Thursday, 31 March 2016

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results: Mild winter boosts sightings of smaller garden birds in Merseyside

·         Long-tailed tit benefits from mild winter – recorded appearances in Merseyside increased by 34 per cent on 2015
·         House sparrow is most seen bird in Merseyside gardens
·         More than 519,000 people across the UK took part in the 2016 Birdwatch including more than 5,500 from Merseyside
Over half-a-million people, including more than 5,500 from Merseyside, took part in the 37th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – witnessing some exciting and interesting changes among our most popular garden birds.
The tiny long-tailed tit has flown into the Big Garden Birdwatch national top 10 after the average number seen visiting gardens across the UK increased this year by 44 per cent. In Merseyside they were up 34 per cent, moving from 15th place last year to become the 13th most commonly seen bird in the county.
RSPB experts are linking the increase in sightings of long-tailed tits, as well as other smaller gardens birds such as coal tits, to the mild weather in the months leading up to the 2016 Birdwatch. Small, insect-eating birds like long- tailed tits are particularly susceptible to the cold as the food they rely on is hard to come by in frosts and snow so milder conditions are likely to have contributed to a higher survival rate.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “This year’s survey was another brilliant year for the Big Garden Birdwatch. More than half-a-million people took part counting a bumper 8.2 million birds, providing us with valuable data which helps to build a better picture of how our garden birds are doing.
“The weather can have varied effects on different groups of birds in terms of behaviour and habitats used. The increase in long-tailed tit sightings, along with other smaller garden birds, just goes to show that, in the absence of very cold weather, these species can survive the winter months in much greater numbers. The warmer temperatures have made it easier to find food, like insects, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow.”
During periods of colder temperatures birds struggle to find food in the wider countryside so become more reliant on garden feeders. Long-tailed tits, and other smaller birds, have adapted to feeding on seeds and peanuts at bird tables or from hanging feeders. Since 2006, the average number of long-tailed tits seen in UK gardens has increased by 52 per cent, while great tits numbers have gone up by 13 per cent and coal tits by nine per cent.
Dr Hayhow added: “The increase in sightings of these smaller garden birds highlights the importance of a well-stocked bird feeder. Long-tailed tits only started using garden feeders in recent years, and now more people are spotting them in their gardens as this behaviour develops.”

Despite this boost in numbers many other of our garden favourites are struggling. Sightings of well known species such as starlings and song thrushes have experienced another drop during the Big Garden Birdwatch this year. This decline continues a national trend that has seen the number of both species visiting gardens decline by 81 and 89 per cent retrospectively since the first Birdwatch in 1979.
Ben Andrew, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, added: “A lot of our favourite garden birds are struggling and are in desperate need of our help. Gardens or outdoor spaces are an invaluable resource for many species – they can provide a safe habitat and enough food and water to survive – which are likely to have a significant effect on their populations.”  
Big Garden Birdwatch is a part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens or outdoor space – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.   

  This table shows the top 10 birds seen in Merseyside gardens in 2016

Average number per garden
House sparrow
Blue tit
Great tit
Collared dove


Friday, 18 March 2016

David and Jamie do the Big Garden Bird Watch.

Jamie, my grandson, rang the RSPB on his own initiative to ask for an information pack to do the Big Garden Bird Watch. Bloke at the other end was most impressed at a 10 year old calling.. Jamie asked if I could do BGBW in Sefton Park with him. So we went on a rather wind-chilling day and saw lots of different birds to record. What took me quite by surprise was "Look Granddad there is a dabchick". He saw it before I did. I have never spoken with him about this bird, which I only ever refer to as a little grebe, so he must have got it from a book. 

Little grebe
The other surprise was I heard a noise in the trees above me and before my brain could even begin to process the sound, he said, "Starlings Grandddad". Apart from that, he continued to spot birds before I did and he had to point them out for me! One of the highlight sightings for him was the ring-necked parakeets which have now established themselves in this part of south Liverpool. There must have been 8 - 10 of them around although we never saw any more than three at a time. 
We sealed off this particular granddad - grandson experience on 55 thoroughly-chilled minutes with hot chocolate and chips from the park cafe. Perhaps next year we can do it with the whole family?


Sunday, 6 March 2016

Swan watch

Called into Stadt moers park  a week ago. 
There's a pond on the far side that usually has some waterfowl and grebes. Two swans were present, appeared to be a couple and both ringed, so I took their numbers and sent them off to the swan people.
Two youngsters:

Darvic CFF6 green = Female cygnet, ringed  31st December 2013 at Spike Island Widnes.  (David Cookson, Cheshire Swan Study Group)  
Blue Darvic 4ADZ, which was ringed as a male cygnet at Sefton Park on the 20th December 2013. It has been seen at various places in Merseyside, as well as a trip to Pennington Flash at Leigh ! (Wes Halton, North West Swan Study)

I asked if they might breed? -  'This swan is not quite old enough but strange things have happened'  

Will have to go back and see if their staying😉

Another thing I noticed, which is a little disturbing was the condition of the trees, an awful lot appear to be under siege from the local bunnies? l think the rangers will have to something quickly, a couple of stoats probably wouldn't go a miss!

Tree damage

Dave's blog....An appreciation

Jeff in full flow

Jeff Clarke's  “Making a naturalist”..

At the February Liverpool RSPB monthly meeting I listened to Jeff Clarke, one of our group’s favourite speakers. As fellow ecologists Jeff and I have known each other for many years on a professional basis. Each year he produces a brilliant and entertaining talk, laced with loads of humour and this was no exception. He tested out a brand new talk on us under the title of “Making a naturalist”. Basically he told us his life story, of how he was hooked on nature from his very earliest days as a child. He spoke of the explorations into nature on his own and the help and encouragement he received from his mum and dad with books and a pair of binoculars. He went through the various stages of his career into his life as an ecologist with a particular interest in birds (feathered of course!) He went through the different jobs he did, including his employment as a ranger for Halton council. He left that service after a disagreement with the director and went free-lance, the best thing he ever did, he said. After that the world was his oyster – so to speak – almost literally. He has gone all over the world on his own, with his wife and daughter or else with small groups
All through the talk he kept telling us of the thrill he gets from sharing nature with others, from the very youngest children to the oldest wrinklies. Jeff is a born communicator and it is the enthusing of the younger generation that inspires him most. Show a kid the beauty and fascination of nature and you have that child hooked for life, his own daughter is a prime example. All the time he kept repeating what a lucky guy he was to be doing the things he loved most of all in his life and being paid for it

There is a lot more I could write about the talk, but what I really want to share, is that so much of what he had to say strongly resonated with me. I was drawn back to my own life story and my own early explorations of aquatic life in the ponds of North Wirral and my trips out to Hilbre Island on the Dee estuary in wild wintry weather to watch the birds and the seals. My mother often told others she knew when I was 8yrs, I was going to be a water biologist, at the moment she saw me eating a buttie, whilst I watched with fascination as a giant diving beetle larva ate a chunky tadpole in a jar of water on the table.

I have also derived enormous pleasure from showing nature life to my children in their childhood. We have had some great times out together over the years and I am so pleased their interest has continued into their adulthood – a matter of great pride of achievement for me. And now it continues with my grandson, Jamie. He is developing a fascination for all forms of nature and I can see him turning into a budding bird watcher. Jeff has really inspired me to put even more effort into nurturing his interest in nature. We have some very special granddad – grandson days ahead of us I guess. 

Thanks Jeff for a truly inspirational evening - David Holland