This week Considering Birds has been busy, like thousands of others across the country, doing his bit for conservation science. Yes, it’s RSPB Big Garden Brunch weekend, and I certainly enjoyed tucking in to elderflower and blackcurrant granola, French toast (formed out of homemade bread, no less) with lashings of maple syrup, posh orange juice and a splendid cup of English breakfast. What? Was I supposed to be counting birds or something?
Well, not entirely; the brunch was as described and very delicious too, I thank you. But I had cunningly set up a little table in front of the big picture window in the lounge: cutlery, tablecloth, footstools for seating and two pairs of binoculars. What you’d expect from any fine dining bird hide restaurant, really. The Garden Birdwatch is about as civilized as it gets, when it comes to wildlife censuses: stay indoors, look out window, count birds. Maximum number of each species seen at any one time, perched somewhere in your garden, whether on the ground or in a tree. That’s all there is to it. So we tucked in, and waited for the action to begin. And waited.
And saw nothing much, for quite a long time. Well, this was a turn up. Perhaps I could blame the neighbours? After all, one had chosen just that hour to noisily load a wheelbarrow up against the garden fence. Crang! Crash! It sounded like a stack of Bronze Age artefacts, or perhaps just very heavy logs. Another neighbour passed on the shared driveway, ominously clutching a stake and a large wooden mallet. What she planned to do with it, I’m not sure. And the resident avifauna got wise to our decision to count birds perched in big trees rooted in the garden, but not those just outside. Merrily they flitted back and forth from the highest branches of trees just outside the garden limits, bounding overhead from one to the other but refusing to alight. The little blighters.
I had hoped, clearly, for a little more.
On a ‘normal’ day, roving tit flocks pass through frequently, keeping the feeding station busy and the apple trees full of birds. Perhaps in a whole hour something from our garden ‘specials board’ might have shown up: a nuthatch, a green woodpecker, a jay. A pheasant, even, might have been welcome. Or maybe the marsh tit which had been in the garden fairly frequently over the last week. But that’s science – whilst our garden seemed low on numbers, I can only presume that others’ were so unusually overrun that they finished the hour with a full notebook and cold cups of tea sat forgotten amongst all the excitement. One year, perhaps that garden will be mine. There’s a slight injustice behind the premise that a very large sample size of gardens means bird activity averages out to just about normal, nationwide. Weather aside, which might have been another spanner in the works.
Mild cheating* didn’t even help that much: I made a few excursions out the front door, which did result in a doubling of the robin count as two sang at once from opposite, warring territories, and a goldcrest joined in fine voice nearby, but not a lot else. Which brings me to the final score: 2 Blackbirds, 3 Blue Tits, 2 Collared Doves, 1 Great Tit, 2 Greenfinches, 2 Robins, 2 Woodpigeons, 1 Jackdaw, 5 Rooks, 1 Goldcrest. Not too bad, I suppose, all things considered, but it is a very big garden. I’ve seen more in much smaller.
And what do you suppose showed up an hour later? The marsh tit, naturally, busying itself in the branches of the apple tree and then becoming the first tit of the day to go in for a helping of sunflower seeds. Unusually, just the back garden robin had partaken during the official hour. About the same time a magpie dropped in to the lawn, only to be escorted out by one of the collared doves: they seem to have taken a dislike to magpies hereabouts, and surprisingly seem to be somewhat higher up the pecking order too. All of which just serves to remind me that the garden is always there, all year round. Scientists need just an hour to analyse national trends, but nothing is stopping you or me from watching for an hour tomorrow, as well. It’s a pleasing thought. So if your Big Garden Birdwatch was on the disappointing side, too, never mind: you’ve stepped up, and done your bit, and I congratulate you. We’ll all try again next year. Now pass the maple syrup!
*Not actual cheating, of course – that would be bad science – just the showing of more initiative and effort than is strictly in the spirit of sitting inside and looking at the birds out the window.