I’m typing this on a lunch break, from my small upstairs box room that I converted into a home-working space when the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we live and work for the foreseeable future. I don’t have the most inspiring view; I can see three rows of houses and, beyond, tantalising slivers of snowy hills peaking above the rooftops.
There are birds, however. Lots of them. House sparrows, goldfinches and starlings swoop past in small groups, chirping excitedly and incessantly. Gulls chase crows, attempting to mug them of their prizes – a bread crust or other goody gleaned from a back yard. An occasional sparrowhawk stands sentinel on a chimney pot.
It’s fascinating to compare this urban frontage of the house with the far wilder rear, where only an hour of patient watching reveals a far wider range of birds. At the back, our garden is bordered at the furthest point by oak, willow, rowan and alder trees bordering a railway embankment. Beyond that, a hundred meters or so of gorse, scrub and grass that terminates at a ruined pier and the brackish shores of the Clyde estuary. It’s a far less domesticated aspect than the lawns, bricked driveways and wheelie bins I can see from my “office”.
So far, this January alone, I’ve enjoyed watching a variety of feathered visitors in the back garden: blackbird, blue tit, carrion crow, chaffinch, coal tit, collared dove. dunnock, goldcrest, goldfinch, great tit, greenfinch, house sparrow, long tailed tit, robin, redpoll, siskin, song thrush, starling, wood pigeon and wrens. In the past, we’ve been excited to have also received visits from treecreeper, blackcap, great-spotted woodpecker, sparrowhawk, redstart, redwing, waxwing, brambling, and mistle thrush, so I’m hopeful my list will expand.
In particular I was pleased to see both the goldcrest and long-tailed tit visit the garden for the first time (that I have noticed, anyway). Having spent more time at home, I feel I am observing more frequent and more varied visitors in greater numbers than in previous years, and I wonder if my experience is replicated across other households? Am I noticing more because I am spending more time observing? Or is this a particularly good year for garden birds? Is it just because I am filling the feeders more often, and our birds know an easy meal when they see it!
Perhaps these questions will be answered after the Great Garden Birdwatch, organised annually by the RSPB, and one of the longest- running citizen science projects of it’s kind. Anyone can get involved – simply choose any hour between 29th and 31st January, and count the birds you see in your garden or local greenspace from your window. You don’t have to be a die-hard twitcher or birdwatcher, and all of the resources you need – such as identification guides- are at the link above. Once the results are published it will be fascinating to see if the unusual events impacting human activity over the past year have also had an effect on our garden visitors.
If you don’t do it already, taking the time to listen and observe mindfully is an enjoyable, calming and relaxing activity, and when it’s something you can do from your window, why not give it a try?