Get ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch 26-28 January
New year, new resolutions? Why not make 2019 the year you make an effort to connect with the nature on your doorstep?
A great way to begin is by taking an interest in our local birds. All of these species have been recorded in OP:
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Long Tailed Tit
The following tips on getting children into birdwatching have been sourced and adapted from an article by Paul Brook in January’s edition of Bird Watching magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulBrook76
If you’re trying birding as a family, it’s important to make it fun. If you can give children something to do, then it’s more likely to be attractive to them. You can get children to help with feeding the birds (click here and scroll down to section 3 for feeding tips) or take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – more on that below.
Focussing on cool birds – such as the spectacular and exciting Sparrowhawk, or our plentiful variety of brightly coloured birds like Blue Tits and Goldfinches – helps provide visual appeal to children and adults alike.
By feeding birds in your garden, you can attract birds so you can look at them closely and without the need for binoculars and telescopes as children can find these difficult to use until they’re practiced.
Try to find the names of your bird visitors – this RSPB page helps you to identify the most common birds reported in the Birdwatch. So far we’ve recorded all of these in OP except the Coal Tit and House Sparrow.
Get children to help with making or installing a nest box for your garden.
Share your enthusiasm and excitement – if you’re knowledgeable about our birds, pass on your knowledge. Or, if you don’t know what a particular bird is, then find out as a family. They’re all quite fascinating if you take a little time to learn about them, even the little brown jobs like the Dunnock.
It’s time to get ready for Big Garden Birdwatch 2019!
Get ready for 26-28 January. You can Sign-up on the RSPB website to request a FREE postal pack, or take part online.
The RSPB developed this event in 1979 as a simple winter activity especially for their junior membership to get involved in – so perfect for the kids. They asked asked members to count the birds in their gardens, all at the same time, so they could work out what the UK’s top 10 most common garden birds are.
It’s a weekend activity that you can do in the garden, or even from the comfort of your home. If you don’t have a garden you could head off to Topper St play area to look for birds in the mature trees, or to the edge of the Wildlife Area near the sports ground.
With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with almost 40 years worth of data, Big Garden Birdwatch allows the RSPB to monitor trends and helps them understand how birds are doing. Read more by clicking here.
Winter can be a very difficult time for wildlife, with plummeting temperatures and scarce food. Find out how you can help OP’s wildlife through this tough period1.
Some species, such as birds and squirrels, don’t hibernate, but struggle to stay alive – using up fat reserves just to stay warm. Other animals and insects hunker down in log and leaf piles, nestle into tree bark, or bury themselves in compost heaps or mud3.
By putting out additional food, gardeners can make a significant contribution to supporting wildlife over winter. It is also a great way to watch wildlife even in the smallest of gardens or balconies, often at very close quarters2.
It is surprisingly easy to do something to help garden wildlife in the lean and cold months of winter. Even if you carry out – or refrain from doing4– just a few of the following tasks, it can make a difference2.
I’m so happy to see this Robin (Erithacus rubecula) that had been suffering with mites (I sought a likely diagnosis and advice from the RSPB), has recovered due to regular feeding in my garden – proof that a little help works. The eye problem is still visible now, and the robin often scratches and shakes with itchiness, but the RSPB said it’s very likely the mites will die off completely in the cold, so that after moulting in Spring, the new feathers will be unaffected.
1. Let your garden go wild1,2
Leave undisturbed wild areas in your garden – piles of leaves or brushwood can make the perfect nest in which animals can hide, rest and hibernate.
By leaving the task of tidying your garden borders and shrubs until early spring, shelter can be provided for insects throughout winter.
Make an insect or bug hotel and put up in a sheltered position. Overwintering ladybirds and lacewings will find this useful.
Recreate the nooks and crannies insects hibernate in by tying up bamboo and sunflower stems, and leave them in a dry spot in the garden.
