This morning I took part, for my fourth year (I think), in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)'s annual Big Garden Bird Watch. This is a 'citizen science' event which the RSPB has been running since 1978, although it was quite a small thing until 2001. That was the year that it really started to grow in popularity - 50,000 people took part after it was opened up to non-members. Since then it's continued to grow and last year half a million people counted almost 8 million birds. Yes you read that right - HALF A MILLION PEOPLE!!!
To take part in the BGBW all you have to do is register for the count on the RSBP's website (it's free) and then count the birds in your garden for one hour at some point during the last weekend in January. The last stage is to send the figures in to the RSPB via the link on the website (you can do it by post as well). You don't need to be an expert birder - there are lots of resources available on the website to help you identify the common birds in your garden, so even if you can only identify Blue Tits, Blackbirds and House Sparrows it's worth taking part. It'll have to be next year though as today was the last day of this years BGBW (although there's still a few hours of daylight left as I write so you might still be able to get in if I can get this blog written really quickly).
I wasn't very optimistic for this year's count as we've hardly had any birds at our feeders so far this winter. However, from what I can see of my data in previous years (I can't find any notes from 2019 and I can't remember if I actually did it that year or not) this has actually been the BEST YEAR EVER for my garden in urban Middlesbrough.
I was still in my dressing gown, sitting in my bedroom window from 8.26am to 9.26am and from the first minute there was no point when there weren't some birds visible in the garden. The feeders themselves were a bit disappointing, with only two Blue Tits and one Robin coming to the hanging feeders. What really attracted the birds however were the two piles of mixed food that I had put out - one on the ground and one on an old concrete coal bunker.
The first bird I saw was a male Blackbird on the coal bunker and he came back several times during the hour. He was joined at various points by two Dunnocks, five House Sparrows, at least three Woodpigeons and two Collared Doves. A Magpie in the tree next door, two Feral Pigeons and two Starlings on our roof and a Herring Gull on the roof of a house across the alley also count (according to my understanding of the rules anyway) but the flock of five Goldfinches that flew over don't, as you're not supposed to include birds that are only seen in flight. That brings the species count to 11. My previous record was 5, so even if you take out the Magpie and the Herring Gull that weren't actually in our garden it still beats that into a cocked hat.
In other bird news this week - a long walk around the National Trust's Ormesby Hall property on Monday helped me add two more species to my NMT bird list. These were:
#67 - Eurasian Nuthatch - I heard two or three of these noisy birds but unfortunately didn't get to see any this time, despite looking carefully for the distinctive sight of a slate-grey, red and white bird with a black pirate mask creeping up and down tree trunks and along branches. It still counts though. The other new NMT bird was:
#68 - Stock Dove - I thought I was going to miss out on this smaller cousin of the Woodpigeon until I saw one flying over towards the end of my walk. Last year at this time I was already hearing them 'singing' their mournful, two-note coo, but I listened in vain this time.
I had hoped to see a Treecreeper - the closest thing we have to a mouse in bird form - spiralling up a tree trunk to find its insect prey, but despite looking in all the places I saw them last year I had no luck. There were really good numbers of other common woodland birds though, including Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits.
I didn't manage to get any pictures of the new birds this week so here are a couple of pictures of one of the Great Tits that I saw last Sunday at the feeders by Normanby Beck (see NMT 17th-24th Jan 2021). Not brilliant pics I know but I quite like the action shot of it taking off.