Stay connected : garden birdwatching

I’m sure, like me, during this period of great uncertainty you derive great comfort from birds and nature and want to continue recording useful information about them. Many of us who are lucky enough to have gardens are turning to them more than usual to enjoy nature and to be outdoors, to learn, and to improve our well-being. I can’t tell you how much pleasure I’ve had watching the activities of a pair of Blackbirds nesting in my garden this spring.  

If you do have a garden, and you’re not already taking part in them, you may be interested in two garden-based surveys the BTO are promoting at the moment: Nesting Neighbours and Garden BirdWatch. We’ll have a look at Nesting Neighbours – a survey which records the fortunes of any birds you may have nesting in your garden – in the next blog, published shortly. But let’s have a look at Garden BirdWatch (GBW) and why it’s so special.

It’s now free to take part in Garden BirdWatch

GBW is normally run as a membership, with an annual fee of £17, and includes a book and regular magazines. This generous financial support allows BTO to carry out its work monitoring garden wildlife and its scientific research. However, the BTO wants to enable more people to get involved in garden wildlife recording under the current circumstances; to discover an enjoyable purpose in garden birdwatching and to feel part of a community all working on the same project. Therefore membership of BTO Garden BirdWatch is being offered for free during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Why take part?

Gardens are, of course, important for their wildlife and becoming more important as our landscape becomes more urbanised. For the past 25 years, a community of citizen scientists has recorded the birds and other wildlife visiting their gardens as part of the GBW survey. They’ve enabled researchers at BTO to answer important questions about garden wildlife: investigating the links between changes in wildlife populations and factors such as how we manage our gardens, food, weather and urban structure. The more we can understand about how wildlife uses garden resources, the more we can improve our cities, towns, villages and individual gardens for nature.

How to take part

  1. Keep a list of the different birds that you see using your garden over the course of a week. Only record species that you are confident you can identify correctly; if you can’t identify the less common birds or wildlife in your garden, it’s ok to leave them off.
  2. You can optionally record the maximum number of each species you see together during the week (e.g. three Blackbirds seen together at one time).
  3. You can optionally record other wildlife (mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, bumblebees and dragonflies).
  4. Submit your records online via a simple webpage.
My garden in north Cardiff

A personal experience of GBW

I started as a BTO Garden BirdWatcher in 2010 and have submitted my weekly lists for most of that period. Yes, life does have a habit of getting in the way and there’s nothing wrong with skipping weeks every now and then, although the more lists you can submit the better of course. I’ve focused mainly on birds, but I have occasionally recorded butterflies and mammals . . . mainly Grey Squirrels! As each week goes by you build up a body of information and get to know the rhythms of the seasons and when you’re likely to see certain species turning up in your garden. 

Thanks to GBW, since 2010, I know that I’ve observed a total of 45 species in my garden in north  Cardiff. As well as being able to explore Welsh and UK data, the GBW webpages also enable you to explore and examine your own records. One of the most interesting and fun things to look at is the ‘sunburst’ diagram it generates for you about the recording rate for different species visiting your garden. Here’s my latest one below.

What else have I found out about my garden’s birds through GBW?

Thanks to GBW I know that the Top 3 most commonly recorded species in my garden are Greenfinch (recorded in 95% of weeks) and Blackbird and Blue Tit (both recorded in 93% of weeks).

I know that my least recorded species – recorded on one occasion only – are Garden Warbler, Grey Heron (yes, one landed briefly in my garden), Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher.

Incredibly, I’ve seen more Willow Warblers (4 records) and Reed Buntings (3) in my garden than Mistle Thrushes (1). Thanks to GBW I know that: Greenfinch numbers are beginning to recover in my garden; Collared Doves, once reported almost weekly here, have now disappeared; I record more Sparrowhawks than Wrens, and that Song Thrushes are also rarely seen in my garden – only 22 records since 2010. GBW has also helped me track the annual arrival and departure of wintering Blackcaps in my garden.

Getting involved

In our East Glamorgan region, there are currently 56 active Garden BirdWatchers. If you have a garden of any size, why not take up this special offer and help us bump up that number? I can guarantee that participation will really help you get to know your garden and its wildlife much better whilst helping inform BTO science at the same time.

The free offer will include access to the BTO’s online recording system and the regular GBW e-newsletter which has the latest news on garden birds, what to look out for, and gardening tips. The free membership will be valid for one year, after which it will expire as normal. To find out more, please have a look at Garden BirdWatch.

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