You can also provide late-flying insects with a source of food by soaking a clean sponge in a solution made from an equal mix of sugar and water.
In late winter, clean out bird boxes so they are ready for new nests in spring.
Leave healthy herbaceous and hollow-stemmed plants unpruned until early spring. These can provide homes for overwintering insects.
If you have a compost heap, this will become a welcome habitat for toads, and even grass snakes and slow-worms.
2. Break the ice and provide water1,2
If your garden pond freezes over, ensure you make a hole in the ice. Toxic gases can build up in the water of a frozen pond, which may kill any fish or frogs that are hibernating at the bottom.
When you make a hole in the ice, it is very important to do so by carefully placing a pan of hot water on the surface.
Never break the ice with force or tip boiling water onto the pond, as this can harm or even kill any fish that live in it.
Provide a shallow dish or container of water at ground level. This will benefit other garden wildlife that needs to drink, as well as birds.
3. Feed the birds1,2,3
Birds may find it difficult to find natural foods such as berries, insects, seeds, worms and fruit during this cold season. Therefore, any extra food you can put out will help.
Leave food out for birds regularly and every day when possible, and fill up longer lasting feeders if you’re away.
Place fat blocks in wire cages. Balls in plastic nets are not recommended as birds such as woodpeckers can get their tongues caught.
Create your own fat blocks by melting suet into moulds such as coconut shells or logs with holes drilled in.
Alternate different recipes to entice a range of birds; peanut cakes for starlings, insect cakes for tits and berry cakes for finches.
Put out finely chopped bacon rind and grated cheese for small birds such as wrens.
Although fat is important, do also provide a grain mix or nuts to maintain a balanced diet.
Sparrows, and finches will enjoy prising the seeds out of sunflower heads.
No-mess mixes are more expensive but the inclusion of de-husked sunflower hearts means there is less waste. Inferior mixes are often padded out with lentils.
Use wire mesh feeders for peanuts and seed feeders for other seed. Specially designed feeders are needed for the tiny niger seed, loved by goldfinches.
Feed placed on a wire mesh held just off the ground will entice ground-feeding birds such as robins and dunnocks.
Thrushes and blackbirds favour fruit. Scatter over-ripe apples, raisins and song-bird mixes on the ground for them.
Nearly half of all hedgehogs die during their first winter. Many starve, while those born in late-summer are often too small to hibernate, and so are unable to survive the cold weather. In mild winters, hedgehogs are prone to waking up, having been tricked into believing it is spring. They waste valuable fat reserves looking for food.
Leave a dish of water and dog or cat food, sunflower seeds, and nutsto help boost their fat reserves, until it’s no longer taken (usually mid- to late-autumn when they enter hibernation). Do not give fish-based food, milk, or bread because they cause diarrhoea and dehydration.
Check bonfires before lighting them, preferably making it on the day you intend to light it.
If you find a baby hedgehog, keep it warm in a tall-sided box with hot water bottle on the bottom, covered with a thick towel. Feed with cat or dog food and water and visit britishhedgehogs.org.uk for advice.
As shown by this great aerial photo, we have green space around and within OP and you’ll be surprised to see what lives here – if you take a moment to look. This blog page explores some motivations for conserving our urban biodiversity and is based on scientific research. Perhaps you’ll see something that encourages you to take positive action if you haven’t been stirred to do so yet.
But what prevents you from taking positive action for our wildlife?
Is there something missing here that would motivate you to get involved? If so, please do get in touch and tell us, we’re open to new ideas and suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org
The diagram above, and selected motivations for conserving urban biodiversity explored briefly below are taken from Dearborn & Kark (2010).
As surprising as it may seem to some, OP offers an important setting for conservation biology, as do most urban areas, though “people’s attitudes towards nature might influence whether they connect with it” (Dickinson & Hobbs 2017).
