Friday, 2 September 2016

The garden chronicles

It's one of those lists that all birders keep, even if they do not consider themselves to be listers - I would go as far to say that if any of them say that they do not keep this particular list, then they are fibbing. I'm talking about the 'garden list'. There is one great big crumb of comfort in keeping one, and that is, unless you live with another birder, you cannot be gripped off. Whether you live on a coastal headland or in a city centre, there are many hours of enjoyment to be had in its collation.

I have lived at my current address since August 1987. That means I have spent many thousands of hours looking out over the 90ft back garden and 25ft front. There is a mature ash tree, there was a Lawson's Cypress (felled in 2014) and the planting is a mixture of wildlife friendly and easy to maintain species. A small pond has been a fixture over the years. The area is mature residential with a recent trend for developers to buy up larger gardens and build on them. 85 species. That's my current total. This is not a figure derived from any systematic observation, but a product of casual birding, just as and when I'm sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, gardening with one eye on the skies above, or lying in bed with the window open (nocturnal calls are a rich vein of ornithological gold to mine!) I count all birds seen or heard from the garden. Here's a bit of detail...

The unusual
Two Spoonbills cruising over one June afternoon doesn't get more surprising. I've seen more of them than Mute Swans (just the one) which I was alerted to on hearing its wingbeats as I was hanging out the washing one morning. A flock of Wigeon were heard calling after dark on an early March evening (while I was, ahem, sitting on the loo!) I have now seen three separate Honey-buzzards (all August or September, the most recent last week). Red Kites are now increasing in the area, so I will expect my three records to be built upon. Just the one Peregrine, but they do breed but five miles away. A calling Pheasant was a surprise one calm morning, possibly from the smallholdings fairly near by. Nocturnal Moorhen calls number six, with Ringed Plover calling after dark twice (both while checking the moth trap). Each late April/May is the peak time for Bar-tailed Godwit passage, and this is reflected inland - I have heard them, after dark, on at least five occasions. Both Whimbrel records were during daylight hours, likewise the single Curlew and Common Sandpiper.  My Cuckoo count is now up to three, all calling spring birds, including one displaying above me as I washed the car - domestic chores are sometimes rewarded! One of the few times I actually sat out in the garden for a prolonged skywatch was rewarded with a Short-eared Owl cruising northwards one early May evening. Both Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail are less than annual visible migrants. A splendid male Black Redstart spent over a week in the vicinity one March (see picture above) which was one of the most enjoyable garden episodes. Rattling Lesser Whitethroats are not annual and a decreasing event. An October Firecrest was seen from the living room window in a neighbour's tree - my dash for binoculars set a Banstead all-comers record! Crossbill is not unexpected, if not quite annual, in a good year there will be multiples. Yellowhammer is confined to just the one calling visible migrant.

When we moved in, Bullfinches were a daily sight. They bred in the large neighbouring gardens and could always be heard as we went about our lives. A glance out of the window would often be rewarded by one (or several). In 2000 a new cul-de-sac was constructed on a swathe of mature gardens and almost overnight the finches left. Since then I have recorded the species just twice. Lapwings were a regular sight, especially in late summer/early autumn or when there was a cold snap, with flocks on the move. Not any more. Kestrel, Swift, House Martin, Willow Warbler, Starling, Greenfinch and Redpoll are other losers.

My first garden Common Buzzard was recorded in 2000 (13 years after living here). Now they are expected each and every day, with displaying birds a feature in spring. Ring-necked Parakeets have gone from exotic surprise to an noisy irritant (with evening roost gatherings into three figures). From May through to late June I would barely see a gull, but these summer months are now blessed (?) with them, mainly Herring. Green Woodpecker, Blackcap, Long-tailed Tit, Jackdaw and Goldfinch are all winners. A special mention must go to the humble House Sparrow. Luckily they have not undergone any slump locally, and flocks of them are still a feature.

What next?
I have long expected a winter skein of geese, Golden Plover, a tern, it's surprising that at least one Waxwing has not flown over calling, still no Spotted Flycatcher (although with each passing year it seems more unlikely), but my big money bet is on Raven.


Derek Faulkner said...

Seems I'm to join your very rare list of fibbers, because I don't have a garden list, despite living in this place for 30 years. I have never kept personal lists of birds despite being a birdwatcher for 55 odd years.

Steve Gale said...

You are a very rare beast indeed Derek...

Derek Faulkner said...

Well there you go, no doubt I'm not the only one, lists have never bothered me, I know what I've seen, that's good enough.