Posted: Tuesday 28 January 2014
by Richard Jones
The Big Garden Birdwatch is a valuable way of getting people interested in actually recording what they see.
It's traditional, at this time of year, for me to bleat on pathetically that I saw nothing worth recording during the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch at the weekend. I don’t see any reason to break with this customary convention. It was blowing up a bitter wind the whole time, and although I looked out from an upstairs window a few of times, I could see nothing moving out there. Not a feather.
It's a bit of a running gag in this house that I don’t ‘do’ birds, anyway. Many’s the time I’ve been out with family or friends, wandering the countryside, here, there or abroad, and someone will say something along the lines of:
“Did you see that *bloody great/ very strange/ really rare/ brightly coloured/ oddly shaped bird fly over?”
(*Delete as appropriate.)
To which I reply on the theme of “No, I was watching these interesting †ants/ beetles/ maggots/ fruit-flies/ water-skaters.”
(†Similarly choose one).
Sometimes, though, I do try, and joining in with the RSPB survey is just a little thing for me to attempt. By Sunday afternoon, I’m beginning to think I shall abandon the whole thing. The weather's still rubbish, but I persevere. Then, late in the afternoon, amidst some raucous rain-protest cawing, half a dozen carrion crows flap past. There was a large muster of them in the trees a few days before, all telling funeral parlour jokes and looking for blue tits to taunt. Well, at least it’s something.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is a valuable way of getting people interested in actually recording what they see, rather than just making a mental note. And over the years the results have revealed some ups and downs of what many people would simply describe as common garden birds. Coal tit, collared dove and wood pigeon have all been up in recent years, whilst starling, sparrow, thrush (and a depressing load of others) are down.
From a data-gathering point of view, setting a fixed time each year allows comparisons to be made, but it does mean that if, like me, you are bothered by inappropriate wind and rain, you'll be contributing more non-data than interesting observations.
Monday morning (it’s too late now) and things are completely different. The sun's shining through wispy clouds; it's still and calm. My non-data list now comprises great tit (3), hedge sparrow (2), feral pigeon (5), woodpigeon (2), blackbird (2), magpie (1), blackcap (2). No sign of any crows, though.