January, 2010

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!
  • The team's top tips for a Big Garden Birdwatch

    Are you ready for Big Garden Birdwatch 2010? You can do your hour-long count this Saturday or Sunday (30-31 January), so there's not long to go now!

    While it's important to remember that the Birdwatch isn't a competition - indeed, even if you see nothing we still want to hear about it! - it's nice to have some birds to watch. Otherwise the hour can drag a little.

    You'll probably have some food out to encourage the birds to show their faces. But what's the best thing to offer? Where to put it? And how can you make sure the hour is fun for everyone involved? I've been quizzing my Web Team colleagues to see what they suggest.

    Robin on fat balls.What does Web Editor Mark recommend? Location, location, location is critical, he says:

    'Put your food in the right place. If you have a small garden like me, then there will be a lot fewer birds if I put the food near the fence where people are coming and going all the time. Not so good for Big Garden Birdwatch!

    'You can have the best food and feeders in the world, but it must be in the right position.'

    Wise words, Mr Ward.

    Long-tailed tits.As Lucinda, Web Editor, points out, it's definitely a case of the more, the merrier when it comes to Big Garden Birdwatch:

    'Surround yourself with people. Kids, grandparents, aunties, uncles. Anyone, really. With more eyes to spot the birds in your garden, and a chance to enjoy some relaxed time with your friends and family, you can't go wrong.

    'Just make sure you have enough nibbles - for people and birds - to go round!'

    I'll second that. And if you can find a willing person to keep you fuelled with cups of tea and biscuits while you do the counting, so much the better...

    Bacon sandwich photo by Blantonious1

    Kevin, the RSPB's Web Editorial Assistant, has been doing the Big Garden Birdwatch for years. But for 2010, he's bringing out the big guns:

    'This year, the RSPB's buggy nibbles are the special tactic, hopefully drawing in some of Potton's resident, roosting pied wagtails. We've got more food out this year, so we'll see if we can get some more birds, maybe even one of the goldfinches which has been about.

    'Apart from that, I'll be sitting watching with my bacon sarnie, with Sky Sports News on in the background probably.'

    Kevin... you're supposed to be feeding the birds and looking out of the window, not at the telly!

    But good work with the wagtails - it can be tricky to find a food that insect-eating birds will go for.

    Jo's cat, Oscar (bottom), and friendJo (who works on the RSPB's award-winning Intranet) is going to adopt a different strategy:

    'Me and my cat, Oscar, will be safely counting the birds through my dining room window!'

    That sounds like a very good plan indeed...

    As for me, I intend to do my Birdwatch fairly early on Saturday. The birds will be busy filling their faces to recover from what's forecast to be a cold night.

    I'll probably go and top up the feeders as soon as I get up, and make sure everything's set for when I'm ready to start counting. By putting the food out early, I'll hopefully minimise the disturbance I cause, meaning plenty of birds will be busy feeding when I start.

    A pair of binoculars can be handy for looking for birds in the corners of the garden, but they're certainly not essential. In past years, I've found that using them all the time means I don't spot all the birds scattered around. So I'd suggest a good look around the whole of the garden every so often.

    Food-wise, I'll be sticking with some tried and trusted favourites: a bowl of cornflakes and a cup of tea.

    Jackdaw. Photo by Katie Fuller

    Er, that's for me. The birds? They'll be getting black sunflower seeds, a fat cake thingy (very popular at the moment), some mixed seed, a scattering of porridge oats, perhaps a couple of apples and some water. I'm hoping that I'll see a great spotted woodpecker (which will make four years on the trot), a marsh tit or two (they usually avoid the garden during BGBW) and some house sparrows and starlings would be nice.

    I can't wait!

    What will you do?

    Please leave a comment and tell us about your tips for attracting birds and enjoying Big Garden Birdwatch. Will it be your favourite robin, some special treats for the birds, Custard Creams or your favourite comfy armchair that make it a good one for you? 

  • Cold, hungry birds? You can help!

    Redwing. Photo by Nigel BlakeThe past few weeks have been tough. The weather's made our lives difficult, but it's been even tougher for our birds and wildlife. So it's a good job that we can do our bit to help.

    I've been trudging up my snowy garden to feed the birds every morning - before feeding myself, of course! Even here in Bedfordshire it's been below zero for about a week, so it's a bit cold first thing but definitely worth it.

    There's usually a robin waiting to receive its rations of porridge oats - at least five have been visiting! We don't normally see that many, so it must be the cold and hunger that's making them drop their guard.

    Porridge oats make good bird food - they're fairly cheap and available in most supermarkets - and lots of birds eat them... starlings, blackbirds, dunnocks and even reed buntings, as I've found.

    The fat balls and blocks that I've put out have gone down a storm with blue and great tits, and even a great spotted woodpecker one day. The chaffinches and greenfinches have gone for the black sunflower seeds and mixed seed, but a young male sparrowhawk which made a few unsuccessful raids had an appetite for other things... 

    I've tried to keep some water available for my hungry flock, and melted a hole in the pond, but it's been tricky. Try floating a small ball in your birdbath which will bob around in the breeze and hopefully keep the water from freezing completely. Otherwise, go out with your kettle in the morning.

    We've had more than 500 e-mails in the past week from people who've seen funny-looking birds in their gardens. Most of these turn out to be redwings or fieldfares, which migrate here from Scandinavia each winter. Normally they prefer to feed in fields, woods and hedgerows, but the snow and ice has forced them to look elsewhere.

    If you have berries in your garden or some apples, you may well receive a visit from these pretty thrushes. Or if you'd like to, try putting out some apples and you might tempt them down... I've had no luck with that yet - it seems that carrion crows and jackdaws fly off with the fruit before anything else gets a look-in! 

    Fieldfare. Photo by Nigel Blake

    I'm really jealous of my parents' garden. Not only do they have fieldfares scoffing their windfall apples, but a female blackcap came to bathe in their pond during my visit.

    I've never had a winter blackcap in my garden, even though they're spending the cold months here in greater numbers. Normally, blackcaps would be expected to migrate to southern Europe or northern Africa, but the ones that come here in winter are from a population in southern Germany which may even evolve into a separate species!

    Outside gardens, the RSPB even has measures in place to help bitterns survive the cold weather - frozen water means they can't catch the fish they need.

    We've got loads of advice and tips on what and how to feed your garden birds. I shan't be putting out any fish around my pond, but I'd love to read about what's been visiting your garden, and what's on your garden bird menu!