This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
Big Garden Birdwatch – the big build up!
It’s almost time for you to take part in the world’s largest wildlife survey…the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. It is a great excuse to watch your garden birds whilst helping to collect incredibly helpful information on how our birds are doing.
RSPB Staff and volunteers take part and Anna Allum from our Pulborough Brooks nature reserve in West Sussex is running a special event to help get families prepared for the survey. Here's her guest blog:
For nearly 40 years, we've been asking you to count the birds in your garden – and you've been brilliant at it. With over half a million people now regularly taking part, Big Garden Birdwatch allows us to monitor trends and helps us understand how birds are doing.
We’d love to get lots of youngsters involved in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch so the team at RSPB Pulborough Brooks nature reserve are inviting families to join them this weekend Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 January for their ‘big build up’ event.
You can come along for the morning (10.30 am – 12 noon) or afternoon (1.30 pm – 3pm) session and make bird feeders to take home for your garden and hone your bird spotting skills with some great games and activities.
Don’t forget to wrap up warm as we’ll be going on a short walk on the nature reserve where we’ll play bird bingo, try out some worm charming and find out what tasty treats our birds like to eat.
Whilst you’re here you can pick up your Big Garden Birdwatch spotter’s guide.
This year, the team at Riverford have kindly donated some sunflower heads for us to give out to families joining us for the event. Sunflower seeds are great for birds as they are rich in energy and popular with chaffinches, greenfinches, house sparrows and tits. You’ll be able to take your sunflower head home to put out in your garden ready to attract lots of lovely birds.
There’s no need to book for the event – just come along and join in. You can find the full details, times and costs on our webpage.
Just in case you’ve not taken part in our Big Garden Birdwatch before here’s a quick guide to what you need to do:
If you haven't got a garden that's no problem. Just pop down to your local park, community or green space and join in there.
Our Big Garden Birdwatch is looming and is your excuse to lose yourself in nature and forget everything else for a full sixty minutes!
Choose an appropriate hour over Saturday 27th, Sunday 28th or Monday 29th then sit down by a window to record what wild things live around you. Surveys typically throw-up some dozen or so different bird species, sometimes more, sometimes less. Whatever you see, please let us know.
Whatever you send us is considered gold dust by our geeks who pour over the data, creating huge spreadsheets they can then compare with results from previous years, and this is where their thrill levels go off the scale! But before I explain why, let's return to you; sitting by your window discovering wildlife.
When was the last time you did anything like this? It's probably been a while. Our busy twenty-first century lifestyles don't give many opportunities to simply sit and stare. There's no strain or stress, just discovery as one creature, then another passes in front of you going about their busy lives in ways we don't normally notice. How many seeds do those blue tits gather in a day? Has that house sparrow always been here? Do blackbirds play tag or are they having a bit of a moment? All this drama happens around you pretty much every day. When it's cold, the drama gets deadly serious as birds struggle to maintain their body temperatures. If they can't find enough food, they won't survive to see warmer days.
Some Doctors have started prescribing quiet time or outdoor activities instead of medication or treatment to help patients where stress or anxiety have taken a toll on their health, both physical and mental. There's good evidence to show it's an effective approach, so use our Big Garden Birdwatch as an excuse to give it a go. It's just one hour and each one of those sixty minutes could improve your well-being. It won't make you thinner, younger or more beautiful than you already are, but this sort of self-medication can open up all sorts of other life enhancing avenues. The best part is... it's FREE.
Here in the south east, the data you've sent us over the past decade has shown we're losing our collared doves, house sparrows and starlings. Goldfinches have increased enormously over that same time and most of the other top ten bird species have remained pretty much stable. There are some variations county by county and even borough by borough within London. I've accidentally drifted into why your sightings get us excited. We could never in a million years gather all the data from the locations you collectively have access to, yet over the course of these three days each January, you selflessly share the information with us. Comparisons with previous years reveal patterns of change that can signal environmental harm or emerging diseases, such as Trichomonosis. It was the Big Garden Birdwatch that flagged the decline of our most common UK bird; the house sparrow. Subsequent research found many were simply starving to death because insect numbers and seed availability had both dropped. Since discovering that and promoting the sowing of wild flower meadows, the house sparrow population has levelled off.
So what can we expect this year? Well, 2017 was a positive one for garden birds, such as greenfinch, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit and long-tailed tit. It's thought the prolonged wet weather in 2016 had driven down the breeding success of the tit family, but 2017's drier winter puts them in a strong position for a comeback this year. The disease, Trichomonosis has taken its toll on greenfinches in particular, but also chaffinches. Is this the year our efforts to keep feeding stations clean will pay off, allowing their numbers to bounce back? We'll soon find out.
Big Garden Birdwatch packs are available to order by texting BIRD to 70111 or calling 0800 665 498 until 24 January ONLY. After that date, you can download identification sheets from our webpage, available now via rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.
Big Garden Birdwatch takes place over Saturday 27, Sunday 28 and Monday 29 January this year.
This long running survey is when we ask you to tell us what birds and other wildlife you see from the windows of your home.
All we ask is for an hour of your time at any point over the three days when you can note down the maximum number of birds of each species feeding, drinking or visiting your space. For example, if you see three robins in the first five minutes of your hour and one robin half an hour later, you record three robins as the later sighting may be one of the same birds recorded earlier. This way, we get a better defined report on the total number of birds living around you.
Your sightings are hugely important as they give us a snapshot of the number of common birds in private gardens, which are otherwise impossible to survey. More and more birds are dependent on private gardens for food and water. Understanding which ones are doing well and which are faring less favourably, helps us focus on those most in need. It's a snapshot of the health of our environment. Each species of bird has different requirements or diets. The Big Garden Birdwatch has been running for almost forty years so we've great historical data we can call upon to identify changes in bird populations. If there's a big dip in numbers, it's a sure sign something is wrong and worthy of further investigation.
This approach identified the depressing fall in house sparrows, with subsequent studies establishing that young sparrows were starving to death in their nests due to a lack of insects. Field experiments led to nationwide investments in wildflower meadows and a reduction in chemical use to control weeds and insect pests and the decline has now levelled-off. We've still got some way to go to see house sparrow numbers recover, but their decline gave us additional evidence of the decline of pollinators and the potential catastrophe that would bring to farming and food production.
So, please spare us sixty minutes at the end of this month. You can register for one of our FREE packs, which include all you'll need to take part: http://bit.ly/2l4EgHi
Whether you live in central London or the wildest, most remote part of Sussex, Kent or the Isle of Wight, we need details of your garden wildlife.