This year I was unable to carry out the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in my own backyard as I was visiting my brand new and beautiful niece (I’m biased, but she IS beautiful) in Suffolk. This may have actually been a blessing in disguise as this year, in my garden, I’ve noticed a total lack of birds. It’s not normally a rich ornithological treat by any stretch of the imagination, a few blackbirds, my gardening buddy robin, and wood pigeons as far as the eye can see. In the winter, blackbird numbers swell and they are joined by thrushes, occasional redwings and last year, waxwings, in the crab apple tree next door. But, in the winter of 2011/12, it’s been a relative desert of bird life.
There are a number of reasons why this may be, the largest being that, until now, this winter has been relatively mild. With non-freezing temperatures, many of the delectable insect snacks relied upon by birds have simply not died down in number, allowing birds to stay in the wilder areas and avoid gardens altogether. I live in an area where there is wooded habitat at the end of my road, and with enormous amounts of berries and insects on offer, I’m not surprised that feathered friends haven’t wanted to enter an area of concrete and cats.
I was indulged as a child, living in the remote Suffolk countryside with almost an acre of garden. This meant that I could sit in the living room and look out to the bird table where sights of greenfinches and chaffinches were daily occurrences. The usual ensemble of blackbirds and robins would also show their presence, accompanied by starlings, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, owls, sparrowhawks and, on the rare moment, bullfinches. Now, in East London, I’m thrilled if I see a pair of sparrows.
Of course, as I type this, I’ve seen one robin at the bird feeder and a sole blue tit searching frosty foliage for an easy meal. There’s also been an enormous flock of redwings stripping every last berry of Mary’s holly. But this year, even now the cold has descended, there’s been a distinct lack of birds. Have you noticed it? Same as normal? Or are you, like me, desperately waiting for the birds to return?
With 2012 upon us, it’s time to think about the multitude of horticultural extravaganza’s ahead. I’m not talking about the flower shows and country fairs here, I’m talking about the bizzare, eccentric and quirky exploits that you may not dare to enter!
1. Big Garden Birdwatch - January 28th/29th
The Big Garden Birdwatch is back again as the RSPB attempt to get a complete picture of bird populations throughout the UK. With the recent few days of bad weather, birds of all varieties are sure to have been flocking to gardens as frozen ground and water limited their access to food. For just one hour at the end of January you can simply take the opportunity to sit quietly and watch the world go by. Count up all your feathery friends and send your results to the RSPB over the internet. Easy. After an appalling survey last year, I’m hoping that my results in 2012 might be a little better.
2. International Sunflower Guerilla Gardening Day 2012 – 1st May
May 1st, 2012, will mark the sixth outing of International Sunflower Guerilla Gardening Day; a time when we must all take to the street’s on mass and plant seeds EVERYWHERE! The main premise behind this day is to highlight the importance of greening up our local neighbourhoods by planting in tree pits, forgotten council flowerbeds and random patches of dirt in desperate need of some green. Again, 2011 was a disaster for me as, no sooner had the little seedlings germinated, than a council man came along and weedkillered the lot. This year I’m having a backup plan by sowing some seeds at home in pots too.
3. World Naked Garden Day – 5th May
Also in its sixth year, and following close on the heels of Sunflower Guerilla Gardening Day, is World Naked Gardening Day. Now, I’m not encouraging you to combine the two – I think there’d be more than a few arrests that day. Nor am I encouraging you to completely strip off much to your neighbours horror as I’m sure a few of mine were. Whilst some hardcore enthusiasts might say it’s about taking everything off, I say it should be more about finding yourself at one with nature. If you’re not comfortable facing those stinging nettles and thorns in your birthday suits, dispose of shoes for the day and feel the earth beneath your toes. Throw off your tops and let the sun get to parts almost never seen before. And, if you want to go the whole hog but have a nervous disposition, find a secluded shed or greenhouse in which to potter!
I had hoped to make a joyous post about all the beautiful birds that I spotted this past weekend when I did my conservational duty by taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch. Having noted a considerable increase in feathered friends over the winter I was ready for some stunning results. After a seemingly wasteland of bird species, with just a local robin, blackbird and wood pigeon group coming to my feeders, this winter had been very exciting. I saw a tiny wren flitting amongst the wigelia. A black cap cock bird visited several times over Christmas, nibbling his way through the bright purple callicarpa berries. A pair of robins started visiting, whilst the wood pidgeon numbers rocketed. I saw great tits and blue tits more frequently, and long tailed tits visited for the first time. Finally, in a moment when I nearly ended my days with a blissful smile on my face, a flock of 50 or so waxwings descended to snack on next door’s crab apples.
So, with piping hot tea, scarf, mittens and camera at the ready I settled down for the hour. Nothing in the first five minutes. I adjusted my timing and decided I’d start the hour on the first sighting. Another 15 minutes and nothing. Minutes went by, and by…..and by with nothing. And after waiting for over an hour not a single bird entered by garden or even flew over it. I’d seen a single robin that morning on the feeder, but for the entire Big Garden Bird Watch I had not a single visitor!
I was going to post some pictures of the successful bird spotting, but alas, I have nothing. Instead I’m just going to post some pics of birds that have been seen over the years in my garden!! Did you have any luck? I hope more than I did!
With a New Year also comes the opportunity for a little ornithological indulgence, and for one hour in January the RSPB are asking for thousands of people to participate in their annual Big Garden Birdwatch. On January 29th and 30th, the RSPB are asking for a little help in surveying Britains birds, and it’s as easy as sitting for one hour simply noting the wonderful feathered friends in your garden or local park.
Having finally set up a bird table in my backyard over the past few years, much to the amusement of my cats, I’ve been inspired by the local residents flying in for a quick peck or two. Yes, they’re mostly blackbirds, wood pigeons, and my garden robin but occasionally some other’s arrive. I get excited when the sparrows from down the street pop in for a hello, or when a little flock of bluetits jostle on the feeders. And when a little black cap started coming in this past Christmas I couldn’t hard contain myself.
So this January, help out the RSPB and discover which birds are really in your garden. It only takes an hour and you may find that there are far more garden visitors that you ever thought there were.