Tea, birds but no bacon

Last Sunday morning I sat with a runny nose and a wheezy chest, watching a blackbird and a robin searching for fat-ball scraps on the lawn. Yes, I joined in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Tallying up the visitors to the garden while with a cup of tea, and preferably a bacon sandwich, is one of the little pleasures in life and one I wish I did more often. My girlfriend would probably say I do it too often as it is.

Big Garden Birdwatch (BGBW) is a simple survey that provides a snap shot of the birds visiting gardens across the UK. It’s carried out over a weekend and involves counting the maximum number of each species seen visiting your garden in one hour.

It has its detractors who claim it is just a name gathering exercise for the RSPB. It’s only “big” science, if it can be called science, because lots of people take part – last year nearly half a million took part in BGBW. Those detractors are probably right but I don’t care. The RSPB do a lot of good and if BGBW gets them more supporters while encouraging people to stop, watch and appreciate what is around them, then it gets my support. If a mere 1% of those near 500,000, who between them counted over 7 million birds, were inspired by taking part then I say BGBW has done its job.

BGBW might not be the most scientifically rigorous survey but it has helped chart the changing fortunes and makeup of the UK’s garden birds. The house sparrow might still hold the top spot but BGBW has helped to highlight its plight. Although not as well as that of starling which has declined by over 80% since BGBW started in 1979. It’s been knocked off the number 2 perch by none other than the blue tit. Woodpigeons are now firmly in the top ten of garden birds. 10 years ago the woodpigeon scraped in at 9, it now coos pretty in 5th place. Goldfinch has conquered the top ten in the last decade – coming in 9th last year.

I’ve not done BGBW for some time. My absenteeism from BGBW wasn’t from a lack of garden (although my last one was pretty rubbish for birds) but because the last three winters I’ve been in Senegal. My bird list from Sunday 25th 2014 included species such as little bee-eaters, village weavers, crested lark and blue-naped mousebird.

Sunday 25th 2015 was different:

Pied wagtail, carrion crow, jackdaw, robin, blackbird, dunnock, herring gull, black-headed gull, wood pigeon and magpie. The last being the most numerous with a group of five.

Less exotic these maybe but they are “my” birds. As I hope to remain in this house for some time yet, I’ll be interested to see how my BGBW entry changes over the year. Will magpie be number one in 5 or 10 years time? Will my attempts at making a wildlife friendly garden work? Who knows. But that is where the beauty of BGBW, of all citizen science, lies – you get out of them what you want while contributing to a bigger picture. At the very least you get a dam good excuse for a sit down with bacon sandwich and a cuppa.


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