Flight recorders for the big garden countdown

RSPB members Chris and Carol Brydone birdwatching in their garden
RSPB members Chris and Carol Brydone birdwatching in their garden

IT’S late January, the sun and an assortment of bird feeders are out and the Meersbrook garden of Chris and Carol Brydone is getting rather busy.

“The dunnock’s back on top of the upturned compost heap,” Carol commentates.

“There’s a coal tit eating the robin food. Where’s the robin? Oh, the blue tits have arrived…”

“The robin’s on the robin food now,” says Chris. “It’s nice when they do like they’re supposed to do.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says its annual Big Garden Birdwatch is the biggest garden bird survey in the world. This year the charity was expecting half a million birdwatchers to spend an hour last weekend noting the maximum number of any one species they saw in their garden at a time.

The charity was expecting a large turnout of birds, too, since the early start to winter should have lured more birds to garden feeding stations.

But there was also a concern that the very low temperatures may have severely reduced the number of smaller birds like wrens and long-tailed tits. Not so at Meersbrook: “Here they come!” says Carol excitedly, as a party of small cheeping acrobats suddenly swings and hops through her trees.

“They come through in the morning on the dot at 9am, then they usually come back about 3 o’clock,” she says, as the troop of long-tailed tits perform, having put in an early appearance for the media.

Carol says the Big Garden Birdwatch is only really a ‘snapshot’ of the nation’s birdlife.

“It helps to engage people. But it also makes the point that you don’t just want wildlife in reserves, you want it in gardens and fields and hedgerows and parks.

“Increasingly I think we want it to be part of our daily lives, even in a city.”

The species in their Meersbrook garden seem to match some of the city-wide trends: buzzards have been seen soaring overhead, increases in goldfinches, regular sightings of nuthatches and treecreepers.

And the Byrdone January 29 1.30pm-2.30pm garden snapshot is illuminating: blackbird, wood pigeon, collared dove, carrion crow, wren, coal tit (all 1), robin, dunnock (2) , blue tits (4) and the winner, by a large margin, long-tailed tits (12).

And not a single song thrush, starling or house sparrow.