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They're teasing me. The birds I've seen from the windows of the east London home that I share with my family, have been more varied and higher in number than is usual. This can mean just one thing. The Big Garden Birdwatch is imminent.
This week I've seen long-tailed tits (pictured, right), coal tits, blue tits, redwings, robins, blackbirds, ring necked parakeets, mistlethrush, crows, chaffinches and jays, with gulls zipping overhead. Come the day itself, I'm sure that there won't be a living thing in sight, bar plants, squirrels and snails.
How the usual crowds of birds gather their intelligence is beyond me. I have images of a robin perched on the bedroom window-sill, a two-way radio strapped to its wing: "Red robin one to red robin two, he's out of bed.. over." Then there's a great tit reporting on my progress from bedroom to bathroom with a collared dove waiting to pick-up the story as I lumber to the kitchen to make a wake-up coffee. At that point, every bird will vanish, chirruping delight to have foiled me once again.
You may have noticed at the beginning that I went to great lengths not to say "my" and that I awkwardly reffered to sharing the home with my family. One of my daughters had a go at me for being possessive, so I'm over-compensating. I'll have forgotten this by my next blog.
This week brought exciting news on peregrines. We've identified a couple of new pairs that have settled in London. Better still, we've been able to work with the owners of the buildings they're using to install nest trays in suitably quiet spots. Peregrines are so heavily protected by law that any disturbance of their nest is illegal. This "disturbance" could be innocently brought about by routine maintenance of air conditioning units, aerials or mobile phone masts on rooftops. Screening nests or creating more suitable alternative nests in a less busy area of the roof, all helps. But the priority is making building managers and owners aware of their legal responsibilities. We've created the London Peregrine Partnership to address this issue and to give peregrines better protection from egg collectors or those who may harm them. It sounds paranoid, but there are folk out there who persecute these birds.
Soon, we'll be handing in a petition at Westminster, calling for more enforcement of laws that protect peregrines and other threatened birds of prey. They are part of the natural inheritance passed to me by my parents' generation. It's an inheritance I fully aim to pass on to my daughters... sorry, the daughters of my partner and I.
I think 2010 is going to be remembered for big changes.
China's economy is leading the world's financial recovery, signalling a major change in the global perception of China. The tragedy in Haiti is making us all look at the way we support those in need. And, the extreme's of weather here in the UK are forcing us to reconsider our apparent belief that we are immune from its impact. King Canute knew he couldn't turn back the tides. Why do we believe we can overcome heavy snow with a bit of salt?
My Dad worked for Cadbury's. I won't get sentimental about the chcocolate-makers impending takeover by Kraft, but combined with friends and colleagues moving on, it's all creating an impression that everything is in flux. Cycling through Clissold Park returning from a Big Schools' Birdwatch I even noticed that the usual flock of starlings had been replaced by a small army of redwings.
In the very cold spell, Susan Lees of the Islington Gardeners group, snapped a picture of a red-throated thrush, normally resident in Asia and a rare visitor to these shores. Is this change or just a bird blown off course. I hesitate to give the sensible answer these days. See Susan's image, right->.
One certainty is the annual Big Garden Birdwatch. It will happen over the weekend of 30 and 31 January and we'll be keen to hear about the birds you see through your windows. What we want to know is, what species you saw and how many of each species at any one time. That last bit is key. It's the only way to avoid counting the same bird more than once. You only note down the maximum of each species seen at the same time during the one hour long birdwatch.
Once we've received your survey results it will take some time to process it all. The results should be available in March and that's when we'll see if there are any unusual sightings, like the red-throated thrush, or changes in populations.
The Big Schools' Birdwatch continues to 1 February. I've spent quite a bit of time in schools this week, talking about birds and conservation. Huge thanks to staff and children at Brentford School for Girls in west London. They gave me some cash they'd raised for our Albatross campaign. I've also had great fun with schools in Islington, counting birds in parks near their schools. Having seen their excitement, interest and enjoyment of nature, the natural inheritance I can help pass-on to them suddenly seems more important .
That's why I'd urge you to sign our Letter to the Future. Let's bring about change we'd all welcome.
Whoosh, in it came. Fast and furious. Not an owl, not a peregrine falcon. Not even a bird. I'm talking about this year.
2010 has been frantic so far, and it's only just begun.
The snow and ice locked away food for birds and other wildlife. London was blanketed so birds have had to venture further afield to find tucker. Our sparrows, finches and tits need huge amounts of food to maintain energy levels and survive the freezing nights. They need to eat roughly 40% of their own bodyweight just to keep going, let along start mating.
This need for food has brought redwings, wagtails, nuthatches and others in to the Capital. It's created a lot of talk because these are birds not normally seen in London's gardens, certainly not in the large numbers people have reported. One person reported a flock of 15 redwings stripping her west London crab apple tree in a morning.
This is a great time of year for seeing garden birds, which is why we run our Big Schools' and Big Garden Birdwatches in January. Putting out fresh food for birds on clean feeding tables away from shrubs that may conceal predators will reap rewards as all birds are looking for extra snacks. It's not just gardens that are seeing weather induced changes. Our House Sparrow Parks Project has sown and is monitoring trial plots of grass and seed-rich plots. One of these plots, in Kensington Gardens, has just recorded a visit by four sparrows. These birds have been absent from the Park for several years!
Climate change is going to bring more extremes of weather. We'll have to adapt and that means investment in infrastructure. Development is good; as long as it's thought through. That's why we've launched Letter to the Future. It calls for all future investment to put our environment at its heart. This will give Government spending added value. New buildings can have green areas to reduce air temperatures, Shrubs, trees and grassy lawns help manage the danger of flash flooding from heavy downpours. Nesting spaces for swifts can be designed in to new buildings and they become a sort of natural pest control by feeding on flying insects. Tax incentives could encourage green energy and transport schemes. There's so much that wise spending can do to improve our environment. Sign our Letter to help convince politicians of the sense of this approach.