Monday, 4 February 2013

The Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

The Birdwatch was announced as the week-end of the year when gardeners all over Britain could help and get involved in something that really counts – counting birds in our gardens. I haven’t participated before, I haven’t even had bird feeders out in my garden before, but just after Christmas I decided that I wanted to try catch some nice photos of the birds I can hear around here, but never really see. I bought a bird feeder and some nice all-year bird food and waited for the birds to come running – flying.

As I have reported before, none came, and I therefore had to put my thinking hat on, do some reading on the Internet and ask my dear visitors for some help. My garden is quite small, with a very tall conifer at the bottom right – which you never really see, as a photo of it would mean just a photo of the conifer and nothing else! The pictures of my garden tend to just show the trunk and not the crown, but it is there, way up! I also have a very big camellia to the left which I know is populated by birds in the summer, as I can hear them twittering from inside it, so that’s why I placed the bird feeder close to it. In addition I have fences they can perch on and smaller bushes they can hide in. Should be an ideal place to feed, if they can just find me.

But back to the Big Garden Birdwatch. I sat there in my garden, Saturday a week ago, perched on a big pillow with a woolly throw over me and my camera ready next to me and pen and paper ready, waiting for the birds. I quickly noted down the pair of wood pigeons on my roof that has been nesting there for a couple of weeks, I always have wood pigeons there, I think it has something to do with the half pipe there, probably an excellent place for their eggs. In the 11 years I have lived here there has never been a time when I haven’t had woodpigeons on my roof. They make a lot of mess and a lot of noise. Writing down the wood pigeons felt a bit like cheating, I was supposed to count the birds in my garden that day, the pigeons live here! But I did count them – and those two were the only two birds I saw that hour, and the next two hours I was outside too. I tried to get a picture with them both, but as soon as one of them came out of the pipe, the other one went inside and out of sight. They were two, honestly :-)

So, what about my attempt to attract birds? I did fill the birdfeeder all the way up, but I removed some seeds on the seed tray after it had rained badly, they were just mush. Has there been some birds helping themselves to a tiny bit of seeds here? I am not sure – I have never seen any birds flying around the feeder or actually perching on it so I don’t know. I can see the birdfeeder from my kitchen window and I try to look out whenever I am passing to see if I can see any birds, but after a whole month in situ I can safely say this seed mix is not particularly interesting.

After writing about the bird feeder in early January and getting some feedback from my readers I bought some suet balls and hung it in my tree stump. It should be visible for any bird flying around, and I have hung it up with a hanging basket easy-pull so it should be easy for me to refill with more suet balls. Unfortunately the easy pull is not of the most expensive on the market so when I have tested it, it can be pulled down very easy and I haven’t really figured out how to lock it properly. I think if an eager little squirrel should jump on this feeder, it could get a ride of its life, down to the ground and back again! I haven’t caught any squirrels on it yet so haven’t been able to test it out yet, I have no idea how much force would be needed to pull out the chain, but I think most birds would be safe anyway.

To be honest I haven’t seen anything the slightest interested in the suet balls, but a closer inspection reveals that something MIGHT have had a nibble on the lowest ball. Not really sure, but I can’t remember there being a dimple on any of them so… hurray! Something might have had a bite! Hope they go on eating, I’ve got 12 more suet balls waiting for more hungry birds...

But I can tell you one thing that has been popular, along with the suet balls I also bought some sunflower seeds, and they have been eaten! I can see this area from my kitchen window too, and I haven’t seen a single bird eating here, but they might have been here when it’s been dark. Do birds feed in the dark? I might have been feeding the squirrels with the sunflower seeds instead, or perhaps even a fox? I don’t know if a fox would turn down 2 handfuls of lovely sunflower seeds if they were given them on a plate like this? Or maybe a badger? The plate is an upturned biscuit tin with the lid stuck down with double sided tape – the only thing I could think of at the time. I might have to buy another bird feeder at this rate, I want these lovely seeds to go the birds, not the rest of the wild population of East London! And the sunflower seeds are really yummy, I can’t resist having a taste every time I refill this plate, really scrummy, no wonder they have been popular!

So there you go, the homemade sunflower tray is refilled and the suet balls are just waiting for more visitors. Soon I am adding a bird bath, not much point in doing it yet as we are still having very low temperatures so the water would probably freeze, but in a couple of weeks I will add that too. And what about the seed mix in the birdfeeder? If it isn’t eaten, how long can it stay there, through rain and sun, and still be OK to eat, and more importantly, appetising to birds? Some comments would be great here, how long should I let the bird mix stay before I throw it away and refill it?

