COLUMN: Make your count count this January

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Dr Chris Andrews, Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Frampton Marsh, takes a look at bird counting this January.

January means one thing for me. It is time again for the Big Garden Birdwatch. Have you heard of it? It is the RSPB’s annual call to arms to discover what birds use our back gardens.

The idea started off in the 1970’s, when we got together with children’s TV programme Blue Peter. The aim was to get a snapshot of British garden birds. So children were encouraged to spend a little bit of time one weekend in January, spotting their feathered friends. Well, it proved popular, and requests came in to repeat it. Pretty soon it was an annual event, which later was opened out to adults as well as children. These days over half a million people settle down for a spot of garden birdwatching on the last weekend of January. Including over 11,000 in Lincolnshire.

So what does it involve? Camping out in a little tent, huddled up in warm clothing, staring through binoculars all day long? Well, no. For starters, you wouldn’t have much fun doing it, and we’d like people to enjoy the experience. No, all you have to do is sit in a nice comfy chair for an hour, and see what birds arrive in your garden. You note down the maximum number of each type of bird you see at any one time. Then fill in either an online form on the RSPB website, or a paper version available from our Frampton Marsh reserve.

Too busy to spare an hour? You can always break it up into smaller segments. Don’t have a garden? You can do it in the park, or pop round to a friend’s. Not sure what you are looking at? The forms have pictures to help you. Not seeing many birds? Don’t fret, low numbers are just as important as high ones. After all, if no-one reported the low numbers, we wouldn’t see when commoner birds were declining.

And that really is the point. With so many people taking part, and with data going back so many years, it allows us a glimpse into the fortunes of our garden birds. Which ones are doing well (collared doves and goldfinches for example) and which ones aren’t. Numbered amongst these are two of our commonest birds, house sparrows and starlings. Still lots around, but since the events started, we’ve seen a massive decline in their numbers. This is ‘citizen science’ at its best. So do please lend a hand. Visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch to register or for more information. And make your count, count.

Dr Chris Andrews is Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Frampton Marsh