Sidmouth’s citizen scientists took part in the annual Big Garden Bird Watch during the last weekend of January.  This is possibly the largest citizen science project anywhere as thousands of people across the country record the birds that visit their gardens and then submit their counts to the RSPB.  The sheer scale of the data collected, over 9 million birds this year, allows the conservation charity to see a clear picture of how some of our best loved bird species are faring.

Surveying populations is a vital part of conservation activity.  It is only when we know what we have that plans can be put in place to protect and promote local biodiversity, and then see if what we are doing is working.  People put out bird food, create ponds, plant wild flower patches, and change their mowing, all in the hope of helping nature, but we need to know if all the effort is achieving the goal.

Professional ecologists have collected a lot of data that shows our bird populations are in decline for a number of reasons.  The key thing about the Big Garden Bird Watch is that it engages lots of people, the more people looking out for nature, the bigger the impact it is likely to have.

The RSPB’s national report will not be out for a while, a link to that report will appear on the Biodiversity Group website along with a full report on the local sightings.  Unlike the national figures, our small sample cannot be used to make general statements, but it is interesting to see what is happening in our valley.  

The Big Garden Birdwatch involves settling down for an hour and counting the birds that visit your garden.  To avoid double counting of birds that come and go, only the largest number of birds seen at one time is recorded.  Our volunteer observers recorded a total of 309 birds in 15 separate gardens.

When compiling a top five or ten of visitors, winter birds can be put into two distinct groups, the more or less solitary garden visitors and those birds that stay together in flocks outside of the breeding season.  They are spectacular when they arrive, but you are unlikely to have more than one or two woodpeckers on your birdfeeder.  On the other hand, Long-tail Tits, Sparrows and Starlings will turn up mob-handed.

The most frequent local visitor was the Blue Tit which was seen in 14 of the fifteen gardens, usually in ones and twos, but there was one group of five birds all at the same time.  Second were Blackbirds, seen in all but two of the gardens.  The stunning flashes of red and yellow feathers of the Goldfinches were only seen in 6 gardens, but they move in small flocks during the winter and 14 of them landed in one of the gardens and they are number 3 on the local list.  

One of my personal favourites is the diminutive Long-tail Tit, how could you not love a bird that weaves a nest from cobwebs and lichen?  When I lived on the edge of town near woodland, several times a day a flock of more than a dozen of these charming acrobats would be clambering about looking for insects in the shrubbery and flitting across to the bird feeders.  Last year they were second on the Sidmouth list but this year they have slipped down to 7th.  It is difficult to say why, I’m hoping that there are as many of them about but, with the mild winter, they might have stayed out in the woodland because there is plenty of food and they do not need the garden feeders.  Certainly, local photographer Paul Clayden had no trouble finding them in The Byes recently.

SVBG is a not for profit organisation dependant on volunteers, grants and donations.  Without funding we cannot operate and many of our biodiversity projects will cease.

Even the smallest donation can make a difference to wildlife such as the kingfisher on our logo.  

The easiest way to donate a small sum is to click here to Donate

lf you want to give a larger donation, or for a specific project please get in touch via our Contacts page

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