And lastly, even though we have quite cold weather, and the nice spring temperatures we had in the beginning of January seems far away, the plants are slowly making progress. Here are some of my many types of daffodils to the right, hyacinths to the left and crocosmias at the back.


And my primroses are just waiting for me to find enough time to plant them out!


I was meant to start pruning my roses this week-end, but the ice-cold London wind discouraged me from even starting. I took my photos and went back in. The roses can wait till next week-end I think. Oh, by the way, I did report my 2 wood pigeons to RSPB, I suppose all entries are important, also those that haven’t got much to report, I just wish I had something more exciting than 2 wood pigeons to report :-) Until next time, take care.

25 comments:

  1. We have a similar bird watch here. I've thought about joining in, but our garden seems to get the most interesting birds from early spring through November. In February, they're rather sparse--even though I keep the feeders full. Good luck with your suet and feeders!

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    1. Thanks Beth, we definitely have more birds later in the spring and summer, but there should be birds here all winter that doesn’t migrate – they just haven’t discovered my bird feeders yet!

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  2. First things first, those primroses are beautiful Helene and just look how tall those daff are!
    Can I offer up a couple of comments re your feeders -
    The taller one - too much food will just rot and go mouldy, you will end up wasting more that you buy (false economy) - as you are not over populated only put out a fraction of what you are.
    The suet balls - take the balls out of the nets, the smaller birds can get trapped in the netting and can die.
    Your ground feeder - try an old plate instead or do you have a broken piece of paving slab, even a rock with a flattened edge? As well as using bought feeders, I use a couple of terracotta pot saucers. Maybe the tin is too slippery?? Only a guess. Hopefully someone else will give you better advice re this.
    I can't comment on birds visiting at night either (I'm at work then) but Robins and Blackbirds are usually still be in my garden after sun has gone down. Of course there are birds that are nocturnal but I don't know if they only eat meat or not.
    There is obviously something eating your offerings - so keep at it!
    2 wood pigeons are better than no wood pigeons :)


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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Angie, really useful :-)
      I filled the birdfeeder a month ago, thinking the feed would be gone in a day or two, that has not happened as you can see. I will empty it and fill it just a quarter or so. I did wonder about the suet balls but there were no instructions with the balls, and I saw photos on the Internet of other people having them inside feeders with the nets so I thought maybe it was necessary as the suet balls would break apart. Also, if you hang up just one ball on a string, would you still not have them in a net?

      As for my ground feeder, I do have a small paving slab I could use, but I think I will give up the ground feeding for a while, as I am definitely feeding anything but birds. The tray is empty every morning and whatever is eating does it during the night, every night. I will buy another feeder and hang it in the same tree stump as the suet balls. Let’s see if all this can make a change!

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  3. Hi Helene, I honestly don't get it why by now the birds don't come to your bird feeder positinoned on the pole! It is just wired! The only thing I can think of is that it might be too exposed for them that they feel safe to snack there? I sure hope they will show up in the future for you! Love your daffs and the primroses!
    Christina

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    1. Hi Christina, yes I am wondering too if I should move the pole closer to my big conifer. We might get some more snow this week so I think the primroses still have it better in their little pots for now :-)

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  4. I'd definitely do more than fly by your garden if I was a bird! it is a bit strange that they've not found the lovely snacks yet. Maybe the mice are eating your sunflower seeds... they love them!
    Spring happens sooner in London than here so it's exciting to see all the shoots coming through knowing mine will be a couple of weeks behind!

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    1. You can come and visit my garden anytime :-)
      I love the sunflower seeds too, not sure what’s eating them but I am not keen on feeding the mice and rat population around here so I will buy another feeder and hang in the tree stump.

      The cold weather we have right now has slowed everything down, including the daffodils, I can’t wait for them to start flowering – it’s such an exciting time in my garden!

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  5. Hi Helene, I think part of the problem is that there just aren't that many birds in London so it can be a bit challenging. I also think your feeder might be a bit exposed. Looking at your garden, there may not be that much you can do about that. It helps to have the feeder close to trees or bushes where the birds can just hop on and off the feeder. I put mealworms on the wall under a tree and some of the more shy birds just snatch the food and whizz off.

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    1. I have decided to move the feeding pole to under the tall conifer, that way the birds can just drop down from the branches and right down to the feeder. I can hear a lot of birds normally when out in the garden, but I don’t usually see them, that’s why I thought that by starting to feed them I also would get to see them – and hopefully photograph them. But I think there are less birds now than normally so I hope when this cold period is over perhaps all the nice food I got lined up can be put to good use!

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  6. Helene, it's so pretty to see daffodils growing up in your garden despite of cold wind. The fresh greenness!Your primroses are still in pots, but mine are under the snow, I never dig them up in fall.

