Written by Derek Moore
However much we go birding to well known sites such as nature reserves, where we are guaranteed a variety of species and the occasional rarity, it is good to have a local patch where regular observations can be made.
This could be your garden. whatever the size. Feeding garden birds has been the pastime of many for decades and has now been turned into a science by the British Trust for Ornithology. It is amazing that if you do no more than keep simple observations of species and their numbers and dates when present. what valuable information can be gathered to help assess population size, arrival/departure times and food preferences.
It is also fun to keep a garden list. Normally I would turn my nose up at a cock Pheasant but my reaction to one wandering over my Salem lawn at Christmas was one of joy, as it brought the total here to 64 species. An example of interesting behaviour I observed, in 2001. of a Treecreeper picking up particles of peanuts under a feeder and published in the journal British Birds brought a sudden surge of similar observations. Was this a new habit or had this species done this for years? Recording migrants can also be interesting. Note the first/last Swallow, House Martin, Cuckoo etc. and compare those dates each Spring/Autumn. In recent years our summer birds have been returning earlier than previously.
I have owned three gardens in my life and all have had their interest. My first was just two miles from the east coast and eventually yielded a list of 98 species. During the period of the “Great Fall”, on September 3rd 1965, it was strewn with Whinchat’s, Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and a lone Wryneck. Redstarts were so plentiful that they fell earthward and perched on townspeople nearby. Within a few days most birds had gone. On a different occasion, the `Mega bird here was a Franklin’s Gull, which I discovered was following a tractor close to my house. My rule has always been that I must be in my garden to count any species. On this occasion I climbed a wall and had my wife support me as I leant out dangerously, until I could see the bird by holding binoculars in one hand. Yes! This business can get quite silly.
My other East Anglian garden was smaller but still managed to entice Pied Flycatcher and Wryneck. The most surprising tick was a Bittern flying over, one winter day.
It is sometimes possible to extend a local patch from the garden to other good habitats or sites close to home – Some observers even fix on an area near their place of work, so they can bird away the lunch hour. Before I worked in nature conservation I was once lucky enough to have a reservoir fulfil this function, and I found White-winged Black Tern and Red-rumped Swallow there during my breaks.
Before moving to Wales I was fortunate lobe able to adopt as my own a farm reservoir (full of rainbow trout) surrounded by arable farmland, a small damp woodland and some valley floor grazing marshes. I avidly watched the area every week. I ringed birds too, mainly in the summer months, Altogether, I maintained a record for 24 years and discovered over 250 species, which included local rarities such as Cetti’s Warbler, Osprey (five times), Black-necked Grebe and Red-crested Pochard. I was able to monitor an increasing heronry, log the rapid decline of breeding Redshanks. Lapwing and Yellow Wagtails and discover a small breeding population of Hawfinches. None of this information would have been known if I had not taken the area on in the first place, as it was well away from traditional birding sites.
One day I discovered somewhere a little further afield, just two miles away, which I added to my `manor’. This was a small region of created wetland on private land, constructed under an agri-environmental scheme. It was basically a flooded grazing marsh where the water levels fluctuated greatly. This provided more spice to my local birdwatching, including nesting Little Ringed Plovers and regular feeding Hobby on summer evenings. A variety of waders were seen on passage, among which were Black-tailed Godwits bearing Icelandic rings, Pectoral Sandpiper and an obviously escaped Blacksmith’s Plover. Plus Osprey, Montagu’s Harrier and Yellow-legged Gull for good measure.
I am glad to say that a couple of local birders still watch the latter area but I am told that no records have been received from my original patch, since I left to come to Wales three years ago
This, of course, illustrates several potential problems. First of all, the vigorous working of a particular area can result in considerable observer bias. One can easily assume, from reading a Bird Report, that certain places are real hotspots for birds. When the truth is that these areas are well watched, whereas others are `underwatched’ or ignored completely. Secondly, when an observer moves on records suddenly cease and an outsider could be forgiven for thinking that some major disaster has happened, rendering a previously good area for birds a desert.
Nevertheless, putting such misgivings to one side. I would heartily recommend that anyone who has not already done so create a local patch and begin recording. You will be making a contribution to our knowledge of birds in Carmarthenshire and get much enjoyment in the process. And remember, some of Britain’s rarest birds have turned up in the most unexpected places, such as the only Golden-winged Warbler so far found here (occasioning a Twitch of well over two thousand people), that appeared in Kent, discovered by somebody going to post a letter.
Your turn could be next!