Category Archives: Gardens

Big British Butterfly Count

Butterfly

There’s four days left of the Big Butterfly Count 2014.

The charity Butterfly Conservation hopes that thousands of participants will spend 15 minutes to log 1m butterfly sightings – beating last year’s record of 800,000.

Nature lovers are being asked to count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (preferably sunny) weather. Records are welcome from anywhere, including parks, school grounds, gardens, fields and forests.

If you are counting from a fixed position in your garden, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once.

If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.

The charity said: “Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.

“The count will also assist us in identifying trends in species that will help us plan how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understand the effect of climate change on wildlife.”

iOS Smartphone app

You can download a handy identification chart to help you work out which butterflies you have seen and submit separate records for different dates, and for different places that you visit. 

You can send in your sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or by using a free smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.

Big Wild Sleepover

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Pic: Dom Greves / RSPB

The RSPB is asking people to spend a night in their back garden or their local nature reserve to raise money and help save our wildlife.

The charity is also organising sleepout events across the UK for those who don’t have a garden or who want a wilder time in some inspiring locations. There will be special night time activities around the camp fire and a night time stroll, where you’ll be introduced to some special night creatures, including moths, nightjars, bats and twinkling glow worms (pictured above).

The Big Wild Sleepout runs from 16-22 June and is part of the RSPB’s new Giving Nature a Home campaign, which is aimed at inspiring everyone to provide a place for wildlife wherever they live and however big their outside space is.

Participants can spend a night in their garden, or at an organised sleepout event, discovering a whole world of wildlife on their doorstep. They can also help the RSPB to give nature a home by getting their sleepouts sponsored by friends and family, and firing up a barbecue, hosting a party and handing around the donation box.

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Crafty crows

 

Back Yard Biology

Much has been written about the intelligence of crows, the supposed smartest of bird species.

American Crows must have keen eyesight because they detect my slightest movement (like raising the camera lens toward the window) and quickly fly off. American Crows must have keen eyesight because they detect my slightest movement (like raising the camera lens toward the window) and quickly fly off. Large brain size and a well-developed cortical area responsible for learned behavior may be what gives them their smarts.

They make and use tools to retrieve food items, organize mobs to drive away predators (a “murder” of crows), use bait to attract prey, watch and learn new behaviors from other birds or their own family members, communicate spatial and temporal information (about food items) to other family members, and can recognize the facial features of different humans.  Some researchers claim that crows have intelligence on a par with that of chimpanzees.

I have watched a lot of crow behavior in the backyard, but rarely understand what is going on, except for these…

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Garden wildlife revealed by world’s biggest survey

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More than half of people in the UK see frogs in their gardens but only a fraction ever see a red squirrel, according to the world’s biggest wildlife survey.

This year, Big Garden Birdwatch participants were asked to tell the RSPB about some of the other wildlife that visits their gardens throughout the year, including common frogs, red and grey squirrels, badgers and hedgehogs.

The RSPB hopes to use it to build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for all types of wildlife and tailor its advice so people can help their wild visitors find a home, feed and breed successfully.

Mammals
According to the results, grey squirrels came out on top overall, with 72% of people seeing them in their gardens at least once a month. At the other end of the scale, the red squirrel, was the least-seen garden visitor, with just 3% of people reporting seeing them on a monthly basis.

The red squirrel, which is threatened by a lethal virus carried by the grey, has been lost from much of the UK. In areas where the greys don’t carry the virus, the reds are still affected, essentially being out-competed by their rivals.

However, in rural Scotland, where the red still has a stronghold almost 1 in 5 people see them in their gardens at least monthly. Although still quite widespread and seen in 67% of the UK’s gardens at least once, hedgehogs were only seen regularly in less than a third of gardens and their populations have seriously declined by around 30% since the millennium.

Badgers are spotted more regularly by people living in rural areas, with 40% reporting to have seen one. However, the black and white mammal isn’t exclusive to the countryside, with 20% of suburban and 15% of urban residents seeing them in their gardens too. Deer are also much more common in the countryside, with around 30% of rural residents seeing roe or muntjac deer in their garden at some point, compared with only 5% of urban dwellers.

Amphibians
When not hibernating, the common frog takes the lead as the most abundant garden amphibian, according to the results. Approximately half of people in the UK see a common frog in their gardens at least monthly, regardless of whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban area.

