Six on Saturday: Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend is the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The Birdwatch is held over one weekend in January each year. The results from this little piece of citizen science that gives valuable data on the ups and downs of birds in the UK. In preparation for doing my hour watch I have been working for the last few months to have the garden ready and as bird-friendly as possible.

1. Cleaning the feeders

Bird feeders should be cleaned regularly to cut down the spread of infection from birds visiting. In preparation for the birdwatch, I got a new long-handled feeder brush and spray to give my feeders a good clean. I find the birds seem to like this and I often see an increase in bird numbers after feeding.

2. Increasing the feeders

During Winter I increase my number of feeders to help support the birds who may be struggling. During warmer months there is plenty of readily available food for the birds.

3. Increasing the variety

Different birds like different food. Some eat on the ground, some can hang from feeders, others need a solid stand. In order to accommodate this, I put out a variety of feeders and types of food.

Suet seems to be a good all-round choice. It gives a solid energy burst without the birds having to spend much effort.

A good quality seed mix is popular among many of the birds visiting.

Nyger is popular with the finches.

Sunflower seeds are again popular with the finches and many of the smaller birds.

The ground feeders are good for pigeons and blackbirds.

Meat brings in the corvids.

Just about anything brings in the gulls.

4. Water

While many people feed the birds not as many supply a drink. I’ve been having to crack the surface each day. A ball in the bowl can stop freezing but the gulls round mine fling them out.

5. The kit

No good doing a count without being able to see and identify. I’ve got my binoculars ready.

Alice has been out the last few weekends practising. After a year she has started holding them the right way round.

The cameras telephoto lens is ready. Then the trail camera is set up closer to the action.

6. The snacks

Time to put my feet up to enjoy a cuppa and snacks and see how many birds I can count.

Hope you have enjoyed my six. If you fancy taking part you can find details on the RSPB website. My results will follow later. Wish me luck!

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Alice is already making notes and drawing what she’s seen.

 

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

It’s the time of the year to register for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The birdwatch is over one weekend. Just an hour is needed to sit and count birds in your garden. The data collected is invaluable for conservation efforts. 

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/packrequest/
Last year saw me record a respectable 11 species, but I’m hopeful for more this year after a year of feeding the birds and making the garden more wildlife friendly. 


Focus on sparrows

As part of improving my wildlife knowledge during 30 days wild I am aiming to research a bit about common wildlife I see. The first focus on one of the commonest visitors, the humble sparrow.

Sparrows are a regular visitor to my front gardens bird feeder and an irregular visitor in the back garden. They are social little birds usually arriving in pairs or often coming on their own to be followed by another. They can be found across the UK all year round and in almost all habitats, although they are disappearing from cities.

Through the eighteenth  century sparrow bounties were offered in many parishes to keep numbers down. Being fond of grain crops they were considered a pest. These sparrow clubs continued until the 19th century when it was realised it wasn’t helping.

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Despite being one of the most common birds on the planet their numbers have dropped dramatically (up to 60%) over the last twenty years, particularly in cities. Different theories have been put forward from car pollution killing insects to lack of nesting spaces.

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During the breeding period (April to August) protein is of great importance. Promoting insect life in your garden can help. Alternatively food like meal worms can help this.

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Being social they like to nest in groups, so a run of nest boxes together can help. When numbers start to drop it is hard for numbers to go back up as they appear to like the company. So it is important to help before it’s too late. The RSPB sell nest boxes designed to help this.

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For more information:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/h/housesparrow/

http://www.garden-birds.co.uk/birds/housesparrow.htm

Why Sparrows struggle to survive RSPB podcast

And I’ll finish with a male sparrow caught mid snack.

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

This years Big Garden Birdwatch saw me more hopeful than last. Our previous house had a regular species drop in of three: blackbirds, wood pigeons and starlings. While I am actually fond of all three it doesn’t make for the most exciting hours viewing. However our new garden sees a much greater diversity with over ten regular species dropping in and a handful of irregulars.

I had planned to try to do the watch early morning or just after dinner, but marking, planning and parental duties took priority. But we now have a good storage unit in the sitting room for Alice’s toys and books.

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Man duties done I settled in to monitor the birds later than I’d intended, so I did think I’d miss out as late afternoon/early evening isn’t an amazingly active point and next doors cat sitting on the fence for a while won’t of helped, but haven’t had too bad a time. I’ve missed out on a few of the finches who have been regular visitors and the collared doves, but still managed double figures of species.

