Friday, 22 April 2011

Home Pleasures

I spend a lot of my working time visiting fantastic locations across the UK to see rare and fascinating wildlife, but this last couple of days as I've been working flat out and not getting home until 8pm. To relax therefore, in the evening, and morning for that matter, I've just been relaxing at home. And in doing so, appreciating the wildlife my garden has to offer. It may not be exotic, but we often overlook the common place and after all these are "my" birds.

I'm fortunate in that my house backs onto farmland which then becomes the North Somerset Levels before falling into the sea at Sand Bay on the Bristol Channel. From the spare bedroom window, where this view was taken, I can see the Black Mountains in Wales on a good day, but often foxes padding about the field.

But ever since moving here 2 years ago, I've loved the fact the house is actually a home to a myriad of birds. Although it is a modern house, in the eves as I write this posting there are at least 3 starling nests. How do I know this, well apart from seeing half eggshells on the path, or watching the adults zooming in and out, I can hear the chicks chirruping. In fact if I gently tap my bedroom ceiling off they start clammering for food. Don't try this at home, as the chicks use up energy chirruping so if the adults aren't feeding they'll not replace that effort.

Soon the house martins will be back. I have 2 old nests at the moment on the front of the house. Last year 3 broods fledged which was fabulous, if not a little messy on my window sills.

Back to the present then. Last night I sat outside for an hour as the night faded. Joining me was the resident collared dove who is becoming more sociable. There is a nest in the conifer just outside the garden, hopefully then there will be a family of dove-ttes in the garden soon.

Around the small pond a female blackbird hunted for titbits and all around the large number of sparrows here squabbled and chirruped. What is lovely of course is that just sitting and observing the familiar wildlife in the garden for an hour, makes me realise that I don't spend enough time these days just sitting, observing. Good field biologists will tell you, the only way to really understand and observe wildlife is to spend hours and hours just quietly watching behaviour. And by sitting quietly, wildlife always comes to you, there really is no need to go and find the wildlife in any situation, just sit still for a while and they'll all come closer.

An example of this is that yesterday morning I stood at the kitchen window for 20 minutes (while washing up) watching a blue tit pulling moss from the lawn, presumably to line the nest. Frustratingly although it returned 9 times to collect moss, each time I tried to take a photograph, it flew off. The resident sparrows were of course more obliging.

In the same area recently I watched a wren systematically picking off insects from the two climbing roses I have, fascinating to watch as it went up and down every branch. And this is what is fascinating about watching wildlife at home in the garden. We all think, oh yes there's a lot of birds in the garden, but how many of us actually watch what they're doing, how often, why and when? I know you bloggers will, but the general public probably miss a lot of free entertainment by not taking time to observe for prolonged periods.

Such as this morning. I made a cup of tea and sat for 30 minutes watching what was in or flying over my garden. House sparrows were in evidence of course (I always scan every bird looking for tree sparrows, which while very rare in this area are nonetheless here in single numbers - I'm still waiting, ever hopefull). Blackbird and starling, collared dove too. But then I noticed beyond the garden line with the aid of binoculars, herring gull, magpie, rook, carrion crow, buzzard, 3 goldfinch, a green finch and finally a swallow, first I've seen here this year

So this weekend, maybe instead of joining the massed crowds heading to the sea or spending a lot of money at an event, why not stay at home, unpack a deck chair, sit in the garden and just quietly watch, observe and see what is actually happening "at home". I know I will with my binoculars and camera close by.

Just a final notice as I know some of you like to listen. On Sunday 1st May my next radio programme will be airing, Living World on the birds of Islay, on the 8th is a programme about the daffodils of Dymock produced by a colleague, then 2 more from me, on the 15th will be oil beetles and the 22nd May, raft spider. This latter one I'm off to record on Wednesday in Shropshire, here's hoping the weather remains warm and settled. I can't wait.



  1. That's a lovely posting Andrew. Its amazing the wildlife you can see in the garden when you take the time to observe closely. And, as you say, its a great place to really watch animal and bird behaviour all from the comfort of your own home.

    Thanks for giving details of the next Living World programmes - I look forward to them.

    Happy Easter to you too!

  2. I too have been watching and waiting for the housemartins to return. So far I have seen five in my area (a lot of the houses in my street also have nests) but give it a couple of weeks and the numbers will easily be in excess of fifty. I used to have about twelve nests on the side of the house but now unfortunately have about nine as they are old and pretty delapidated and some have dried and fallen off. One houses sparrows and you can watch dad ferverently collecting food all day back and forth from the nest.

    I've also got Great Tits nesting in the soffit board above my bathroom window - right opposite the sparrows funnily enough - the soffit board is their partition.

    I've also got some starlings nesting in the big tree at the back of the house and I'm hoping that the pair of robins I saw at the beginning of the year have once again renested in the same tree (lots of ivy covers it so it's good for all manner of birds)as they did last year and had four babies. All great stuff to watch!