It’s as if somebody’s flicked the ‘Off’ switch this week in my back garden in Whitchurch, Cardiff. Up until last weekend I could almost guarantee seeing a bird or two out there if I was willing to wait no more than around 5 minutes. But now, it’s almost completely deserted for most of the day. It may be brass monkey weather out there at the moment, but hopefully this is a sign, in the birds’ minds if not ours, that Spring has arrived.
I’ve been lucky enough to get 25 species in the garden since the beginning of December, averaging around 15 different species a week. Sounds as if I should get out more? Probably. But, I’ve got a good idea of what’s being going on because of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch (GBW). Not to be mistaken with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place over one weekend every year, the BTO’s GBW is a weekly survey which takes place throughout the year. I’ve been doing it since January 2010 and it’s given me a real insight into the movements of birds in and out of my garden over that period – subtle seasonal changes which I probably would hardly have noticed if I hadn’t been taking part in this survey. And it’s all online so you can have access and explore your personal records at the click of a mouse.
For instance, I can quickly see that I haven’t seen a Goldcrest in the garden since October 2012, and that my highest count for Greenfinch was 20 back in September 2010.
Starlings, after being virtually absent for a couple of years, returned this winter in numbers comparable to those seen in 2010. Chaffinches always appear around the beginning of October and depart before the end of March, and are very rarely seen at any other time of the year. Feral Pigeons, which used to be present every week, have surprisingly crashed from an average maximum count of around 10 in 2010 to no more than 2 or 3 in recent months – and there were several weeks in 2011 when I didn’t seen any at all.
Best of all, you can work out the Top 10 for your garden! Here’s mine:
It’s too easy to dismiss your garden bird records as being not that important in the overall grand scheme of things. But gardens are becoming ever more important refuges for certain species of birds which are under so much pressure in the wider countryside. The collection of such records is incredibly useful and, if carried out in a systematic manner, these weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.
BTO Garden BirdWatch enables you to collect this information in a standardised way alongside similar information from many thousands of other garden birdwatchers. In effect, you are a ‘citizen scientist’ working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain.
If you haven’t considered taking part in the Garden BirdWatch survey, please consider giving it a go. Consistency of counts is the important thing, but rest assured, the BTO certainly won’t mind if you miss the odd week here and there!