RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch is taking place at the end of the month! Sparrows, blackbirds, robins, how many will you spot in your green space? Half a million people took part last year and both Fairburn and St Aidan’s are hosting events to get you and your family prepared to welcome and record birds into your garden or local park.
As a new volunteer with RSPB I threw myself in the deep end and recently helped out at the bird feeder making event at Fairburn on Saturday 13th. I wanted to find out how we can do that bit extra in the winter months to help our garden species.
Big Garden Birdwatch pack to get started, all I need is coffee and cake! As we got our hands messy at Fairburn stuffing seeds and fat into pine cones for birds, we were able to engage with children and parents about the how they can help out their garden birds over the winter months and attract and record as many species as possible.
The Aire valley and reserves all over the UK are holding fun events like bird feeder making and quizzes running up to next weekend and here’s how you can get involved.
St Aidan’s feeder making event is on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st at 11am until 3pm. Expect to get sticky hands and smiling faces with a energy filled feeder you can take home for your garden. Get yourself inspired by having a sit down in our Birdwatch lounges and pick up some tips about attracting more species to your green space from our helpful staff.
Getting hands stuck in and messy with pinecones and seeds (and a few Cheerios too!)
We used Trex fat, mixed seeds and a few Cheerios and raisins for the perfect bird dinner
Events like these are highly important to spread awareness of the Big Garden Birdwatch and get as many people involved as possible. All it requires is one hour over the weekend of the 27th to 29th to sit down and note the different species of birds that you see. It can be done at home, school or even on your lunch break at work. This task as a citizen scientist means that the RSPB can collect data of the current state of wildlife in the UK. You can pick up a leaflet from our visitor centres, download a free pack online or fill in the form on the RSPB website.
Don’t worry if you don't have a huge green garden, I personally only have a yard and no trees to hang feeders from. Driveways, patios and even a window box can be helpful to visiting birds. You can sprinkle food under bushes or leave a plate out on a wall or in the open (well away from lurking house cats). This will attract birds that prefer groundfeeding like blackbirds and robins. Any space can be adapted and the birds will come to you.
I made this bird feeder from an enamel mug filled with tasty treats to hang outside from a basket hanger
Fat or suet balls, mixed seeds, crunchy wholenut peanut butter, porridge oats, meal worms and dried fruit are all suitable and loved in the winter for their high energy content for birds
After the watch is over the big count begins. When we send off our findings either by post or online, the busy bees at RSPB headquarters collate all the data and make it into a map of bird activity across the UK. looking scientifically at the abundance and distribution of species and then releasing this information to the public means we’ll be better equipped to help certain birds in the future. This is why its important we get as many people to chip in and have a greater detailed map of garden life.
To learn more about the Big Garden Birdwatch and how you can help the RSPB visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/
See more of our events, news and blogs online at http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/placestovisit/fairburnings/default.aspx (Fairburn Ings) or https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/st-aidans/ (St. Aidan's)
To the delight of St Aidan's staff and visitors we’ve had sightings of a male hen harrier at the beginning of this week. Spotted early Monday morning at the North of Ridge and Furrow and up onto The Hillside. Deciding to stay for a little B&B in the area he was seen late on towards Western Reed beds and again the following morning over Ridge and Furrow and Hillside.Hen harriers, currently on the RSPB red list, hold a high priority for conservation efforts as mating pairs have declined in England.
Mick Noble (Swillington Ings Bird Group sibg1.wordpress.com)
The great white egret that visited us last week spent some time around Bowers at the beginning of the week before heading off to the Fairburn reserve down the road. Easily recognisable by a few missing feathers in its plumage.
Mick Noble (Swillington Ings Bird Group sibg1.wordpress.com)
After missing the excitement of hen harriers and great white egrets, I dragged myself out of bed early in order to have a head start on sightings at St Aidan’s in the morning. Deciding on a different route from which I took on my last visit in order to see and hear the most of the reserve. I headed up The Hillside for a view. There was a thick fog rolling over the reserve and blanketing the lakes. Looking back as I made my way up the hill, the long-retired mining machinery Oddball was draped from view in grey.
Mysterious and misty start to the day at top of The Hillside
I was filled with a sense of accomplishment as I finally reached the top and took in the view. I stood for a moment to take in the panorama and atmosphere. Faraway calls from gulls and geese broke the silence and as I turned to walk on through the trees, two roe deer crossed my path and disappeared into the mist covered trees.
