January, 2008

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • How was the Birdwatch for you?

    Greenfinch. Photo by Steve RoundOver the weekend, I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who sat down for an hour, grabbed a cup of tea and a biscuit, and watched the birds in my garden. Were you?

    My bird-feeding strategy paid off reasonably well. Here's what I saw on Saturday morning:
    • Greenfinches: 12 at once, wolfing down sunflower seeds we'd scattered on the ground
    • Chaffinches: 7, doing the same thing
    • Jackdaws: 7. These are my favourite garden birds at the moment. Watching them hanging off the peanut feeder and trundling around the lawn together is very entertaining
    • Great tit: 4
    • Blue tit: 3
    • Robin: 3. One singing, one with a broken leg (these two are regular) and one interloper, which didn't stay for long...
    • Dunnock: 2
    • Coal tit: 1
    • Sparrowhawk: 1. As I expected, one turned up 15 minutes in and all the other birds scattered. It sat on the garden fence and waited. Fortunately, it cleared off after another quarter of an hour and peace was duly restored
    • Wren: 1
    • Great spotted woodpecker: 1. It made short work of some peanuts I'd put out with it in mind
    • Blackbird: 1

    The only slightly annoying thing for me was the fact that I was hoping for some tree sparrows. They were seen on Friday afternoon but failed to make an appearance over the weekend. Well, it's their loss, not mine...

    The sparrowhawk was thrilling and the jackdaws made me laugh. My count will go into the database with everyone else's, and after a couple of months of analysis by RSPB boffins, the nationwide results will be revealed. What will this year's Top 15 look like?

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  • My private nature reserve

    Small tortoiseshell butterfly illustration by Chris ShieldsI don't know about you, but with the excitement of Christmas and New Year celebrations over, January can seem to stretch out with not much to look forward to.

    However, one look out of my window and January doesn't seem so bad after all; whether it's a mixed flock of tits hanging in a tree, a blackbird trying out bits of his song and the wren angrily moving him along, or the local starlings looking for tasty grub in the lawn, I could look at their antics in my garden for hours.

    I enjoy watching wildlife, and being lucky enough to work on a nature reserve I get more than my fair share of wildlife fixes. However, when wildlife vists my garden it always feels somehow more special. The birds are visiting my garden because they like what it offers - the shelter it brings, the plants that I'm growing, or maybe the water and additional food that I put out for them.

    How cool - my own personal nature reserve, and right outside the backdoor. And the best thing is, you don't have to have acres of space to make a difference for wildlife, either.

    I'm lucky that I have a decent-sized garden in which there is already a good variety of plants for wildlife (more by accident than design, mind!) - we let nettles grow in amongst our flower borders (great for attracting butterflies), have plenty of bushes that provide both shelter and juicy berries for the birds to eat, and even have a spot of dead wood lying around (great for mosses, lichens and insects).

    However, this weekend as I helped prune the hazel - getting in before the birds start nesting - I got to thinking that there was probably still a lot more I could do in the garden to attract a greater variety of birds and other wildlife.

    The great thing is the changes can be as huge, or as small, as I want - I could let parts of the lawn grow longer before mowing, maybe I'll get really ambitious and create a pond for dragon- and damselflies to visit, or I could put up a hanging basket or plant out a window box with a variety of wildflowers that'll not only look pretty, but be great for insects and the birds that eat the insects!

    Like the blackbird practising his song in the hope of attracting the best mate he can, I am reminded that maybe this year I should try a few new things in the garden in the hope of attracting the best mix of wildlife I can.

    What can you do?

    For your own garden inspiration, join our Homes for wildlife project and receive tailored information and advice to create your own nature reserve.

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  • Countdown to Big Garden Birdwatch

    Great tit. Image by Nigel BlakeToday, I've been doing some preparation for Big Garden Birdwatch, which takes place this weekend, 26-27 January.

    My masterplan involves the strategic deployment of an arsenal of bird foodstuffs. I bought some tasty fat cake which I'm hoping will pull in a great spotted woodpecker, but I'll also be using up some apples which are past their best. They could attract blackbirds and starlings, or maybe even a fieldfare or redwing.

    Apart from anything else, Big Garden Birdwatch is a really good reason to scrutinise what visits your garden. I can spend hours gazing happily out of the window; this weekend, my garden birds get to do their little bit for science.

    If one of our local sparrowhawks turns up at any time during my hour-long count, that could disrupt things slightly. You have to look on the bright side: it's such a great bird, I shall be only too pleased to add it to my results form.

    Good luck with your Birdwatch, readers!

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