A lot needs to come together to be successful in conserving biodiversity in our Urban Green Space:
“…diverse stakeholders – including ecologists, managers, developers, students, and citizens – should be encouraged to join in collaborative networks to share data, engage in interdisciplinary research, and discuss urban biodiversity management, design, and planning.”
OPWP engages with these diverse stakeholders and to a greater or lesser extent in most activities mentioned in this quote. We welcome anyone with knowledge or skills to share and help, or anyone that would like to learn.
To preserve our local biodiversity
“Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of UK species declined. Of the nearly 8,000 species assessed using modern criteria, 15% are threatened with extinction. This suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
Of the 218 countries assessed for ‘biodiversity intactness’, the UK is ranked 189, a consequence of centuries of industrialisation, urbanisation and overexploitation of our natural resources.”
Given the depressing figures above, surely we should all do what we can to help? OP sits on a former green site and most wildlife habitat was destroyed for the development.
To create stepping stones to nonurban habitat
“Increasing the area of habitat patches and creating a network of corridors is the most important strategy to maintain high levels of urban biodiversity”
Ensuring OP’s habitats such as the Wildlife Area, Orchard, Wildflower Bank, and Living Roof on the Community Centre are properly managed is important, and we welcome volunteers to help with that. A few years ago we raised funds to have a Habitats Management Plan written for us by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire, and this plan guides our practical habitat management activities. We also encourage the Community Council to adopt its recommendations.Orchard Park Management Plan
As well as the habitats mentioned above that have been created with wildlife in mind, the total area of all of our small gardens added together – if each is made a bit more wildlife friendly – could play a role in increasing OP’s wildlife habitat, and in creating these stepping stones to our neighbouring green areas. As Aronson et al. (2017) note most people are unaware of how their decisions of what they do with their gardens affect biodiversity in their own and their neighbours’ gardens. OPWP works to improve this understanding and promote how suitably managed gardens can support wildlife, with the aim of enhancing biodiversity across OP.
To connect people to nature and conduct environmental education
“Studies support the idea that the experience of biodiversity, actual childhood interaction with variation and diversity with living and nonliving items from nature allows children important learning opportunities, inclusive of biodiversity understanding. The results support practical implications for sensory rich environmental education and underscores the practical importance of childhood access to nature”.
OPWP runs a range of free wildlife themed activities through the year that aim to be fun and informative for adults and children.
To provide ecosystem services
“Because ecosystem services are, by definition, for humans, it makes sense to ensure they are provided in areas where human population density is high. In an urban context, even small green spaces can provide high-impact ecosystem services, if they are well planned.”
Such ecosystem services include:
pollinating (Mendes et al. 2008)
improving some aspects of air quality in urban areas (Dearborn & Kark 2010)
sequestering substantial amounts of carbon through increased urban vegetation (Pickett et al. 2008)
To fulfill ethical responsibilities
“In many philosophical, religious, and secular traditions, there is a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet.”
“Biodiversity conservation in urban areas could facilitate the fulfillment of these moral obligations because opportunities for conservation are located in or near residential neighborhoods. This geographic proximity allows people to more easily experience the reinforcement of having lived by their ethical or religious mandates. For individuals without an existing sense of environmental responsibility, exposure to urban biodiversity (particularly via educational programs) may help instill a conservation ethic.”
By showing people that are not aware of what lives here that we’ve got hundreds of species on our doorstep, OPWP tries to instill a conservation ethic. People can’t care and take action for things they know little or nothing about.
Research has shown through our being in greener spaces and interacting with our urban nature that:
our mental health benefits (Clark et al. 2014)
we gain improved regulation of our immune systems by contact with microbiota (Rook 2013)
we have a space for contemplation and relaxation (Niemelä 1999)
stress and pain are reduced (Hansmann et al. 2007)
active habitat management can be effective for depression (Townsend 2006)
we report higher measures of subjective well-being (Carrus et al. 2015)
we gain a sense of discovery, and social connection (Dickinson & Hobbs 2017)
These are just a few of the documented benefits, there are a plethora of studies proving that helping to give nature a home can benefit you too.
