Ready, steady... are you up for a challenge?
Gardens, and the views to be gained from our windows, are going to become increasingly important for the birder in the weeks to come. The area that directly surrounds us will become the provider of what species will come our way, in tandem with the weather conditions, local fly-lines and our own effort. The map above shows the proximity of my home to open areas. To give some sense of scale, I can clearly hear Skylarks in song as they display over the small holdings to the north of me.
I've been preparing for the forthcoming 'garden birdathon', self-imposed or not. A Kent birder of my acquaintance and I have agreed to a friendly challenge, starting today and finishing whenever this dreadful virus is deemed to be under control, which may, unfortunately, be some time. The challenge is simple, keeping a count of how many species of bird we record from our gardens. The winner will be the person who records the highest percentage of their historical garden list. My garden total - birds seen in or from it - since August 1987, comes in at 92 species, not bad for a suburban area. Plenty of these, a whopping 18.4%, are of single records, and if you factor in those species that have been seen five times or fewer, this brings the total of 'rare' back garden birds to 30.4% of that total, a considerable chunk. These rarer species are:
Single records only: Spoonbill (two birds), Wigeon (flock calling at night), Pheasant, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Black Redstart, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Raven, Hawfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting
2-5 records: Mute Swan, Honey Buzzard, Peregrine, Moorhen (nocturnal calls), Ringed Plover (nocturnal calls), Bar-tailed Godwit (nocturnal calls), Whimbrel, Cuckoo, Little Owl, Yellow Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat.
A few species, notably Lapwing, Willow Warbler and Bullfinch, have slipped from being regulars to becoming rare. Others have swapped being rare for becoming regular, in particular Common Buzzard, Red Kite and Ring-necked Parakeet.
Back garden sky-watching can be slow, but the rewards, when they come, are all the more personal. If anybody else wants to join in this 'percentage' challenge, just shout. The more the merrier as they say and I can collate the totals and post updates.