By 8.30am, I was bundled up in several layers, a wooly hat and gloves, and headed out to the garden shed to dust off our camping chairs. I had to kindly ask three quite large wood spiders to remove themselves from the chairs I was trying to unload but I'm not too sure they were very happy to be disturbed; well, it was the weekend after all! Chairs dusted off, flasks of tea made, feeders topped up and notebook in hand-I'm old-fashioned and prefer paper and pen when recording birds-we were ready to go. My mum joined me for the watch and we settled in for an hour of birdwatching in the surprisingly mild January sun.
Our birds aren't shy by any means. I do think they have become used to us over the years we've lived in this house and of course they have worked out that we are the ones providing the medley of treats they enjoy everyday. Certain species, such as the robin and blue tits, have no issues with landing on the feeders when we are only a few feet away. In fact, once the ten minutes before we officially started the clock had passed, the robins, nuthatches, blue and great tits had all but forgotten we were there. The coal and marsh tits were slightly more wary but they eventually just got on with things. I will point out that we were not seated close at all; in fact, I moved us back another foot before we started as I didn't want to affect the number of birds visiting by our unnecessary proximity. I chose not to do the survey from our kitchen window as we have a reasonably large garden and it's quite tricky to count all of the birds by peering through one pane of glass. Plus, there's nothing like listening to the different songs and calls and we were not disappointed in that regard!
One thing I noticed in particular during the hour was the feisty behaviour of a bird I wouldn't normally expect it from. There was an individual blue tit who was determined to chase off each and every bird that landed remotely close to him. Not just his own species but the robins and great tits too; he even had an attempt at seeing off one of the nuthatches but that wasn't quite so successful. This blue tit had obviously decided that this year was his year to mate with the best females and he was quite convinced he would get rid of all the competition. This fiery behaviour kept up throughout the whole hour we were out there and well into the rest of the day that followed.
I have a few personal highlights from the count. My first was the appearance of a female woodpecker. The great spotted woodpeckers visit the garden daily when there is food provided; they are usually found hanging off the suet holder or the peanut feeder. Despite their regular visits, I never tire of seeing them feeding and, at such close range, being able to identify the male and female by the red spot on the back of the male's head. The female turned up during our watch and sat in a tree a little way back for a while, taking her time before deciding to venture on to the fat balls. She wasn't around for long but after she had flown off, I could hear a male drumming very close by. I had hoped that both of them would make an appearance together, as they did in last year's birdwatch, but it wasn't to be.
Another highlight was the very brief appearance of a vole. I say very brief because it was just that; just enough for my mum to spot it before it scurried back into the hedgerow. We were obviously too daunting to make the dash to the bottom of the feeding station worth it. There was a fairly frustrating moment during the survey where I spotted what I was convinced was a bullfinch. The trouble was, it was completely silhouetted by the sun and it was sat further back in the branches of the small tree where all of the other species were busy feeding. It was the stocky shape and short, wedge-like head that had me certain it was a bullfinch and, despite me hoping that it would come closer into the light, it hung back and dropped lower into the undergrowth. At one point, when I was distracted by birds further along the garden, my mum whispered that she was sure a bullfinch had just landed in the tree then flown off into the wood. Without seeing it myself and gaining 100% confirmation, I couldn't list it as a sighted species. Very gutting.
I was eager to compare this year's results to those from 2014, although I knew without looking that the species count was less this time around. Our wren didn't turn up and neither did we have a visit from the woodpigeon or carrion crow. In total this year we had a bird species count of 9 in contrast to 11 last year. However, with both the squirrel and a vole turning up this year, and a mammal count of 0 in 2014, the species count evens out to 11 both ways.
Incidentally, that's two years in row we have had sunshine for the survey and both years have given reasonable turnouts. I wonder what the results would show if we were to have a little of the famous British rain for next year's count?
I wonder if perhaps I'll be watching from the window if we do!
Here's a few minutes of footage I captured during the watch, including a glimpse of the woodpecker and the cheeky grey squirrel helping himself!