NATURE NOTES: Plenty to see despite lack of daylight hours

Back in May I wrote a short piece about the joys of lockdown birdwatching at home.

By Stewart Sexton
Thursday, 10th December 2020, 12:00 am
A Barn Owl like "our regular Barn Owl hunting the field behind us".
A Barn Owl like "our regular Barn Owl hunting the field behind us".

At that time tree buds were springing forth, our gardens were full of flowers and the long days were ideal for sitting outside enjoying the natural world around us. Fast forward six months and the situation is altogether different. In November the daylight lasts for around eight hours, the trees are a tracery of

bare branches and gardens are looking generally dog eared. It was such a contrast that all around the country, social media brought together birders to carry out a day spent counting the different species of birds that are either in, over or flying past our gardens. Saturday 28 th November 2020 was

to be #GardenBirdRace Day. The rules are simple, and anyone can try it on any day. The session is from 00.001hrs until 00.00hrs twenty four hours later. Of course you don’t have to sit out watching all of that time, you can just fit it around your average day , but all birds seen or heard whilst you are within the boundaries of your home and garden are counted, by species, to form a total at the end.

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On the Saturday the weather on the coast could not have been better for this task, being calm, bright and clear with a frost in the morning becoming cloudy in the afternoon. These conditions meant that most birds would be active and those calling overhead could be heard quite clearly.

Due to having some household jobs to attend to, I missed the best part of the morning, but still got off to a reasonable start as I filled the garden bird feeders. The locals were soon added to the list with Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Tree and House Sparrow, Blackbird, Starling, Woodpigeon, Dunnock, Robin and Wren then the first surprise appeared. As I visited the front bird table, a migrant Woodcock, newly arrived from Scandinavia, exploded from my feet and dashed off out of sight. This was to be the forerunner of 6 birds seen on the day, with 4 of them from the garden.

As I pottered about, birds overhead were added to the tally. Three species of Gulls flew over along with Rook, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow. A Great spotted Woodpecker dropped down onto the peanuts and a brace of Grey Partridges flew across the back field.

In the middle of the day all sightings were paused as we popped to Alnwick for some shopping, but on our return I had a bit of spare time so decided to have a better crack at it. A mug of tea was made and snacks were taken outside as if it were June, then I settled in for a couple of hours until the light faded.

By the close of play I had recorded exactly 40 species, the final one being our regular Barn Owl hunting the field behind us. If I had just taken more time in the morning that total might have been nearer 50 as I failed to see several of our regular birds. If one particular Alnwick resident had done the Garden Bird Race, they would have had a real rarity to add on their list. Pictures were received of a house with a Great White Egret standing on the roof!

If you find yourself at a loose end this winter, trying to avoid gatherings of people, you should give it a try, you never know you might find a Great White Egret too… Good luck.

Stewart Sexton, author of ‘Stewchat’ a Northumberland wildlife blog. It can be found at www.boulmerbirder.blogspot.com