Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Great Soggy Garden Bird Watch

Having rushed about yesterday working, checking the sheep and taking L to badminton, I was looking forward to settling down for an hour in the afternoon and doing my 'RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.'

M and I spent longer than was strictly reasonable arguing the toss about the parameters of the survey. His view is that you adhere absolutely to the criteria set down ie you don't go over an hour and you only put down birds you actually see. Mine is that if the whole point is to get an accurate picture of which birds come to your garden regularly you should write down all those that you know are regular visitors, even if they don't happen to appear within that hour.

M won.

So, I got out paper and pen and crisps (essential for any period of intense observation) and fixed the camera to the Christmas Tripod and perched myself in the kitchen at 3.30 to start observing.

Within ten minutes the sky had turned from blue to grey to black to purple (much in the way a bruise does, except for the blue bit- swap that for pink and you'll get the picture), then the wind got up and kept on getting up so that half an hour in to my BGBW the bamboo was prostrating itself on the ground every two seconds like a horribly obsequious person trying to get on the good side of a visiting dignitary.

The birds had started looking iffy at the first sign of wind, and far fewer of them were about than normal anyway. This is the view from the kitchen window after about ten mins of BGBWing....

Whatt few birds there were promptly took refuge in the hedge as the typhoon swept across the garden, egged on by the hurricane.

When it finally eased off a bit, the light was so dark (if that makes sense) that the camera had seven fits and started to do this when faced with the LTTs, who were bravely battling the elements and the Blue tits for the coconut halves.....

Apologies if that made you feel sick. It did me a bit. It seemed to think the light required a shutter time of approximately half an hour.

Sadly, neither the photography nor bird appearances got much better. There was no sign of the blackbirds, the nut hatches or the GSWs, all of whom can usually be relied upon to turn up at least once in any given hour. The sparrows obliged with an appearance, but again the camera had a hissy fit on me and did this...

When it finally decided to play ball I got a clearer shot of Mr S- I think his expression just about sums the whole experience up...

'Managed to get it working at last have you? Well done- you're just in time for dusk and our bedtime.'

There were brief pauses in the deluge during which the birds returned in small numbers to the feeders, but M managed to sabotage each and every one of these by slamming the side gate, or letting the dogs into the garden, or switching on the hose at the crucial moment. 


I did managed to get two or three decent shots, despite the weather and my husband.....

Blue tit

Mrs Sparrow

Sweet Robin
Long Tailed Tit

But it was largely a lost cause so I gave up and decided to attempt it again today, because, despite the appalling forecast, there was no way it could be worse than yesterday's pathetically doomed attempt.

I went for the morning slot because I reckon the feeders are busier first thing while everyone stocks up on energy after the chilly damp night. But no sooner had I set things up than this happened again....

Undeterred, I gritted my teeth, gave the camera a good talking to and hovered by the window with my fingers crossed. Husband were banished from going outside for an hour, dogs were told to cross their paws and hold on if they needed a pee and children were shut into the study and planted in front of their computers.

I waited.....and waited.....and waited....

And suddenly, the garden was alive with birds!

I saw every one of my regulars during a much better hour, with the sole exception of the jackdaws who were busy next door (but I was good and didn't add them to my survey despite encouragement from M which I thought undermined his argument of yesterday about sticking strictly to the parameters of the experiment as laid down by the RSPB considerably). I didn't see my wren either, but then she is a secretive little soul and not always visible.

The camera had a strop a couple of times, especially when Woody turned up and began hammering at the coconut halves, but as the resulting photo shows how fast a woodpecker's head goes when he is drumming I thought it was quite a good pic anyway....

And I ended up with a couple of cracking shots which I am thrilled with, because as we all know, GSWs are very hard to photograph clearly- they disappear at the merest hint of movement, so all these were taken from deep inside the bowels of the kitchen....You can see from his eye he knew I was there, just at a safe enough distance not to interfere too much with coconut-half consumption.

He's been busy drumming on the oak tree next door today too in-between garden visits. Can you spot him?.....

Both the nuthatches graced me with their presence more than once in the hour which was a relief.....

And all three of our resident robins were there too...

Love this shot with the fluttery wings. You'd never guess Robins are ground-feeders would you?!

I counted five dunnocks in all...

 Mrs Sparrow and her husband and son were in evidence...

Mr and Mrs Blackbird came along (although separately)....

As did several Blue tits, two Great tits and one of the pige's...

Our final visitors were the collar dove pair who are besotted and inseparable. After they'd been in the garden I spotted them snuggled up together in the apple tree nibbling each other's necks....

