In cold, still, sunny weather, ten visitors joined Ivana and three Wildwatch regulars to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. We decided we had enough confident observers to cover seven different areas of the reserve, including the Environment Centre garden. Between us we found 20 species – not quite as high as on a really good Wildwatch morning, but then according to survey rules we were only out for an hour and couldn’t count birds seen only in flight. Only two birds were found in every location – Blue Tit and Robin. We can be certain that the nine Robins recorded were all different birds, and it looks as if there’s a bit more work to do on our territory survey. The same can’t be said for the top two species. The old Magpie rhyme stops at seven, so we’ve no idea what the observers who counted 19 can expect. No, they weren’t making it up – Ivana and Richard saw what we assume was the same group and counted 16. Confirming our belief that it qualifies as the reserve’s iconic bird, Bullfinch also logged in at 19. Here we can’t be absolutely certain that the same birds weren’t seen by more than one observer. However winter Bullfinches do seem to go about in well-established parties, and they were reported from six of the seven watch points, so it looks fairly certain that we’ve got at least a dozen birds in three different groups. Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Song Thrush and Starling turned out to be the rarities, with only one of each recorded. This is probably a realistic representation of the proportions of the first three on the reserve. Starlings are more a matter of direction of view and timing: at the right time of day, several dozen perch on the power lines near Melrosegate, and later in the year they can be seen flying backwards and forwards between the reserve and neighbouring houses. We found 17 of the 20 birds on the RSPB checklist. The exceptions are Feral Pigeon and Jackdaw, both of which are occasional visitors to St Nicks, and Coal Tit, which is a site rarity with only about half a dozen confirmed sightings in the last decade. On the other hand we recorded Siskin and Redpoll which along with Bullfinch are not suffiently usual garden visitors to feature on the checklist.
Can we take the opportunity to remind all our readers that the Wildwatch group meets on Wednesday mornings around 10, and is about to launch a series of taster sessions at the same time on Saturdays (first one 18th February). Don’t worry if you can’t make a regular commitment – very few of us can, and you’ll be just as welcome if you can only drop by now and then!