Last weekend was the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch weekend. About half a million of us spend one hour recording the highest number of each species we see in our gardens. This annual survey is now in its 41st year and provides a citizen science snapshot of the range of species and the levels of populations of the birds visiting our gardens across the UK.
Our Big Garden Bird Watch results were a little on the minimalist side this year. House Sparrow 4; Starling 2; Jackdaw 2.
I was pleased to see House Sparrow topping the BGBW charts as I was submitting my results online afterwards. It was good to see our starlings during our hour’s observation too.
As someone who has been a keen birdwatcher since I was a child, I have to keep reminding myself that both of these species, the house sparrow and the starling, are red-listed these days. That means they are Birds of Conservation Concern here in the UK, where the species population has reduced by 50% in the last 25 years.
‘Our’ house sparrows nest in the roof and we were delighted to see them raise two broods of youngsters during last spring and summer. The starlings nest in a nearby roof but always drop by on winter days to feed in our backyard.
So whilst I didn’t record many birds, of the ones I did see, two species are much rarer than we’d like. Our homes and gardens really do play a significant role in providing nesting sites and food sources for birds and many other creatures.
We probably all have our own little ways of noticing that Winter may be gradually releasing its icy grip, though this year perhaps ‘soggy’ would be a more appropriate adjective. I have noticed several of my Spring signs this weekend.
Late in the afternoon on Friday as I was busy with my usual housework I was treated to a glorious burst of singing, interspersed with a curious mix of clacking, clucking and peeping. This was one of ‘our’ starlings, singing his little heart out in our eaves. I’m not sure if he knew it was Valentine’s Day but I think he definitely sounded like he was keeping his toes crossed!
Today we took advantage of a sunny and relatively mild February Sunday and headed off into the woods for an afternoon’s ramble. As usual, being an avid nature-watcher I was on the look-out for several signs of a hopefully fairly imminent Spring.
The first of these was right outside our front door – our snowdrops are looking healthy and fit to burst. We’ll have to see what this week’s weather brings, but I’m sure those flowers will be opening very soon.
My second sighting, just a few metres into the wood, was the beautiful golden globes of the Winter Aconites Eranthis hyemalis. I always think of these flowers as ‘the’ promise that Spring is not too far off, so it is always a delight to see them. Rather like the snowdrops, they were just waiting to burst open. I’d thought today’s sun might have tempted them, but they mustn’t be quite ready.
The third sighting, close to the Winter Aconites, was my first bud-burst of 2014. The elder’s purple buds had burst forth just showing the tips of its tiny purple first leaves.
We stopped to admire the amazing reflections of the winter trees in the deep and muddy puddles along our path. The sun was still quite high and the reflected colours were much greener than a few weeks ago.
On we went, up through the sunlit beechwood, the shadows dancing across the mossy floor. This part of the wood is always full of interest, from fungi to flowers to fruits to creatures, there’s always something to discover. Today we were spotting new fungi growth on some old fallen timber – it was the fairly common Hairy Stereum Stereum hirsutum. Watching an old tree rot may not seem the most exciting thing to do, but deadwood is an amazing haven for wildlife and is especially fascinating to children [like ours] with a keen interest in both fungi and the invertebrate world.
At the ‘top of the forest’ we spotted the last of today’s new signs of Spring. Under the beech trees some familiar-shaped shoots were beginning to flex their glossy green fingers as they thrust their first leaves towards the encouraging sunshine. Here we saw the promise of bluebells! It will of course be some time yet before we are greeted by their glorious scent drifting on the breeze – but that is definitely something to look forward to.
I have taken the theme of “nature” as the thread that binds this post together, but there are several strands.
Today is Day 1 of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch weekend. I posted earlier in the week about this – and there’s still time for you to take part in the biggest wildlife survey in the world if you can find an hour to spare on Sunday.
This morning we counted ‘our’ birds … 10 jackdaws. To us they really are ‘our birds’ as they were born and raised in the old chimneys of our house.
It’s a pity ‘our’ starlings didn’t put in an appearance today, as seemingly unbelievably, starlings are becoming less common than you might think. Perhaps because it was not too cold, they were evidently visiting further flung pastures today. The starlings live in our flat-roof, above our youngest son’s bedroom. They nest there and hide out there too when it’s really cold. I did hear one of them talking on the chimney earlier in the week.
As this afternoon turned wet and squally, it seemed a good time to browse other blogs to see how nature was faring elsewhere. As a self-confessed nature nut, I must say how heartened I was to see just how many other fellow bloggers care about our natural world.
It was wonderful to see Suzy Blue’s flowering snowdrops on her Country Diary blog. Seeing snowdrops always makes me feel Spring is not too far around the corner. We have some snowdrops that grow right outside of our front door – but no sign of flowers for us just yet on our windswept northern hillside.
We live surrounded by wonderful woods. I love trees – from tiny sprouting acorns to gnarled and ancient beauties. I was fascinated today when I learned about an amazing old Irish hedgerow in a post called “Bright Skies and Dark Hedges” on Littlest Allsorts.
I am always intrigued by the ways we as humans have shaped our ‘natural’ landscapes. This avenue of veritable ‘old ladies’ can be seen along a roadside near Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. If you take a peek at it you will not be surprised to hear it is not unaccustomed to photographic attention having been chosen as a film location on several occasions, including for the popular ‘Game of Thrones’.
To weave the final strand into this Nature Round-up, I want to share with you a poem I discovered today, “A Natural Curriculum” on the blog ‘wordsthatserve’. It describes to us an “alternative 3 ‘R’s”.
I really liked this poem, especially as its first verse touched on one of my own ‘pet’ subjects, litter. For me those three concepts, Respect, Resilience and Reciprocity, as represented in this poem, should act as way-markers for human-kind as we negotiate our place on this planet.