The weekend of 24-25 January 2009 was the weekend when many of you stocked up your bird feeders, watched your garden birds for an hour, and noted down the highest number that you saw of each bird species. That was the weekend of the RSPB “Big Garden BirdWatch”.
My thanks to those of you who shared your Garden BirdWatch sightings with me. From this information, twenty five species of birds were noted in gardens on Arran that weekend. These included Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, and Sparrowhawk. Three species were noted in every garden. These were Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Blackbird. In terms of overall numbers of birds recorded the “top five” were Chaffinch 252, House Sparrow 76, Blue Tit 44, Coal Tit 38 and Blackbird 31. By far the most numerous Arran garden bird that weekend was Chaffinch, with counts of more than thirty in Brodick, Sannox and Shiskine.
If you enjoy your garden birds and taking part in this once a year survey you should think about taking part in the weekly Garden BirdWatch. This is run by the British Trust for Ornithology. It is a year-round project that gathers important information on how different species of birds use gardens and how this use changes over time. Gardens are an important habitat for many wild birds, providing a useful refuge for those affected by changes in the management of our countryside.
Some 16,500 participants in the UK currently take part in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch. All participants send in simple weekly records of the bird species using their gardens. This information is either submitted on paper count forms or by using Garden BirdWatch Online. Each participant also supports the project financially through an annual contribution of £15. In return, they receive the quarterly colour magazine Bird Table, count forms and access to advice on feeding and attracting garden birds. All new joiners will receive a free copy of the 128-page BTO/CJ Garden BirdWatch Book which normally retails for £9.99 (plus p&p).
At present there are only 10 participants in Arran out of a population of just under 5,500. If from the numbers of people who enjoy their garden birds, more could be encouraged to take part in the simple weekly survey, to increase this to at least between 40 and 50 participants, this would produce a lot of valuable information.
Garden BirdWatch is all about getting involved and gathering useful information using simple recording techniques. The forms are easy to complete and all you need to do is keep a simple note of the birds seen during the course of the week. You can note the birds you see over your morning cup of coffee or while working in the garden. How much time you spend recording is up to you. All that is asked is that you try to be consistent from one week to the next. The observations that are received are added to the national Garden BirdWatch database, building up a pattern, showing how bird species change their use of gardens throughout the year and from one year to the next.
To further encourage birds to come into your garden, this is the time of year when you should be thinking about putting up nest boxes. You can make your own or buy one ready made. The BTO Nestbox Guide is a good place to start www.bto.org/notices/nestbox_guide.htm
Nest boxes are best sited about 10 feet from the ground and should be somewhere that predators such as cats cannot reach. Fix the nest box to a wall or a tree and try to ensure it is in a place where you can watch and enjoy it. It is best to face the box to the east or north, avoiding west since most rain comes from that direction and avoiding south as the sun might shine in and overheat the young.
Finally the Arran Natural History Society in conjunction with the Rangers Service at Brodick Country Park are hoping to establish nest cameras in a Barn Owl nest box and in a Kestrel nest box this year.