The Garden Birdwatch

The previous occupants of our house had two, small, yappy dogs whose favoured latrine area seems to have been the roughly triangular patch of scruffy grass in what is now our back garden. I know this because I’ve had to spend time and effort removing the evidence. In the beginning there were no bird visitors to the modest space that we call a garden, presumably due to fear of the two yappy dogs.

We’ve spent the six months since we moved attempting to lure birds back into the garden, wooing them with a fortune’s worth of tasty treats. Peanuts, mixed seeds, fat slabs, sunflower hearts, bread scraps and [their favourite] mealworms are displayed for their delectation, with the result that we now have a regular flow of tiny [and not so tiny] feathered guests to the cafeteria in the back yard, where a bird table and a contraption like a hat stand with hooks display a range of titbits.

Following the success of this enterprise I applied to do the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ ‘Great Garden Birdwatch’. This initiative exists to investigate how numbers of differing species are changing. It does not involve a terrific investment of time [one hour over the course of a specific weekend] and requires little more than observation and recording. I am, however confused. We are not asked to count the birds or to record the different species. We must record the greatest number of any given species at one time. OK. How is ‘one time’ defined? The birds are not obligingly cooperative in this respect, visiting in pairs or serially as individuals.

We settled down at our large window with sheets of paper and pens. The most frequent visitors to the feeders are great tits, an almost incessant stream of them, though rarely in numbers of more than two at a time. There is the inevitable pair of robins who are mostly enamoured of the bird table. Husband, as part of the war he is continuing to wage against squirrels has encased the open sides in wire netting which has nevertheless been breached a few times. Then there are blue tits, lumbering wood pigeons and intermittent groups of starlings.

The traffic flow was slow at the beginning but then there are flurries of frantic activity. I’ve noticed before how a mixture of species come into the space in waves, perhaps as security in numbers. I was both disappointed with the lack of some of our frequent visitors [like wrens] and delighted by the appearance of others, especially the long-tailed tits, who never deigned to visit our previous residence and a pair of chaffinches who are rarely seen.

How scientific is the exercise? The surveys can hardly be expected to be reliable, since some are bound to be a little over enthusiastic with their data. I suppose the collators must cross-check with postal codes. If I were to note that a golden eagle had entered our portals the credibility would be stretched somewhat.

But it was an enjoyable hour. If nothing else it gave us an excuse to sit and stare and [as William Henry Davies famously penned] what is this life otherwise?

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