I always look forward to Big Garden Birdwatch with a certain smugness, confident of a decent count of sparrows, starlings and all those other declining, and common, garden birds the RSPB love to hear about every January. This year, I have a bit of a problem and I need your help.

Gone is that near-certain feeling I'll be reporting 12+ species on my count in the Big Garden Birdwatch hour. In a year when I've been quick to share my advice on how to make your patch great for wildlife, I'm a little embarrassed to say that my own garden is not quite looking the part, despite my best efforts - especially because it's a time of year when I pride myself on being well prepared for the big count. There's not quite so much wobbling of branches and swaying of bird feeders, sinking under the weight of visiting birds. Even the squirrels have made a sharp exit and haven't been around for a few days due the constant to-ing and fro-ing of builders and various other folk. I know there's lots I can still do to attract the birds through and there are plenty of signs that the birds are carrying on regardless!

For Big Garden Birdwatch 2018, this will be the view from our window...

Not the best advertisement for a Big Garden Birdwatch-ready garden... (Mark Ward)

Absent friends
Note the forlorn (and very nice if I do say so myself) RSPB birdtable nestling between the concrete mixer, wheelbarrow and huge hole in the ground and our entourage of feeders looking a little lost among the equipment. This isn't everything either - the front garden is "out for the count" and a similar-sized patch to the right of this, including our pond and vegetable garden is also part of the building site, so we're really up against it this year. 

So, I have a problem. Are my birds going to show up and is there time to get them visiting again ready for this weekend of 27-29 January for the Birdwatch? I think so, but please let me know if you have any tips!

Just to be clear, the reason my garden looks as it does is not because I have foresaken my lifelong love of wildlife and given over my much-loved garden to another cause. We are having an extension built over our existing one and sadly due to poor footings the original extension had to come out first. The boarded-over area in the foreground is where my beloved original extension used to be, providing me with great views over my manor, not to mention the perfect spot to conduct Birdwatches past.

Adapting to change
As I said, there are glimmers of hope that my Birdwatch form won't be empty. The robins have been enjoying the new trenches very much, and the waterlogged mud patches that were once my lawn as various tasty morsels are brought to the surface. The blackbird threesome are still bobbing around the lawn as two males fight for the attentions of a female and there is the odd smash and grab raid by a blue or great tit to the still-stocked seed feeders and the fat balls. I'm also clinging on to the fact that the builders won't be around at the weekend so the birds will have plenty of time to feed up.

Presenting an extremely non-Big Garden Birdwatch-ready garden (Mark Ward)

A better home for nature
It will definitely be worth my local wildlife bearing with us for a while as the wildlife-value is going to increase significantly.We're not losing any ground at all for wildlife and this gives me the opportunity to add in lots of additional wildlife-friendly features.That long trench will become a nectar-filled strip of flowers to replace the crumbling concrete mess that was there before and that old patio is going to be  a hotbed of nectar-rich plants. The freshly-churned parts of the lawn from all digger and grabber activity will be filled with wildflower seed so we can create a meadow that will be perfect for all the bees using my bee hotels (top shot against the back fence). 

For BGBW weekend, I'm hopeful that because my feeders can still hang proud, the birds will come, but in case they don't I have a favour to ask. Please do the Birdwatch and send in your results. Even if my count is a bit down, this is a classic case of proving why the RSPB needs to know even if you haven't seen anything - my birds will almost certainly be just temporarily over the fence in my neighbours' gardens and I'll be encouraging them to submit their results too.

Have a great Birdwatch, even if all your usual visitors do not make it on the day. There will be more tips from the team this week and I know that they are facing a few less problems than I am this year. If you do have any tips or similar experiences, please let me know!

  • Thanks Peter.

    Looking out of the window this morning, I was pleased to see a lot less equipment on the lawn so the plan is to keep the back half of the garden free from disturbance and put all the food there. I will definitely post my count from last year and compare it to this year. Hoping the birds won't let  me down. They never have done!

  • Hello Mark,

    What a mess your extension is! I'm sure your birds will turn up on the day though. I always enjoy the BGBW as there is very little to enjoy in January. Do please let us know what you see and how it compared to last year.