Looping back down the Hillside to join onto the edge of The Ridge and Furrow, the fog hadn't cleared but dropped lower and created a cloud of chilled moisture to walk through. Along here, Canadian geese swooped noisily across the reedbeds and a wisp of meadow pipits glided quietly to my left.
Along the reed beds this week there have also been sightings of redshank, stonechats and gadwall. The Ridge and Furrow has played host to a huge amount of curlew and lapwing this week.
A very atmospheric pair of Canadian geese over Ridge and Furrow
Pointed out by fellow walkers to the left I saw again the roe deer, four now, chasing each other over Pastures. They’ll be taking advantage of the morning fog to hide and graze with an overview of the reserve.
Can you spot the roe deer in my very foggy photo?
It was time for a refill on the coffee, and after having a few minutes to warm up and chat to Gavin at the visitor centre, I headed round Bowers Lake and towards The Slip way where there have been some exciting kingfisher sightings this week.
Around Bowers Lake, I could hear (but not see) curlews amongst the crowd of coots and moorhens. There has also this week been a great crested grebe and great white egret on bowers.
I didn't end up seeing a kingfisher, perhaps they’d moved on to the Ridge and Furrow- where one is often spotted sat on the old canal wall fishing.
If you’d like to get involved with the RSPB at St Aidan’s our next community litter pick is on the 11th February
And for those with mini bird spotters that want to learn a bit about the our feathered residents we now have a bird and Beak trail at St Aidan’s that goes around the Lowther Loop. See a staff member in the visitor centre for a quiz whilst you walk.
And don’t forget in the run up to Big Garden Birdwatch we are holding a number of events on bird feeder making please go to our page more info
To know about our work for Hen Harriers and other bird of prey species visit http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/henharrierlife/
January. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s just a drab, grey, dive under the duvet month. The tinsel and fairy lights have been packed away, and the festive season feels like a distant memory.
But a squelch round St Aidan’s is probably just what you need to refresh your spirits – and work off some of those Christmas calories. Even on the dullest of days, there is a splash of colour - and possibly a patch of sunshine – to be found if you look out for it.
So much sky! (Looking east over Main Lake)
And then there are the birds.
St Aidan’s has more than its share of monochrome birds. Right now there are hundreds of tufted ducks across the reserve’s lakes. I love those punky little black and white chaps. But look closely and you’ll notice he has his own touch of colour with his blue beak.
Just a few of the many tufted ducks
Fewer in number, but arguably more spectacular, is the goldeneye. At first glance, this chap looks similar to the tufted duck, with his black and white back. But actually, his head is greenish – and, of course, the clue is in the name. His golden eye is his very own spot of sunshine.
He’s got his eye on you
This particular goldeneye has been on Main Lake for a few weeks. He is trying to impress the ladies, but I didn’t see any nearby to notice his antics.
Is she looking?
The grey clouds cleared for a while during my walk this week, and I got a glimpse of a big blue sky.
A view west over Main Lake
As well as the waterfowl on its lakes, St Aidan’s can boast of the midwinter colours of the song birds, especially in the trees along the bottom of the Main Lake, and on the Warren feeder. I watched a gang of bullfinches flitting through the bare branches. You will likely hear them before you see them – they use a lovely fluting whistle to call to each other. The males sport a bright pink breast.
A Fairburn bullfinch
A splash of yellow, shades of blue and green. Blue tits are gorgeous Maybe we take them for granted as they are so ubiquitous. But they have so much character!
You can see for miles from up here!
And for winter colour, the stroppy robin can usually be relied upon to put in an appearance. Robins are the original early birds – I have a dawn robin on my feeder most days. It is undoubtedly one of the mouthiest of our native birds too, always ready to add its two penn’orth. And what a lovely two penn’orth it is.
Give us a song, then, robin.
Before the clouds descended again I was lucky enough to spot the most colourful bird of the day. Mr Kingfisher. His turquoise and orange plumage positively glowed in the low, winter sun while he perched on the end of a bullrush.
Posing for his picture
I headed back to the Visitor Centre after a satisfying wander round the reserve. It was worth a glance back down across the Eastern reedbed for the quality of the late light, the shades of the sky, and rich browns of the reeds. So much colour on a grey day.