Aronson, M.F. et al., 2017. Biodiversity in the city: key challenges for urban green space management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(4), pp.189–196.
Beery, T. & Jørgensen, K.A., 2016. Children in nature: sensory engagement and the experience of biodiversity. Environmental Education Research, 24(1), pp.13–25.
Beninde, J., Veith, M. & Hochkirch, A., 2015. Biodiversity in cities needs space: a meta-analysis of factors determining intra-urban biodiversity variation N. Haddad, ed. Ecology Letters, 18(6), pp.581–592.
Berry, T., 2006. Evening thoughts: reflections on the Earth as a spiritual community. In San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, pp. 1–10.
Carrus, G. et al., 2015. Go greener, feel better? The positive effects of biodiversity on the well-being of individuals visiting urban and peri-urban green areas. Landscape and Urban Planning, 134, pp.221–228.
Clark, N.E. et al., 2014. Biodiversity, cultural pathways, and human health: a framework. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29(4), pp.198–204.
Dickinson, D.C. & Hobbs, R.J., 2017. Cultural ecosystem services: Characteristics, challenges and lessons for urban green space research. Ecosystem Services, 25, pp.1–247. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.04.014.
Hansmann, R., Hug, S.-M. & Seeland, K., 2007. Restoration and stress relief through physical activities in forests and parks. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 6(4), pp.213–225.
Mendes, W. et al., 2008. Using Land Inventories to Plan for Urban Agriculture: Experiences From Portland and Vancouver. Journal of the American Planning Association, 74(4), pp.435–449.
Niemelä, J., 1999. Ecology and urban planning. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8, pp.119–131.
Pickett, S.T.A. et al., 2008. Beyond Urban Legends: An Emerging Framework of Urban Ecology, as Illustrated by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. BioScience, 58(2), pp.139–150.
Rook, G.A., 2013. Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: An ecosystem service essential to health. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(46), pp.18360–18367.
Goldfinch, they occur at Orchard Park and like nyjer seed
I made a comment a few days ago “wow there’s a lot of angry birds in my garden”. I watch them a lot to see if I can identify patterns in their behaviour, to find out which species/individuals always get the food, and which species/individuals get the water to drink or bathe in. Over the last week or so I’ve had a Robin (Erithacus rubecula) with an almost bald head visiting, I’m not certain but it might also have something wrong with its right eye, so I always look out for that particular bird to see that it manages some food before it’s bullied away by another bird. Having looked it up, it seems the poor Robin might have mites, and there’s not much to be done except making sure it gets food. As I write I think it’s just appeared at the suet pellets – but I don’t want to move too much to check and then scare it away, and I can hear and see aggressive Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) fighting each other for the nyger seed. The Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) seem to be the most aggressive though.
Luckily, Twitter served up a paper last night entitled “Dominance hierarchies and foraging strategies in supplementally fed garden birds”. It explains that aggression and competition for resources use a lot of energy, and fighting causes injury and sometimes death. So often, when the competition is ‘won’ repeatedly by particular individuals, a hierarchy will be formed with certain birds being dominant or subordinate, and they come to assess their chances of winning a fight prior to engaging.
The paper also states that three quarters of UK households regularly feed the birds. By feeding them, we are likely to have enhanced the survival and reproductive success of birds, but we are also likely to have increased the competition for food, both within and between species. Research reported in the paper found that socially dominant, heavier species of birds with higher body mass, monopolise access to higher value foods. Whereas lighter species were constrained to food with lower value. This has implications for conservation when supplemental feeding is being used as a tool.
Advice from the RSPB states: to reduce competition, offer a variety of food, and if possible space it out in your garden. Think of the smaller bird species and offer food in hanging feeders with cages which the larger species can’t get in. If you have a wooden post, you can fill cracks with suet, to attract small agile birds such as Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great tits (Parus major). Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) hop around under hedges and like to feed on the ground, so food can be put on a tray on the ground for them, or small amounts suet pellets can be scattered directly onto the ground.
