February, 2017

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • Big Garden Birdwatch - No garden? No problem

    I don’t have a garden. But what I do have is a graveyard. My Big Graveyard Birdwatch didn’t kick-off until half one, after spending a lazy morning fending off the cold in bed with a cuppa. I feel lucky living where I do, as I hear or see birds every morning without fail. Whether in the paddock opposite my front door or just by my shed, there’s always a chirp, so I was pretty confident that I could tick off some top birds during my hour.

    True to form, just as I stepped out I could hear the paparazzi firing away from the yew tree that looms over the rear of my cottage. The distinctive clicking sound of fieldfares always reminds me of a camera shutter, and the small flock of 10 looked content as I made my way round the back to scale the graveyard wall.

    A view into the graveyard behind my house

    My cottage and the graveyard share a wall – no ghost sightings yet

    As I hauled myself up, two squirrels and a blackbird darted away into the far undergrowth as though I had interrupted a meeting of the occult. As the squirrels shoot up the tree, two woodpigeons clapped their wings together and took flight. The graveyard shift began, but I was off to a good start.

    Me looking out for birds

    A roof with a view… of some birds hopefully

    I’m not the sort of person who can sit still for long. I think I managed about 7 minutes before convincing myself there would be hundreds of birds just out of view beyond the far corner of the church. Could there be a mixed finch flock, just out of sight with one or two handsome bramblings among them? Or maybe some of those elusive waxwings everyone’s been talking about? I crept over to investigate.

    View from the roof where I was sitting

    Is the Holy Grail of Big Graveyard Birdwatch birds, the waxwing, just around that corner?

    Sadly, there wasn’t a waxwing to be seen, but there was the resident graveyard robin skipping around and bringing a bit of cheer to the cold, damp stones. I pushed on, and hoped for the best, but I was pretty happy with everything I’d seen and had probably scared anything else off already.

    Catkins on a tree

    Springtime already? These catkins think so 

    After I finished my lap of the graveyard, it was time to tot up:

    10 fieldfares

    2 woodpigeons

    1 blackbird

    1 robin

    0 waxwings

    Not a bad haul I thought. How did you do? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to submit your results if you haven’t already at the Big Garden Birdwatch webpage.


  • Family time x 3 for the Big Garden Birdwatch

    Well, turns out that the perfect respite from a hectic family weekend is to spend an hour sitting still and gazing out of the window. We enjoyed the Birdwatch so much that we did it three times! 

    We did an hour on Saturday morning, then another one that afternoon because my teenage stepdaughter popped round and was disappointed to have missed out. 

    Then we did a third hour-long session on Monday, when things were quieter and one child was home sick from school - but the weather was poor and there wasn’t much activity. 

    The first count turned out to be the best in terms of both number and species, so that’s the one we submitted the results for, thus becoming part of the UK’s biggest citizen science project and contributing our data towards the RSPB’s vital UK-wide conservation work. 

    It was very easy. We refilled the feeders and birdbath, then went inside, made a pot of tea and settled by the kitchen window, occasionally sprinting through to the dining room to view from a different angle. 

    Our two children, aged 5 and 7, hogged both pairs of binoculars very enthusiastically, training them on the feeder stand and the russet apple tree behind it where further treats dangled. We helped the kids to spell and tally the names of the birds we saw. 

    The kids train their binoculars on the garden.

    Our five-year-old daughter admittedly handed us her bins and wandered off after about 20 minutes to draw some pictures, but our son stayed put, eager to learn more about the birds that were showing up. His favourites were the blue tits. 

    “Look! What’s that massive black one?” he cried when a rook swept in, scattering songbirds in its wake. “It’s scared all the others away!” We showed him how to spot the difference between the four types of corvid we see here. 

    “Can we open the window to listen?”… and, when two starlings descended on the mealworm feeder: “They’re eating those worms! Euw!” 

    One of our rooks, the only visitor big enough to snap at a distance.

    Success with 16 species

    We recorded a pair each of robins, starlings, chaffinches and two very imposing rooks.

    We counted our dunnock, plenty of blue tits, great tits, coal tits, blackbirds, jackdaws, magpies, collared doves and woodpigeons, and - during the last minute (at last!) - two long-tailed tits. 

    Unfortunately, there was no sign (during any of our three counts) of longed-for sparrows, or the goldfinches we often see. But we were blessed with a perfectly timed new arrival: a song thrush, the first we’d ever seen here - moving about in the apple tree for quite some time and allowing us plenty of viewing enjoyment. What a serendipitous moment for a new bird to show up!

    The first song thrush ever seen in our garden turned up during our BGBW. (Chris Gomershall, rspb-images.com)

    Where eagles dare

    When our daughter came home from school on Monday, I asked her if she had told her teachers or classmates about our birdwatch. 

    “I did, mummy,” she replied. “I told them I saw blackbirds, and blue birds… and an eagle.”

    “An eagle…?” I replied dubiously. “Really? I didn’t spot that one…”

    “Well, it came when you were making a cup of tea,” she told me firmly. 

    Hmmm. Well, just goes to show, you never know what might turn up - but blink and you’ll miss it! 

  • A fat ball first

    As a relative Big Garden Birdwatch veteran of 20+ years, I didn’t expect to see something I’ve never seen before on my one hour watch.

    That is exactly what happened though. Overall my numbers were down on last year – the flock of house sparrows that numbered around 35 individuals in 2016 only numbered seven this year; there was a handful of blackbirds, just one starling, twos of blue and great tits, seven woodpigeons, two robins three collared doves, three dunnocks,

    I was chuffed to get several appearances by a coal tit though. They are relatively scarce in my village, as is their conifer habitat, but my garden is flanked by several large Leylandii and that gives them the shelter they like and a warm microclimate where spiders lurk, even in winter.

    I’m pretty sure that Anna won the prize for most species among the Nature’s Home bloggers – well done Anna! However, I’m happy to let the title slip for the sight that I saw - for this year anyway...

    Which coin weights about the same as a goldcrest? (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

    10p piece
    With five minutes to go, something tiny flitted down into the elder outside my kitchen window. I scrambled for the binoculars, as I’d hoped it was a goldcrest. Any idea which coin this bird weights roughly the same as? You can find out if you are correct by scrolling right to the bottom of this blog.

    It hopped up the gnarly trunk and then to my complete surprise, jumped on to the cage feeder containing a suet cake: a tiny round bird clinging onto the metal cage. I have never seen a goldcrest on a feeder before.

    After the Birdwatch hour was up, it was back, this time in our cherry tree. The cherry tree is the hotspot for feeders and birds in our garden and the plucky little fellow fended off blue and great tits, robins and house sparrows to edge its way into the centre of the tree where it promptly hopped onto the fatball feeder – another first!

    I wondered if the insects in the suet cake in the cage feeder had attracted this insect eater. The fat balls had only seed though, so maybe it had developed a taste for suet?

    So there you have it – even if you’ve been doing the Birdwatch for years and years, that one hour can still throw up a real surprise. Just to prove it wasn't a one off, the goldcrest was back on the suet cake on Saturday, a week later.

    We're sorry for any difficulties you experienced over the weekend submitting your results, Hopefully you've been able to submit your results by now.

    Have you had a goldcrest, or anything else unusual, on your fatballs?
    I’d love to know if you have! Please mail natureshome@rspb.org.uk or leave a comment below.

    How much does a goldcrest weigh? Roughly the same as a ten pence piece!