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Blue tit perched on a branch

It’s the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, this weekend 26-28 January. Will you be taking part?

Here’s how our Partnership Manager, Anna Parry, got on last year.

Beige line

I’d been particularly looking forward to the last RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Earlier in the year we moved house from Southsea to a much more rural location and with it we’d gone from having a small garden to a more substantial one.

Also, given the change of location, I’d hoped to be able to report a lot more variety of birds visiting. Previously it had generally been fat pigeons and herring gulls, which are actually quite intimidating when they decide to get close. Since the move, we are lucky enough to see quite a range and I was keen to track what turned up during our watch.

Taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch was very simple, with the added bonus of being completely free to do so.

Although it’s an RSPB initiative, you don’t have to be a member to join in, you simply sign up on their website and over a set weekend spend an hour counting the birds that land within the space you are watching.

Finally you report your results online: that’s it.

Robin on a post to mark the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch with text saying Together let's make it count and the dates 26-28 January 2024

And by doing those simple steps you can be part of the world’s biggest bird survey. Also worth noting is that you don’t need a garden to do it, you can use other spaces – from a balcony, in a park or a local field.

It’s from the concept of this initiative that we’ve built our own one, the Great Coastal Birdwatch which we run each October, encouraging people to notice the wonderful birds on our beaches.

It’s a great chance for people to take time to connect with nature and get to know a bit more about the visitors to our shores.

If you’d like to get involved with that, keep an eye on our social media and website for more information at the end of the summer

The Great Coastal Birdwatch illustration with a ringed plover and a dark bellied brent goose

My then 12-year-old son joined me for last year’s garden watch, he has a keen interest in nature and keeps a growing list of what we see in the garden. Whilst starlings, great tits, pigeons and magpies are regular visitors, we have infrequent visits from a greater spotted woodpecker and we’ve been lucky enough to spot a sparrow hawk and even a heron.

In prep for our watch we’d been keeping our bird feeders nicely topped up.

We have a variety of foods on offer all year from peanuts to niger seeds and suet blocks to mealworms, it really helps us attract a wide range of visitors as some are more particular about what they are looking to eat.

Since our move, I’ve had to invest in squirrel proof feeders and hook them up with carabiners to stop the squirrels emptying them on a daily basis.

2 bird feeders hanging in a garden

I also make sure to wash the feeders out with soapy water every few months to ensure they are kept free of bacteria and fungal spores which can be harmful to the birds.

We picked a 10am start for our watch and did it in the warmth of the kitchen whilst we had a late breakfast (porridge for me, a toasted bagel for him if you were wondering).

We have bifold doors leading out to the garden, so a pretty good view of the feeders and what’s going on. However, this view works both ways, so we tried to be mindful and not to move around too much as we’ve noticed it can spook the birds and make them leave the feeding area – a bird disturbance incident that we always try to avoid.

With binoculars to hand, together with a couple of leaflets helping us identify the birds we settled down to begin.

Having preregistered for the count, we’d received a handy tally chart from the RSPB and advice on how to complete it.

We did an initial sweep of the garden and spotted pigeons, great tits and a bored looking crow. Time ticked on and visitors started coming to the bird feeders, firstly a robin, then a couple of goldfinches.

RSPB information leaflets and books

I nearly missed it, but my son spotted a male blackbird tussling with leaves to the side of the garden, moments later we spotted a female blackbird and I have high hopes that they might pair up and use our currently vacant birdbox over the coming months.

Anna Parry looks through binoculars

Anna watching for birds on the coast

A greater spotted woodpecker feeding from a garden birdfeeder

Greater spotted woodpecker

A goldfinch feeding from a bird feeder

Goldfinch

A blackbird perched on a stump

Blackbird

Over the hour we chatted, drank hot chocolate and generally put the world to rights as we jotted down the birds we saw coming and going.

Many came and went during that period and for us the highlight was when 7 long-tailed tits turned up and all flocked around our bird feeders for several minutes, before vanishing just as quickly as they came.

A slightly larger flock of starlings flew over the garden and visited next door’s bird feeder.

We couldn’t include these as they didn’t land within our count area, but it was good to see them nevertheless.

Long-tailed tit

Just as my son was starting to get restless, our hour was over. We reviewed our list and submitted our results online, including information about the geographical location of where we counted so the RSPB can build a picture of what’s being seen where.

Job done, time to get on with other weekend activities, but we’ve enjoyed doing taking part, feel we know a bit more about our garden visitors and we will definitely be on the lookout for it again next year.

If you’d like to take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, visit the RSPB website to find out more.