I was lucky to see a juvenile blackbird in the garden this morning. I stepped away to get my camera but sadly it moved away before I could get a photo, so I’ve used this great picture by Peter Trimming.
It’s the time of year when we’ll be starting to see fledglings around. So far I’ve seen just a single blue tit fledgling, calling continuously and flapping it’s wings rapidly to attract the attention of its parent to beg for food. If you find a baby bird and you’re concerned about it, check the RSPB info below , and see their website for advice on what to do.
Feeding birds is to be encouraged all year round, but at this time of the year it will help them feed their young too. See the RSPCA’s Guide to Feeding Birds for more information.
It’s also the time of year when we’re starting to get more flowers too. The Wildflower Bank on Ring Fort Rd has had Cowslips this year so far, but we’ll have to wait a little while before it’s in all it’s flowery glory.
Education Services 2010 have kindly provided funding, and some structural materials were donated generously by Kettles Yard, to make a sign for the Wildflower Bank showing its variety of flowers, and the invertebrates that each type of flower supports. Orchard Park Primary School children will be helping to create content for the sign.
We’re also looking into the feasibility of running a mini bioblitz, an activity when naturalists and members of the public work together to find as many species as possible within a set location and time, at the Wildflower Bank during National Insect Week 18-24 June. National Insect Week’s video shows why insects are so important.
This is the first time I’ve seen Greenfinches in the garden. No doubt they were attracted here for the food I put out. I’ve also seen a Song Thrush, again not a usual visitor. The garden is in general, much busier than usual. It’s good to know I’m doing a little to help them get through this cold snap.
Birds will be having a difficult time trying to find food at the moment. The following is taken directly from the RSPB and explains simple but important steps you can take to help. Read more by clicking: here
“To keep their energy up during the colder months, the best way to help your garden birds is by providing them with a variety of food, but fatty food will be especially helpful. For example, fat balls or homemade bird cakes, which only take a few minutes to make and can be a great children’s activity, are perfect for your feathered friends. These can be made cheaply with kitchen scraps and lard. If you prefer, seeds, fruits or dried mealworms are also among birds’ favourite snacks.
Another vital support for vulnerable birds is fresh water for drinking and bathing. Finding sources of water can be hard for birds when there’s been a frost, but with a simple trick you can help to keep a patch of water ice-free. The RSPB recommends floating a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water as a light breeze will stop an area of water from freezing.
Finally, providing shelter from the harsh weather is extremely important. By carefully planting dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or allowing ivy or holly to grow: you’ll be giving birds a great place to roost in and shelter from the elements. Nestboxes can also make good roosting sites.”
You could consider purchasing Ecopond’s Ice Free for Bird Bathsto prevent water supplies from freezing down to -4C or put out some warm water. It is a specialist product that won’t harm birds. It’s very important NOT to use any salt or antifreeze products.
The holly and the ivy….. their ripening fruits are a sign Christmas is coming soon. Plant some ivy! It’s a great addition to a wildlife garden. It provides some of the latest flowers of the year, full of nectar for insects – butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, and some species of bees will rely on it. As well as late nectar, ivy produces late fruit for birds such as thrushes.
Ivy can also provide winter shelter for hibernating moths, and nest cover for small birds like Wrens and Robins.
Although it is a hardy plant, I managed to kill an ivy plant. Knowing its wildlife value though, I’m going try again this year……
Below is a compilation of information about how to help our local wildlife in Autumn.
From Gardeners’ World Website:
Remove leaves from paths or lawns but transfer them to a corner or beneath a hedge, where hedgehogs and other animals can crawl for shelter.
