RSPB's Big Schools' Birdwatch (BSB) which this year started on the 5th Jan and continues until the 13th Feb. Similarly to the Garden Birdwatch, this involves counting the numbers of different types of birds (as well as other wildlife) seen in one hour of birdwatching but undertaken within the school environment. 

The local RSPB Wildlife Explorers group have been busy at local schools running BSB sessions (though any school can take part). Starting by giving the children a little bit of background of what the RSPB stands for and does, children were given information on identifying birds and how to count them for the survey (all suited to their age groups), before being shown how to safely use binoculars and then going outside to see what they could see. I helped out at one of these sessions earlier in the week and despite fairly cold and grey weather, a great time was had by all - the kids really relishing the chance to get outside and see what they could spot - a great success with a large number of birds counted! 

The totals counted just at this one school were as follows;

Blackbird x1, Black-headed Gull x52, Blue Tit x1, Canada Goose x185 (a possible record breaker???), Carrion Crow x2, Collared Dove x3, Dunnock x1, Goldfinch x2, Greylag Goose x8, House Sparrow x8, Magpie x3, Robin x1, Pied Wagtail x1, Rook x11, Song Thrush x1, Starling x32.

The view from the playing fields showing some of the 185 Canada Geese counted

More information on the Big Schools' Birdwatch at


  1. What a lovely selection of birds you get to your garden, I loved the image of the Rook.(my fav) beautifully presented Jan. :) love it

    1. Thanks again Kez - I did my Big Garden Birdwatch this morning, not the variety of birds we used to see but then we had woodland behind us. I need to get busy photographing our 'new' birds! Lots more House Sparrows and Starlings than before, (I'll miss the Rooks and Pheasants though - real characters!) :)

  2. I love the pheasant portrait! Happy that they have a safe haven in your garden from the sport of shooting, which I also have a distaste for. Beautiful images throughout your blog and well written. Thanks for the link! I have enjoyed being here.

    1. Thanks very much Greg - really appreciate your comments and I'm pleased you liked it. :)