I'm delighted today to introduce one of the busiest man in the RSPB (or at least he is this week!). He's Richard Bashford, who with Sarah Kelly helps organise Big Garden BirdWatch, so this week he's helping look after half a million people taking part. But he still found time to tell us about what he's expecting in his garden:
I'm looking forward to the weekend birdwatch. Why? Well for once, I've kept up regular feeding (RSPB feeder mix), and with the recent cold weather, the birds know where to come. I’m also putting out the remainder of the children’s breakfast each day – toast crusts or better some soggy Shreddies or porridge. I’m in flat Cambridgeshire, backing on to a cow field and then the river Ouse. So what do I get? I'm lucky in some respects - I've got House Sparrows, loads of them. I've had a flock of over 100 but normally 10-20. These are outnumbered by one species - Collared Dove. I can have as many as 25-30 in my garden. But there is no proper woodland nearby so I only have two or three Blue Tits and two Great Tits. Last weekend, a group of Long-tailed Tits went through. Finches are thin on the ground - just two Chaffinches and one Greenfinch - less than normal of the latter but I guess trichomonaisis has taken its toll. There is at least one Wren and two Dunnocks hanging around. As for thrushes - well a few Blackbirds is all. These include my regular black and white male - looking dapper last week when I took this photo. Maybe another five. I'm getting none of these Redwings and Fieldfares everyone else seems to get. They might pop onto the hedge at the back but never on the lawn. The cold weather did encourage a Pied Wagtail onto the lawn over Christmas and a couple of Wood Pigeons. But the above sightings are from casual glances while washing up etc. I rarely sit down for an hour to watch the birds – I’m certain I’ll be surprised by something.
Things are really building up on the urban front so to speak and a big thank you to Adrian for covering my blog last week. Variety is the spice of life, which is why my work is so fulfilling and occupying me in a number of areas. Yesterday I was in Norwich with our regional staff briefing them on delivering our green space management advice in the region. I’m also busy planning future talks and training to green space mangers this year as well as working on this summers swift inventory, more of those to come in future blogs.
It was a nice break therefore, having finally acquired my hedgerow plants, to be able to get into the garden last weekend and plant them. Afterwards, I remembered to log onto ‘My Garden’ Homes for Wildlife page and tick another three completed tasks including one more priority gold star action. No pictures I’m afraid - small little twigs, with a few standard trees on a dull day would not be particularly interesting!
It was satisfying to get the plants in and to put the icing on the cake, the crocus bulbs I planted last autumn were just beginning to show their heads – spring is only just around the corner, hoorah!
While planting the hedge, I was entertained again by my two robins, taking turns to perch on the branches of the trees to inspecting my work. In between that, they spent their time vying with each other around the area of my vegetable patches. Their behaviour toward each other did not seem particularly aggressive as one would expect and made me suspect they may have actually paired up.
How many robins do you have in your garden? This weekend is Big Garden Birdwatch, don’t forget to take part and submit your records.
Are you taking advantage of the RSPB’s free wildlife gardening advice? Check out RSPB Homes for Wildlife here
Next weekend is the BIG weekend – 500,000 people around the country will be taking one hour out to sip coffee, put their feet up, and count what birds are visiting their garden. Click here to find out everything you need to know.Because so many people take part, it is a brilliant snapshot of the state of our garden birds. So a big thanks to all of you who take part, and no opting out because you think your count won't matter! As Gandhi once said, “What you do may seem unimportant, but it is important that you do it”.While I count my birds weekly anyway, I always do my BGBW count and enter it onto the RSPB website. It is fascinating to look back over the years and see what has changed, and to chat to other people and see what they’re getting. I know my dad up in Worcestershire will trump me with his Pied Wagtails (photographed left when I visited at Christmas) and Lesser Redpolls, but I’m at least hoping for my regular Song Thrush to put in an appearance and give me my trio of ‘red-listers’ alongside House Sparrows and Starlings. These are three species whose populations are giving serious cause for concern but for whom gardens are vital.In fact today brought me a House Sparrow treat – the biggest flock in my garden since December 2006! If this boy (right) and his four chums five pop in next weekend for the official count, it will be interesting to see if my little upturn is reflected in the county and national results when they come out. Let's hope so.
So hopefully you've all had lots of nice birds in your gardens to keep you entertained over the last few weeks. They alone can make it seem like the world is still full of life. But have you ever wondered where everything else is at this time of year? All that buzz and bustle that we see in warm weather - where does that disappear to? Yes, a few species such as House Martins and Swifts head south for the winter on huge migrations, but what of spiders, flies, beetles, moths...
The answers aren't something you tend to find without digging deep into specialist text books. But here are a few of the other ways in which creatures manage to make it through the chill and dampness of winter ready to burst forth as if by magic later in the year.
Some adult creatures have evolved to hibernate, shutting down most of their bodily processes to effectively go into cold storage until warmth, daylight or simple internal timeclocks switch them back on. A few of our butterflies and a very small proportion of our moth species do this, plus Dormice, ladybirds, several fly species, Honeybees, and the queens of bumblebees.
Some adult creatures dig themselves deep into the soil where they can be frost-free. This includes the worms, and also several beetle species. Frogs meainwhile usually go to the bottom of ponds where dragonfly and damselfly larvae lurk too, while Toads prefer to be on land deep among roots or log piles.
But much garden wildlife just can't survive winter in its adult form, and is better equipped to see it through as one of the juvenile stages. Lacewings for example overwinter as pre-pupae, which is like a shrivelled grub, while different butterfly and moths see it through as either chrysalis, caterpillar or egg, depending on the species. Beetles too often survive as larvae, and most of our spiders survive only as eggs.
But it does make you think, doesn't it? Your garden may seem empty apart from the birds, but there's so much life out there, on pause, just waiting for the big awakening.
This cold weather made me spend far longer than normal watching all the birds piling into and out of the garden. It was so exciting, wondering what was going to pop up next. “Ooh, a Song Thrush. That’s unusual…No, stop, wow, there’s two!”One of the things that I particularly noticed was the routes that birds were taking in and out. I imagined them leaving little coloured lines in their wake, like the Red Arrows, or Theseus going into the maze with his ball of wool. I know, I have a fertile imagination, but it does have interesting implications for designing your garden. Now my garden, like so many others, is rather like a deep ‘pit’ in the urban landscape. It’s surrounded by imposing cliff walls of houses, and all that lovely food I put out is just a few feet off the ground at the bottom of the pit where there could be all sorts of dangers for birds.What was clear is that, in order to get into my pit, birds don’t just ‘drop in’. They almost always start at the top of the Sycamore trees next to my house, in sight of the feeders but 50 feet up, checking that the coast is clear, like this Wood Pigeon (left). Then most of them drop down bit by bit – 'coming down the stairs', as I like to call it – often through a neighbour’s Tree of Heaven like this Fieldfare (right), into my leylandii, then a cherry, and then onto the feeders.At the first sign of danger, off they scarper, but so often it is back to those uppermost vantage points, from where to cautiously come back down the stairs again.Remove one of those steps and I suspect it would make their approach far more difficult. But, you know what, I think that I could actually make my ‘stairs’ even better. I think I need another small tree! Mmm, I feel a new planting coming on – how exciting!