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    1. Hi Nadezda, spring is slowly coming to London :-)
      I don't lift my daffodils either, these ones were some I bought as tiny plug plants back in October, they have been growing in these pots outside, and are now ready to be planted out. I also have some pansies just about to flower, also bougt as plug plants.

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  7. Hi Helene, Persevere with your bird feeders and in time you should have more regular visitors. I see Angie mentioned removing the plastic netting from the suet balls..They used to just rot in our feeders until Myra started making them herself, I now have to add new ones every second day. When we used the regular mixed seed in feeders they weren't all that interested. Now we only use sunflower seedhearts, the birds love it, rather expensive though. Like your new look, I have just changed my theme and what a mess it is at the moment, I will work on it.

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    1. I took off the plastic netting today, but the balls broke apart inside the feeder so it will be a bit of a mess...The feeder is hanging over a flower bed so I wonder what’s going to be sprouting there in the summer! I moved the pole feeder to right next to the conifer, and the conifer had several sparrows (I think it was) sitting in it today, so the birds are here, they are just not that interested in what’s on offer. I made a temporary bird feeder out of a squash bottle for the sunflower seeds and hung it in the tree next to the suet balls, just to get it off the ground – at least I won’t be feeding mice, rats, badgers and/or foxes anymore. Hopefully it will be birds eating the seeds. They are expensive, yes, don’t think I can afford a whole bag of those every week!

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    2. By the way, how did you get on with Tesco and getting those Jaffa oranges, any luck?

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  8. I put up 2 suet feeders and had a few birds visit, but it is still too cold and snowy so not many birds. I will be participating in our Bird Watch next weekend...we shall see...I bet those feeders will be found soon.

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    1. I sure hope they will, I could hear twittering all around me when I was out in the garden pruning my roses today, there was no lack of birds!

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  9. I also have the cold and snowy weather and gets scores of birds. My yard is smaller than yours too. It is not the weather as some mentioned, since a snow covered landscape encourages them to come, it is how one landscapes a yard to give them safety, security and perching areas. A couple of your commenters above mentioned this. Birds see you peering at them and will feel unsafe. Your cats will make them feel unsafe. I agree also, that it is strange after all this time, so there must be an environmental reason as to why they are not coming. I wish you luck getting birds to visit.

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    1. Hi Donna, thanks for your thoughts, and it’s good to hear it’s not the weather, I wasn’t sure about that one either, as we do have non-migrating birds here in London, and although we seldom have snow in the winter we do have cold weather with frost and scarce food supply for the birds. I can hear the birds when I am outside, I can even see them in my tall conifer at times, and I have free view to the bird feeders from my kitchen window so I can watch without disturbing them. I haven’t caught any bird eating yet.
      The environmental reasons, if any, might be outside of my garden, could be just about anything.

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  10. We had a low bird count here too, but we hope we'll do better next year. When we put our feeders out for the first time, they just sat forlornly in the trees and we had a surprisingly long wait for visitors. Once one bird came, the numbers increased daily. I quietly moved another feeder to the same tree as the one the birds visited and that was used too. The feeders I didn't move remain unvisited. I cannot think of a reason for this - perhaps the birds haven't noticed the other feeders yet, since it took them so long to discover the first feeder!

    Do your neighbours feed the birds?


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    1. I have no idea if any of my neighbours feed the birds, there are 42 houses in this block and I just know of the 3 closest neighbours – typical London! Most of the neighbours, my next doors included, use their gardens for storing rubbish and don’t do any gardening. But I can see a few gardens down on one side from my upstairs bedroom where the gardens look quite nice. I kind of think that if you have a really unkempt garden with lots of rubbish you probably won’t be feeding the birds, but I might be wrong there :-)

      I moved the pole feeder yesterday, hopefully it will make a difference.

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  11. Wow, Helen, your garden is turning into a paradise, what is wrong with those silly birds? I think you're doing everything right - just have to be patient a little longer, they'll show up soon enough :)

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    1. OK, I will be patient, that I can do! I am not sure what else I can do. But I will buy another feeder for the sunflower seeds, the bottle is fine for now but I think it will be better with a proper feeder. I just want to see if the first batch of seeds I put out will be eaten like they were when they were on the ground. I will report when/if there is anything to report!

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  12. Wow, I wish we could change homes for a while :o). We've got lot of snow again *brrrr* and your daffodils look rather good in progress. Ours are still deep in the ground sleeping.
    And probably I start to think about roses in March.
    Have a lovely day
    Alex

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    1. Well, it is veeeery cold here in London right now, so I think my daffodils regret a bit heading off that early! They haven't started flowering yet though, but a few warm days and they probably will. I am finished pruning my roses so I am ready for spring :-)

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