Friday, 25 January 2013

Wildlife Wonders and the Big Garden Bird Watch

I am beginning to think my new year's resolution should have been "upload blogs on time"! I haven't been snowed under this week but I have had a few fantastic nature moments.

Last weekend as I was driving through the slightly snowy Devon countryside I caught a white flash out of the corner of my eye as I turned a sharp bend in the road. At first I thought it was a large gull but a quick turn of my head (and then back to navigating the winding road) revealed the clearest view of a barn owl I think I've ever had in the wild. It flew across a field and then landed in a tree on the corner of the road. It's easy to see how these gorgeous birds are sometimes mistaken for ghosts on dark misty roads. I'm not sure I've ever seen a barn owl perching on a branch before either. It's normally the summer months that I'm more likely to see barn owls as they swoop over fields hunting for rodents in the late sunshine of dusk. Maybe the snow pushed this one out into the open to look for food. I hope it found some. Wildlife moments that make you want to stop whatever your doing just to watch are brilliant. Easily the highlight of my weekend!

But with the start of the new week the wildlife didn't stop. I'm still discovering what's living in my local patch and walking back through Exeter on Monday the fiance and I both stopped and stared as a fox crossed our path, crossed a main road and went off to wander the grounds of the County Hall, looking for food or friends? The street lights were too bright to see the fox's eyes flash green (I love that foxes have green eyes!) but we watched for several minutes as it wandered around on the grass. Like the barn owl, this was the closest I've seen a fox and probably the longest I've seen one for too. Later in the evening, as the snow fell, I heard a fox calling behind our house screeching again and again for about 5 minutes. It made me think how pleased I was to be same and warm inside.

Thinking of the cold it's time to clean out the birds feeders, fill the bird bath and settle down with a cup of tea and a biscuit ready for the Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend. This mass participation science event has been going on for longer than I've been alive and I think last year may have been the first year I failed to do it. But this year I'm back and ready to go. I'll be spending one hour watching the garden (unfortunately not my own but a friends I'm visiting) to see what birds are about. Along with over half a million other people I'll send my results into the RSPB and then their very clever scientists will spend several months sorting through and analysing the numbers. Then in March, we'll discover how garden birds are doing, what's going up and what's going down.

As a nation of wildlife lovers I'm amazed only 600,000 people do the Big Garden Bird Watch each year. Half of the UK's adults feed garden birds but only one in ten do this fantastic count. It's one of my favourite types of bird watching, sitting with a cup of something hot (maybe even in dressing gown and pj's) and watching the wildlife that lives closest to your home. Some years I see nothing, which is still important because it helps to build a picture of what is missing from our gardens that used to be plentiful. Other years I see loads, including  species I'd never known lived close to me. The pheasant I saw during my first year at university was definitely a surprise in the middle of Durham! This year my friends have been promised hot chocolate and a commentary of what's going on in their garden - although most of them are wildlife lovers already. So, if you're a BGBW veteran like me, find a friend who isn't and introduce them to this fantastic January tradition. And if you're a BGBW virgin, take the plunge and do it this weekend, it's only an hour and you could even use it as an excuse to avoid the chores for a while!

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