Bit Gorgeous
So, there are a few morals to this story which I will remember for next year and am passing on to you so you can also benefit from them:

1. Don't do a BG Bird Watch when it's blowing a hoolie and pi**ing it down.
2. Don't do a BG Bird Watch with a husband on the loose.
3. Don't let your dogs go rampaging up into the garden while you're trying to count birds.
4. Do lock your children away for the duration.
5. Don't do the BGBW an hour before dark because a) the birds are all thinking about heading off to bed and b) it's too dark to see them or take photographs.

Other than that it's HAPPY DAYS and I am thrilled we saw everyone today we should have done.

CT :-)


  1. I do believe that is what one calls 'a result!' Excellent!!

    I wish I could get woodpeckers into our garden but with a massive park next door they would rather be there. Xxx

    1. Indeed. I feel the garden population here has been accurately represented survey-wise which is a relief to be honest because I wasn't sure they would be when I started!

      Try the coconut fat/ ball approach with the GSWs- they may well turn up once they know there's a reliable supply, 'specially when they've got smalls to feed xx

  2. Brilliant count and well done for trying so hard. Love the photos of the woodpecker, at least I can look at your images and see all the birds I didn't see in my garden!

    1. I've just read your experience which sounded worse than mine yesterday! The weather really hasn't helped this year, but at least everyone turned up here who should have done :-)

  3. Some great birds there CT and some lovely photos :) My Long-tailed Tits failed to materialise when I did mine :( and I "cheated" on some of the photos and used archive shots on my blog post! I managed to get mine done before the rain arrived although I had similar problems with a husband who insisted on walking round the garden checking on how many fence panels needed replacing whilst I was trying to watch :(

    Its good fun though isn't it? Although I do miss the days when the children were younger and loved to take part - these days its just me!!

    1. I was admiring your photos for the sunlight in them then read they were 'borrowed' :-)
      Not even remote interest from small people to take part here- those days are long gone. They were only too glad to be on their computers out of the rain! Sounds like husbands were a universal pain for the count this year!! :-)

  4. We have the same birds as you. Isn't it always the way when you want something to happen it won't? Glas you got all those pics in the end. Well done.

    1. It's great to hear what everyone has in their gardens, the similarities and regional differences.
      Meant to drop you a line and say I've got completely hooked on the Merrily Watkins books by Phil Rickman following your recommendation. I now have a whole pile of them to look forward to reading :-)

  5. I did it on my new phone which was great. My first foray into the world of smart phone use. I told the woman I talked to about the contract that I would be very unlikely to use the internet on it. Hmmmm....I've barely been off it. Stil doesn't work as a phone yet unfortunately. No SIM that fits! Thank goodness I did it online as I'd forgotten it was the number of birds seen at any one time you had to log. I'd have had to put about 250 sparrows if it was just sightings.

    Love the fluttery Robin too and all the others.....perhaps rainy windows not so much.....I had a few of them myself! Have a nice evening! x

    1. Cripes, you're braver than me Em- I just about manage text and phone calls on mine and the odd bit of navigation if I'm lost. This is fine as long as I don't want to go under any trees, because then the signal disappears and it would be quicker to navigate by the stars. Even during the day. :-)
      Yes- here's to fewer rainy windows in the coming weeks! xx)

  6. Woodpeckers are extremely difficult to photograph, so well done. They scoot round the back of any tree or pole, or fly off, the second they see you. Robins are getting really used to hanging from feeders, evolution in action here..

    1. Definitely the shiest of all the garden birds we get here, although yesterday he virtually lived in the garden and I had no end of photo opps!
      Our blackbirds have developed a canny way of making use of the fat balls- they fly up, peck, drop down, fly up, peck, drop down. This can go on for quite some time. They must expend more energy than they get from the food...

  7. Some great photos! Like you, I did my birdwatch yesterday and not long after, it started raining and blowing a gale but I was out all day today so had to stick with yesterdays results!

    1. It wasn't the best weather for it all weekend and today of course the sun is shining :-)

  8. Great tips for the GBBW, CT and wonderful photos of the Woodpeckers. Some lovely pics of the other birds, too. Lots of blurring photos here, too of birds that refuse to pose. Your little LTT is so cute.

    1. I couldn't believe how long the GSW lad spent in the garden yesterday- drilling holes in oak trees must be hungry work.

  9. Replies
    1. I'm just so pleased everyone turned up who should have done. We had a starling in the garden this morning- first time in 8 years!!

  10. It was soggy here too :( hardly any of our regulars turned up - I don't blame them! I was glad to be snuggled indoors. I do love the action shot of the gsw! They drum so hard! I am intrigued to see that your robin isn't strictly a ground feeder because you would, if it was a lot more sunny, perhaps mistake him for a hummingbird! I put mealworms on the ground this morning and he is still exhibiting said hummingbird behaviour! Odd! x

    1. The weather wasn't great for it was it? And then it was gorgeous here on Monday and a starling turned up, and we've never had one of those in the garden before!

      Robins are such smart birds aren't they? x


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