When it comes to toads, 28% of people see them monthly. The warty amphibians, which have declined especially in central and southern England, are more likely to visit gardens in rural areas, with 41% of householders in these areas seeing them on a monthly basis.

Marina Pacheco, the Mammal Society’s Chief Executive, said: “It’s fantastic to know that gardens can be a vital refuge for rapidly declining species like the red squirrel and hedgehog. As well as taking part in an enjoyable survey, participants have greatly increased our understanding of the distribution and relative abundance of UK mammals.”

 

Big Garden Birdwatch results

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Pic: RSPCA

Almost half a million people took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and discovered some interesting changes among our most popular garden birds, with some species creeping up the rankings.

It’s all change in the top 10, with blue tits in their highest position since the Big Garden Birdwatch began, at number two. The previous occupiers of the second spot, blackbirds, have dropped to number four.

Goldfinches have climbed another place since last year, and now perch at number seven. The robin, which has been as high as number seven in the past 10 years, has dropped back to number 10. And for the first time ever, the great spotted woodpecker has squeezed in at number 20.

Scientists believe that the weather has played a role in the ups and downs in this year’s top 10, as many of the birds were recorded in lower numbers in gardens due to the mild conditions.

Some species, such as blue tits, were likely to be more reliant on food provided in gardens than others, such as blackbirds, which could easily find their favoured foods like worms and insects in the countryside.

Just 10 years ago, goldfinches were in 14th position, but scientists believe that the increase in people providing food like nyjer seed and sunflower hearts in gardens, may have contributed to their steady rise to number seven.

Overall, numbers of species such as blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings may appear to have dropped in our gardens since last year. But in many cases this is not because these populations are in decline, but because these species don’t need to come into our gardens during mild winters due to there being plenty of natural food available in the wider countryside.

However the continuing declines of some species are of greater concern. Numbers of starlings and song thrushes have dropped by an alarming 84 and 81 per cent respectively since the Birdwatch began in 1979.

There is slightly better news for the house sparrow, as the declines appear to have slowed, and it remains the most commonly-seen bird in our gardens. However, it remains on the red list as we have still lost 62 per cent since 1979.

Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch organiser, says: “2014 was always going to be an interesting Big Garden Birdwatch as the winter has been so mild, and we wondered if it would have a significant impact on garden birds.

“They were out and about in the wider countryside finding natural food instead of taking up our hospitality. The good news is that this may mean we have more birds in our gardens in the coming months because more survived the mild winter.”

 

Love bees? Plant these

Spring is here, so why not plant some of these flowers and herbs in your garden to help sustain our declining bee population.

Green Vision

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

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Pic: RSPB

More than half a million people are expected to be watching their garden birds the weekend (25-26 January), for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

It’s the biggest wildlife survey in the world and this year participants are being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens too, including deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

Also new for 2014, is the RSPB’s LIVE bird counter, making it even easier to take part. The counter can be accessed from the RSPB website and doesn’t even need to be downloaded – simply take your laptop, tablet or smartphone to the window, enter the birds you see as you see them, while the clock counts down your hour.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director says: ”Winter has felt more like autumn for many of us and this could have a significant impact on the number of birds in our gardens.

“Birds come into gardens for food when they can’t find it in the wider countryside but if insects and berries continue to be available long into winter, numbers visiting gardens may be down. The Big Garden Birdwatch will be really interesting this year and will be a good indication of just how much the weather affects their behaviour.

“The key thing for the RSPB is that even if you feel you don’t have as many birds in your garden compared to normal, we still desperately need your results. We will be able to compare results to other mild winter years and compare regional trends, so if you don’t see many birds, we still need to know, it’s really useful information.

“The more people that take part, the greater our understanding of the threats and the solutions will be.”

Starlings hit an all time low in the 2013 Birdwatch with their numbers sinking by a further 16 per cent from 2012. Numbers of house sparrows, which are of high conservation concern, dropped by 17 percent in gardens compared to 2012, whilst numbers of bullfinches and dunnocks were down by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

The data gathered on the mammal and amphibian species will be shared with conservation partners so they can add it to their own records and will be used to help the RSPB tailor its advice on giving nature a home so people can help their wild visitors nest, feed and breed successfully.

To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time of the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local outside space at anyone time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online or in the post.

Participants don’t have to actually count the other species like hedgehogs and frogs during the birdwatch hour; just tell the RSPB whether they have ever seen them in their gardens, at any time of year.