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Garden Safari: Doing the Big Garden Birdwatch in Blackpool

Blackbird - Stephen Dunsten
Following on from the the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend, Blackpool Social Club’s resident birder, Stephen Dunstan reports on his experiences of nature in lockdown.

We have all been spending a lot of time at home.  For those who draw energy and hope from nature, their gardens have been a lifeline.  And in that context colour and life comes not just from flowering plants, but also from visiting birds.  In that context, it isn’t surprising that interest in avian garden visitors has expanded, and this in a nation that was already big on backyard birds.

The last two lockdowns in particular have seen wildlife observations from kitchen windows and home offices increase, as visitors to bird tables and feeders has increased over the winter.  This has been reflected in an increase in Blackpool reports of garden visiting woodpeckers, and even the aptly named Blackcap.  The latter is a warbler that normally visits the Fylde in the summer, but increasingly some birds now stay all year round and others come in from the Continent.

Small and acrobatic, the blue tit visits trees, shrubs and bird tables - image: Birdspot.co.uk

Some years ago we had a house fire on Christmas Eve (this does go somewhere, honest).  After a spell in the Imperial Hotel, we were put in rented accommodation on Poulton Old Road.  We liked it and didn’t really want to go back to a house where we had had a fire, so we bought it.  When we told a friend that we had bought a house they said at least we didn’t have to put up with the paltry concrete triangle of a back garden.  So when I say my garden is nothing special I am not going in for understatement.

But build it and they will come.  Over the years we have had many interesting observations in the backyard.  One winter we did manage our own Great Spotted Woodpecker for several weeks.  We have had Sparrowhawks perched on the fence, and most winters we get visits from Grey Wagtails which should be by a stream or lake somewhere.  When we arrived here there were no House Sparrows, but dedicated feeding efforts by ourselves and neighbours have led them to recolonise which is rewarding.

If you don’t have a garden or backyard another option is to take note of the wildlife you see on exercise walks.  Even in the centre of Blackpool there are pigeons and gulls, and there are plenty of small parks which have resident birds and also provide a refuge for migrants passing through in the spring and autumn.  A number of nationally rare birds have been found over the years in the likes of Watson Road Park and even the bushes along the railway line behind the pleasure beach.

If you are interested in getting involved in wildlife recording in your backyard or garden there’s now a year of preparation you can put in before the 2022 Big Garden Birdwatch.  If you can’t wait that long the BTO Garden Birdwatch is a year round scheme where you can record your sightings.

For further motivation there are several books available which concentrate on urban wildlife.  David Lindo who cut his birdwatching teeth on Wormwood Scrubs in London has penned the autobiographical ‘The Urban Birder’ and the more instructional ‘How To Be An Urban Birder’.  I am currently reading Esther Woolfson’s ‘Field Notes From A Hidden City’, a superb account of nature in Aberdeen which is very much recommended.

PS – if you want to know how we got on in our hour of garden birdwatching for the survey we had 5 Jackdaws, 3 Feral Pigeons, a Coal Tit, a Blackbird and a Woodpigeon.

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