Sheffield has gone from smoggy, dirty town to green and pleasant land,” said Helen Ensor, as the sun shone on bird watchers of the Botanical Gardens.
“And that’s helped birds of the city.” Kingfishers, herons and falcons within the inner ring road, for example.
“There are buzzards soaring over Bowden Housteads Wood near the Parkway, and there was even a sighting of a red kite over Bramall Lane.”
The 440 strong Sheffield group of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds held their annual open days at the Botanical Gardens last weekend. The aim was to spread the word about birdwatching, and to raise money to help with the group’s work (field trips, winter talks and bird walks, for example).
Sheffield is a great place to be a birdwatcher, said RSPB stalwart Brian Wilkinson, a respected city ornithologist and RSPB organiser for 30 years.
Which means that birds can easily find their way into urban gardens and parks from adjoining countryside.
There was plenty of debate on the ups and downs of certain species, perhaps caused by habitat reduction due to garden paving and fencing, food scarcity due to pesticides and climate change, changes in wheat farming leading to seed scarcity over the winter, and the best ways to deter cats and squirrels. (Minefields are inappropriate, said Brian, but water pistols may help).
Advice from RSPB members
Birding Best Practice
Regular feeding – all day seed feeders increase visits from shyer finches and tits.
Bread – soak in water first if you do put out your crusts.
Open flowers – eg daisies, thistles, for bees and insects, and for hungry garden birds next up in the food chain.
Small trees and bushes - eg. ivy, cotoneaster and rowan for berries, shelter, nest sites and to attract insects.
Water – for bathing and drinking all year round.
Pest control – chemicals and pellets may deter birds as well as insects. Long range water pistols are popular with birders plagued by wandering cats.
Where to Watch
Helen Ensor’s suggestion is simple: “Just take a walk in your local park or woodland. There’s birdlife everywhere in Sheffield.”
Sheffield Canal / Five Weirs Walk - kingfishers, herons, dragonflies and more.
St George’s Church / Portobello – peregrine falcon and family.
Porter Valley – river, wood and farmland for finches, dippers, warblers and more.
Orgreave Lakes – waders, waterbirds and white wagtails (relative of the common pied wagtail) - watch out for sanderlings, ringed plover, short eared owl, black tailed godwit, oystercatcher.
http://efm.dept.shef.ac.uk/peregrine/ - Sheffield University peregrine cam
http://www.sbsg.org/sightings/ - Sheffield Bird Study Group up to the minute sightings