Male frogs often spend winter in the muddy depths of ponds, breathing through their skin. But if the pond freezes over, gases caused by decaying plant material can get trapped and poison them. Remove debris from ponds now, and float a tennis or golf ball on the surface to prevent ice from sealing it.
Put bundles of twigs at the back of borders, or in a plant pot on its side, where invertebrates and small mammals can shelter.
Leave herbaceous borders intact in winter so decaying plants can act as a ‘winter duvet’ for small mammals and insects. Clumps of ornamental grasses may offer the perfect hibernaculum for a hedgehog, while hollow plant stems and seedheads provide nooks and crannies for invertebrates. Seedheads are also a source of oil-rich food for birds which may visit to feed.
Leave stacks of plant pots in a sheltered spot to offer shelter for bees and other insects needing a cool, dry place.
A variety of species, including hedgehogs and queen bumblebees, find compost heaps the perfect place to hibernate. if your heap is in a plastic bin with a lid, this will keep it dry, but be sure to provide access for hibernators at the base by standing the bin on bricks. If you have an open bin, cover it with a thick piece of old carpet to keep it dry and insulated. Avoid disturbing the bin between autumn and April, when all species will have finished their long snooze.
From House Beautiful Website:
One of the best plants for your garden wildlife is ivy, especially in autumn and winter. Many flowering plants will start to die during the colder season, whereas ivy flowers are only starting to flourish. These prove to be an important source of food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators when other nectar-bearing plants are dying off.The evergreen nature of ivy is perfect for sheltering birds and insects while other trees lose all their leaves. If that wasn’t enough, ivy also produces winter berries that are a wonderful food source for birds, who use their energy to control their own body temperature.
Nurturing garden ivy is probably the most important piece of advice for helping nature survive this autumn and winter.
It’s important to keep their food and water sources topped up in your garden. As soon as the temperatures drop and the natural berries disappear, birds will appreciate your offering – they rely on high-energy, high-fat winter food to fuel them through the colder months.
From The Mammal Society: The once familiar hedgehog has declined dramatically over the past few decades. Surprisingly, for such a well-loved creature, very little is known about why the hedgehog is in crisis. This makes it difficult to target conservation efforts to where they will be most effective. It is presumed that road accidents, and the loss of suitable, well-connected habitat might be important. Yet in some areas the hedgehog still seems to be thriving. It is not known whether this is because they are being given supplementary food in people’s gardens.
We are therefore appealing for you to help with our Big Hedgehog Watch Project. We want to know how long it is since you last saw a hedgehog; whether any were spotted in your garden or neighbourhood last year; and whether you feed your prickly visitors. Last year, almost 4,000 people responded in just 4 weeks and the survey revealed that:
87% of people that reported sightings saw them in their garden;
Almost 70% of the people that saw hedgehogs in their gardens fed them
Almost 70% of the people that fed them saw the hedgehogs more than five times
Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal Society says “Hedgehogs sadly, are experiencing an unprecedented decline throughout the UK and we are still not sure of the cause. We are therefore appealing for people to fill in this survey and let us know of their last hedgehog sighting, dead or alive. Even if it more than a year since you saw one, please tell us because it helps us to identify where hedgehogs are disappearing”.
The online survey is available on the Mammal Society website and takes just a few minutes to complete. All completed surveys will go towards the conservation of one of our most loved species. You can also help hedgehogs by contributing to the Mammal Society’s hedgehog appeal. To donate or to fill in the survey, visit www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/surveys
The survey will be open until 1st December 2017.
Cambridge seems to be a good place for hedgehogs, let’s keep feeding them to ensure we help to maintain our local population. For more ideas on what you can do to help see: https://hedgehoggardens.wordpress.com
The following are taken directly from the email newsletter from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), written by Claire Boothby, Garden BirdWatch Development Officer. They feature information on the Goldfinch, a bird commonly seen in Orchard Park, Waxwings seen in large numbers early this year in the nearby Science Park, and how to attract birds to your garden.