The survey works by taking the largest number of each species you see at once, so you don’t count birds coming in and out. My results were as follows:

Eleven starlings

Six blackbirds

Four wood pigeons

Three blue tits

Two great tits

Two chaffinches

Two house sparrows

One robin

One wren

One crow

One common gull

I managed to capture many on the trail cam with a number posing nicely for the mugshots.

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Preparing for the big garden birdwatch

Over this weekend I’ve been keeping an eye on the bird life in the local area and in my garden. I’ve had a flurry of new species into the garden the last week and don’t recognise them all. So checking through the field guides ready the big garden birdwatch next week.

I felt the need to visit the local park after my earlier post local park after my earlier post. The crows and gulls were present as always, but also snapped a pied wagtail on the goal posts and a blurry bull finch. Couldn’t quite get close enough to the bullfinch for a decent shot. The wagtail was very obliging staying still sat atop the most useless goal around. In the middle of the goal is a tree stump and just in front of that is a bog. Possibly explaining why I’ve not seen it in use.

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Back at home I’ve had the trail cam on seeing what is raiding the feeder and to check it’s working ready for monitoring next weekend. Nothing out of the ordinary today, but the feeders have seen plenty of visitors, which is always nice. The blackbirds haven’t actually eaten much. They just seem to like posing in front of the camera.

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Hedgehog feeding

As part of my RSPB home for nature plan I was set the task of opening a hedgehog cafe.

 

Details of here: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/givenatureahomeinyourgarden/gardenactivities/openahedgehogcafe/

I haven’t set up the box station yet, but got a feeding tray and water tray ready next to the hedgehog home.

 

For those who have been following the blog you’ll of seen my highways and byways have had some success getting a hedgehogs into the garden.

Last night I had some of the busiest activity from my hedgehog visitor. I got some of the best footage on the trail cam. Then with Alice rising early for a morning feed at 4 I actually got to see the hedgehog this morning shuffling around the garden rather than just on the trail cam.

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Highways and Byways continued

Now I have internet again I’m going to be working on catching up on some updates to bring my progress on my new garden up to date. Further proof that the hedgehole hole works built as part of my highways and biways. Just a small hole makes a difference.

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And video evidence

Home for nature-Hedgehog home

I wanted to see if it anything had come into through the new highway before I move into the new house properly. So I set up the trail cam to run over Thursday night. I’m glad to report the trail cam met success.

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I had been concerned about what birdlife I might get in the garden with the seagulls dominating the rooftops. Yesterday I saw a few starting to come into the feeder. Pigeons have settled in and a swarm of starlings.

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Start a wildflower meadow

Continuing my RSPB home for nature plan I have set aside an area in the front garden for a wildflower meadow. Wildflowers creates a feast for bees, butterflies and other insects. From that it gives the birds another supply of food. There also very attractive looking.

RSPB link

The patch chosen is a little strip alongside the front path. It had nothing growing of any major use. A couple of dandelions, but no great variety for attracting insect life.

I started by turning over the soil and taking out the couple of dandelions.

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I broke up the soil to make it finer. Wildflower mix will generally find a way to grow, but might as well make it easier to take.

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I added a thin layer of compost from the heap to give the soil a layer of fresh nutrients. The soil in my garden is mainly clay, so the compost will hopefully help the flowers a little further.

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Then scattered a box of wildflower mix, a bag of seeds from the friends of the earth bee pack then a few poppy seeds and other seed packs.

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Lastly walked over to step it in and watered.

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I was concerned that it was too late in the year but watching a gardeners world episode it encouraged setting up an area pretty much any time except late Autumn and early Winter, so we’ll see what happens.

Currently we have not moved into the house so took across one bird feeder from the current house to see what comes in. So far just pigeons, but at this point of the year most birds will find their own food while insects are plentiful. We are by the sea, so slightly concerned that the seagulls will scare away some of my favourite garden birds, but will have to wait and see.

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I’ve potted some lavender. I like lavender as an insect attracting flower and cat repentant (don’t want the birds eaten), but it does badly in clay soil, so I’ll see if it can manage in pots.

I’ve added a insect home and butterfly home ticking off another home for nature activity.

Build a bee B&B

The garden is currently pretty wild, which I’m in favour of, but mainly just for slugs and snails. So I’ve worked on clearing the dandelion forest to claim a flower bed back. A good afternoons work digging and turning over.

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I’ve got some ivy ready to continue adding to the  on the fence. Very important for many moth species, spiders and giving some further cover.

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And a butterfly enjoying the garden.

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