It's over to Nature's Home Managing Editor Anna Scrivenger, to get you in the mood for the extravaganza that is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. As you have hopefully seen in your latest magazine, it starts tomorrow and runs through until Monday. Here's Anna with her wishlist of what she and her family are hoping to see in that all important hour's birdwatch...
This weekend, my family will be enjoying our fourth Big Garden Birdwatch.
Working on Nature’s Home and the three RSPB children’s magazines, the Big Garden Birdwatch has been on my radar for quite a while, and I’ve picked up a few tips along the way.
An explosion of birdsI recall our first one when, as newbies, we hung a seed feeder up a day or two before and hoped for the best. The turnout wasn’t too bad, as it happened - but we’ve since got a lot more canny at luring different birds to our garden, and have been rewarded with an explosion in species diversity.
Blackcap is new to Anna's garden, but will a male show up for the all important hour?
This month alone, we’ve welcomed our first bullfinches, blackcap, dunnock and wren to the garden. The local starlings have discovered our feeders and I’m hoping that the woodpecker we can hear nearby will follow their lead. In 2015 I planted teasels from seed, which are now eight feet high and supplementing the nyjer-seed diet of the small flocks of goldfinches which finally discovered us this winter.
These new faces had better turn up during our one-hour watch. We’ll be pulling out all the stops to tempt them.
Are your feeders filled for the Birdwatch? (Rahul Thanki rspb-images.com)
We’ll also expect all the usual cast of characters this year: our robin, four species of tit, chaffinches, blackbirds, collared doves and woodpigeons and assorted corvids. The latter, along with the local squirrels, have discovered our bounty and are wise to the feast we lay out every day. All are welcome, though - it’s lovely to see the garden full of riotous life, and we have a cunning strategy to dissuade the gluttons away from the feeders.A cunning plan...We buy big sacks of mixed grain with seed as well as peanuts, which the kids and I scatter liberally across the lawn – usually their first port of call. The idea is, they’ll fill up on those and won’t need to bother with the real good stuff: mealworms, sunflower hearts, suet pellets, fatballs and an organic sunflower head. It’s not foolproof, but it definitely helps. We’re getting through a LOT of bird food, I can tell you.
What am I most hoping to see? Well, apart from that audible but elusive woodpecker, I’d have to say a humble house sparrow. Having suffered a huge decline in recent years, I’ve yet to see this once-common bird at our current home. Our kitchen affords a good view of the garden, and little brown birds get me pretty excited. Every time we detect a flicker of something we can’t immediately identify, we reach for the binoculars hanging by the cooker. Often, the visitor vanishes in the split second between removing the lens cap and raising it to our eyes – but if we do get a good look, we refer straight to our book of birds to get a positive ID. We logged that dunnock, blackcap and the wren… but still no sparrows.
Suet blocks, cakes and fat balls are the perfect way to tempt a great spotted woodpecker to visit (Nigel Blake rspb-images.com)
I can’t wait to see what that golden hour brings this weekend. My husband and I and our children sneak out in the morning to lay out a fresh smorgasbord, then gather at the window armed with mugs of hot chocolate, binoculars, a notepad for keeping tally, and our trusty bird book. It’s a time to turn off the outside world and immerse ourselves in the amazing spectacle right outside our windows.
Hope you’ll join us (and half a million other households), in this national bird count. The birds are counting on us. And we’ll be back soon to let you know how we got on.