You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
'Christmas is the one time of year that we collectively decide to go in to hibernation’ my colleague said the other day. ‘We don’t tell each other, everyone just knows that it will happen.’ Yet while we are all emerging from a restful and sleepy festive period, for birds the winter months are a continual frenzy of feeding activity. With little ‘natural food’ such as berries and seeds left in the countryside and the cold days and even colder nights ending many of our insects in to hibernation many of our garden birds rely on our well-stocked bird tables to keep them from going hungry. I often find it hard to believe that insect-eating birds such as the tiny goldcrests and cute-faced long-tailed tits survive at all. For them every waking moment is spent seeking sustenance.
Tony Marsh (rspb-images.com)
Not only does a laden bird table and full feeders help garden birds survive through to the spring but the birds they attract put on a great show for us. I can spend hours watching through the window at the birds in my garden until I almost feel that I know each group or individual personally. We have a resident robin that has taken the garden over as its territory, a flock of goldfinches that twitter musically from the top of the old yew tree, woodpigeons that feast on the lawn and blue tits that hang acrobatically from the wall to probe for insects in the cracks in the bricks. The feeders are alive with blush-breasted chaffinches, shouting out their ‘chink, chink!’ call as they feast on sunflower seeds.
It’s good to know that my leisurely watching the birds through my window can have conservation benefits as well as providing me with a relaxing and fulfilling way to spend my time. Over the weekend of the 25-26 January help the RSPB by spending an hour watching the wildlife in your garden and reporting back to us what you see. Remember to record the maximum number of each species of bird you see at any one time. That way we will know that you are not counting the same bird more than once. Once all the results are in, and the scientists have done their stuff, we end up with a picture of long-term trends in bird populations and can identify which birds are doing well and which need help. What’s really important is that the survey is carried out in the same way each year (the Big Garden Birdwatch has been going since 1979). That way we can compare results and look out for population trends.
This year the Big Garden Birdwatch is extending its reach too. Really it should be called the Big Garden Wildlife Watch for we also wants to hear about the other creatures you might find in your garden such as hedgehogs, frogs or deer. This will help start to build an even bigger picture of Britain’s garden wildlife and where efforts need to be particularly directed.
Of course we can all start making a difference and help save our garden wildlife right now. Here are the top 5 tips for giving wildlife a home on your back doorstep.
1) Feeding birds is really important, especially over the winter months. Provide as wide a range of foods as you can. Blue tits and great tits love peanuts and fat balls. Robins go for mealworms and fatty scraps on the bird table (they find it hard to negotiate a hanging fat ball) and finches love seeds. Remember if you like to see goldfinches then nyjer seed is your best bet. Water is essential too so keep a bird bath clean and free of ice for birds and animals to drink and bathe in.
2) Between now and March next year is the time to plant shrubs and trees for next year. Choose varieties that will bear nectar rich blossom (apples, plums) or berries come the winter (firethorn, snowberry). Cover is also important for nesting birds – my bay tree has been home to nesting blackbirds every year for five years now.
3) With the garden at rest over the winter, the next few months are a great time to get on with DIY projects like putting together nestboxes, batboxes and ‘frogitats’ for the spring. These boxes will need to go up in February when nesting birds start prospecting for sites to raise their broods.
4) Keep raking up those falling leaves but don’t dispose of them. A pile of fallen leaves makes a great hiding place for a host of species as do log piles and compost heaps. At this time of year be careful not to disturb any hibernating hedgehogs that might be hiding away beneath!
5) Planning is priceless! Order your seed catalogues now, make a sowing plan for next year and design any new features you want to add to your garden. Remember that a nectar rich border in spring and summer is invaluable for bees and butterflies. If you fancy a bigger project no wildlife garden is complete without a pond!
For more information about the Big Garden Birdwatch and how to take part please go to www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.
For help and advice on wildlife friendly gardening visit http://homes.rspb.org.uk.
Blogger: Jacqui Miller, Conservation Officer
I used to go to lots of places to look for wildlife – everything from walks on the common to trips to remote Scottish Islands to listen to corncrakes, but always going somewhere. I would occasionally peer out at the garden, but it was a bout of flu that really made me look that bit closer to home.
I should have known that my garden would be a good spot for wildlife. The day I viewed my house I found a grass snake basking in the garden, much to the horror of the estate agent who obviously thought it couldn’t have been much worse for business had I found a rat in the kitchen! On the contrary, it sealed the deal for me!
I started watching my garden in the winter while wrapped up in blankets, recovering from the dreaded lurgy. With snow on the ground, birds were flocking to the feeders. Sometimes there seemed to be a competition to see how many long-tailed tits could fit on one suet block (at least 9)! I watched them for hours, and saw all kinds of little details I would normally miss. From then on I was hooked, watching my garden whenever I got the chance.
Spring eventually arrived and birds began to build nests in the hedges and around the house. My garden is small, but it still provided a safe nesting place for at least four families, and it was great to see the busy parents bringing in beakful after beakful of insects to the hungry chicks. As the weather continued to get warmer, I began to see that my garden was home to many more creatures as well as my bird families – hoverflies, crickets, butterflies and moths, bats – I counted over 100 species this year. I found I particularly loved the tiny bright hoverflies dashing around the pond and shrubs, fighting for territory. They seemed to live a fast and furious life!
Hoverfly Xanthogramma pedissequum in my garden
In July I started to notice a rustling in my compost heap. I had made the heap hoping the grass snakes might return, but this sounded a bit too big to be a snake. I hid and watched ... eventually I saw ... hedgehogs! An adult and three babies came out that evening to forage under the shrubs. I felt privileged to have this declining garden favourite breeding in my little patch.
Now it’s nearly winter again and the birds are returning to my feeders. I’m looking forward to many more happy hours watching the ever-changing action. Winter is a great time to start your garden wildlife journey too.
Why not have a look at our website http://homes.rspb.org.uk/ for tips on how to give nature a home in your garden.
You can get started watching wildlife with the Big Garden Birdwatch on 25-26th January. With nearly 600,000 participants, it is the worlds biggest wildlife survey. For more information and to register visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch. Who knows what you might see!