Did you take part in this years RSPB 'Garden Birdwatch'? If so, you joined tens of thousands of others in probably the worlds biggest mass exercise in nature observation; quite a testimony to the success of the RSPB. With its humble beginnings as a campaign organisation to stop the killing of ostriches for the trophy of rich women adding feathers to their hats, the RSPB now has over a million members giving it quite a voice in determining conservation action and increasingly the ear of politicians eager to tap into such a large vote.
The garden birdwatch is not really 'citizen science', but more an opportunity to engage the general public more actively in observing what goes on outside their windows and beyond the comfort of a heated home in winter. The RSPB will of course publish some headlines from the data submitted by the public announcing any change in rankings of our top 10 garden birds. Recent big risers have been Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus), who have successfully mastered the peanut hanger. I can endorse this from my observations on Sunday, being the second most abundant species. As I child this bird was quite a sighting. In contrast the Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) has slipped on the proverbial snake in terms of its rank, out of the top 10. Common in the past in gardens full of snails without the current proliferation of slug pellets protecting gaudy flowers. As a boy I loved finding the little 'anvils', an object used by the song thrush to smash the shells of snails. I'm glad to say that our resident thrush made an appearance in the allotted one hour. Out top bird however this year was the Great Tit (Parus major) with six seen at one time. Their aggression gives them prime access to the fat balls, their favourite food in our garden. The birds that made a no-show that I had hoped to count were the Jay (Garralus glandarius), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) , Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) and Great-spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major). So I was rather amused by the appearance of the woodpecker today, as if to say, "stuff these surveys!" Maybe we'll get him for Garden Birdwatch 2011.