Nick Baker, Naturalist, Author, Broadcaster and RSPB Vice President describes his Big Garden Birdwatch from home in Devon … Garden birdwatching for most of us is a quick glance out of the window every now and again; while we’ve got our hands in the sink or in my case when something catches my eye when I’m sitting at my desk writing. For example, yesterday a commotion and alarm calls made me lift my head to a male sparrow hawk sitting in my apple tree and a moment later the heavy thumping of a woodpecker on the window. Note to self - bird food on window feeders make for a lot of noise and disturbance, I might move them!
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch however is the perfect opportunity or excuse to actually sit for an hour and really get to see the comings and goings in the garden and it’s surprising just how many species you can tot up. I also love that momentary cohesion when my otherwise busy family all stop to take the time to do something together, it can get a little competitive though. Every year I have a bird that should be a regular that just doesn’t turn up during my hour long vigil - it’s usually a nuthatch or a long-tailed tit, but last year it was a dunnock… can you believe it, let down by that most reliable and omnipresent bird! My best bird here on Dartmoor has to be the Brambling of about 10 years ago - we just don’t get very big numbers of them here in the South West but that year it was very snowy, and one turned up with the huge flocks of siskin and chaffinches that seem to fill the garden with their feathered flurry. This year in 2020 - I’m hoping for a lesser redpoll, they’ve been a bit thin on the ground for the last couple of BGBW’s maybe they’ll show? However, while this is all fun and has a valuable role to play in educational engagement of families and schools with each other and the outdoors - the most important thing it does it provides masses and masses of data for those boffins at the RSPB to analyse and get really good data on what birds are where, who is coming to our gardens and of course out importantly changing trends. Birds are indicators of things going on in a wider environment and because they’re big and easy to identify they’re perfect for big data grabs like this (big garden bug watch just wouldn’t work in the same way - it would be great fun… but it would get a bit confusing trying to identify all the hoverflies and solitary bees). A good old bit of tried and tested citizen science - that’s you that is – and you’re a citizen scientist. If we can see these trends over a long period of time, then we can start to theorise as to why we’re seeing them. For example, famously blackcaps and chiff-chaff have started to over winter in the intervening since the very first BGBW and greenfinch, starling and song thrush have noticeably declined. Nuthatch has expanded its range North and birds such as long-tailed tits have overcome their shyness issues and started to uses our garden feeders (Yaay!) So good luck, get the tea and the chocolate hob-nobs ready for moments where your focus starts to wander and do your bit for the birds. Oh, and I look forward to all the moaning as people complain that their gardens empty as soon as they start their timed watch - remember what you don’t see is as important as what you do.
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