I only started doing the Big Garden Birdwatch when I moved out of London, but it has become a real pleasure since then. This is my fourth go at it, but my first in Churton, done on 30th January. At this time of year with the unpredictable weather, it can be a bit hit or miss, particularly as we now experience so many more storms. Luckily, in spite of Storm Malik, in which one of my bird feeders vanished completely in spite of my efforts to locate it, there have been long dry periods and the birds have been out and about, stocking up with calories whilst the going is good. Because it has been so dry, I had to refill the bird bath, and they were soon drinking from it.
Of the birds that paraded themselves for one hour this year, there was nothing rare, but that’s not what it’s all about. Any and all Birdwatch observations contribute importantly to the statistics that have been collected by the RSPB for over 40 years and help to chart trends in bird populations. In 2021 over a million people took part.
I was in the kitchen, looking out of the window due to the cold, so I was mainly watching the bird feeders on the Japanese maple about 10ft away. The robin that fights for the patio territory with ferocity was there, scooping everything that the almost ubiquitous blue tits and great tits drop so untidily on the floor. Male and female house sparrows have mastered the bird feeders, some even performing the rudimentary forms of gymnastics that the tits perform so sublimely. Male and female blackbirds bounced around the ground, scattering the smaller birds. I was so pleased to have three chaffinches, a male and two females, for the first time ever, and they arrived very handily in the hour that I was doing my official watch. They scurried around underneath the bird feeders in the shade of the shrubs, and I couldn’t capture them with the camera. Another time. Missing from the usual suspects were the collared doves and the sole dunnock that often visits.
My garden is quite long so I could not see what else was dashing around in the trees and shrubs in the rest of the garden, but splendid magpies, raucous crows and enormous waddling pigeons were all visible in a patch of fugitive sunshine at the end of the garden, as were two squirrels competing for territory in the beech tree.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some more unusual visitors recently. A week ago I saw a spotted woodpecker who was sitting in the big Japanese maple on my patio, trying to work out whether or not the bird feeders were at all feasible (not). On the same day I walked downstairs to find a pheasant standing at my back door looking in. I assume that someone else is feeding him from their back door, because he looked so expectant. In my last house, in Aberdovey (west Wales) I had a community of pheasants daily in my garden during the winter, which I used to feed on peanuts, but although pheasants roam the fields around here, I’ve never before seen one in the garden. Once in a while I hear and then see a thrush, but so far none have established a territory here. I have been trying to encourage goldfinches into the garden with nyjer seeds, because I had a community of them at my last house and they are enchanting, but so far they are resistant to all my efforts, although I saw some splashing in a pool of water in Pump Lane last year.