This weekend (Jan 29-31, 2021) is the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch. I realise that if you want to take part, I am advertising the fact rather late in the day but, who knows, maybe your garden is blessed with a surfeit of owls and nightingales, which there might still be an opportunity to spot.
And I am presuming that when the RSPB say Big Garden Birdwatch, they mean the Birdwatch aspect will be big, and not the Garden bit, because my own garden is a rather typically poky, suburban affair. However, undaunted by semantics, I have been pleased to take part.
The idea behind the Big Garden Birdwatch is for members of the public to record the different birds they spot, which land in their garden over an hour’s duration. The information compiled is then used to build up a wider picture of the quantity and distribution of bird populations in the UK.
Midday, found me at my kitchen window, looking out upon my small rectangle of lawn and shrubs, notebook in my hand, ready to record every ornithological sighting as it happened, and I did not have long to wait for my first bird. Within less than a minute, a chubby, red-breasted Robin, straight off the front of a Christmas card, had landed on my garden fence, assessed the relative invitingness of my garden against that of my neighbour, and hopped down onto a concrete stepping stone on my lawn. I duly wrote ‘Robin – one’ in my notebook, and continued to watch. It seemed like a promising start.
One minute, turned to ten, turned to twenty, and then half an hour, without spotting a single other bird. Normally, my garden is full of birds but, today, they appeared to be deliberately keeping away. Finally, with the hour almost up, and with a solitary Robin still the only tick in my notebook, a large male Blackbird appeared in the branches of a tree at the end of the garden, and then flew down onto my lawn. I started writing again: ‘Blackbird – one’.
But that was it. One hour of watching, and only two birds sighted. It seemed like rather a poor return.
But that is what I love about birdwatching: the unpredictability of it.
Only the day before, I had been walking in my local park, and I had stopped to look at some large balls of mistletoe, which were growing on a tall lime tree. Purely by chance, I noticed a bird high up in the branches of the same tree: it was a Peregrine Falcon. I had never seen one in the park before. I watched it quietly for some time before it eventually flew away.
That’s how it goes with birdwatching: some days you win; some days you lose.
© Bradley Dunbar
Bradley Dunbar remains ever watchful.