This is the weekend where we all dust off our binoculars, top up the bird feeders and complete our RSPB Garden Birdwatch survey. I'll be doing mine as soon as I've finished this post: I couldn't yesterday as I was in Oxford and I do seem to have picked the better day because it's beautifully bright and sunny :)
Many of us will probably need to consult one of the many identification books available today. However, I've also been enjoying reading my copy of The Birdwatcher's Garden this week, which I won in a Twitter competition (courtesy of @GardenAnswers) just before Christmas.
It's a very timely book for me because my thoughts are turning towards how I can make my garden more attractive to wildlife as I'm redesigning a couple of my borders. This book is perfect for this as it contains lots of information on which trees, shrubs and other plants are the most attractive to the widest variety of birds. Not only that, the tables of information are broken down by species, so I can make sure I have plenty of plants which are attractive to the birds I've seen in my neighbourhood.
The first part of the book is all about understanding what a bird needs from a garden. It's not only about plants for food or shelter, it's also roosting sites and providing good observation posts. The concept of wildlife corridors and a garden's role in this is also explained, as well as how a bird-friendly garden is ultimately good for all the creatures which are needed to support them.
There then follows a section on the key needs for breeding and feeding. After a general look at bird territory, nesting materials and sites plus the key influences on breeding and feeding, there's a bird-by-bird guide to what individual species need. The list of birds included is much wider than I expected and reflects the wide variety of garden locations and sizes we have.
The next section is on gardening techniques and the types of plants to grow to encourage birds. Here there's a special consideration for small town gardens, balconies and patios. This is swiftly followed by man-made provisions. This is probably the aspect most of us focus on, but forms a relatively small part of the book. It includes the expected supplementary feeders and how to make a nest box, but also looks at how to make a pond or bog garden to widen the variety of habitats available for birds.
Conservation is considered next which includes meadows and introduces the concept of a 'wildlife lawn'. This is not being too precious about lawn weeds, but understanding their value for birds (Ha - I've got one already!). Guidance on environmentally friendly pest control is given alongside some of the choices gardeners can make to conserve habitats elsewhere, particularly peat bogs and limestone pavements.
The last chapter is called The Birdwatcher's Year and looks at seasonal visitors, behavioural changes and the key events through the seasons. Throughout the book there's birdwatcher's tips clearly highlighted to supplement this chapter. There's also plenty of birdlife photography throughout.
This book is an updated version of one first published in 1999. It's clear it's based on sound observation and research conducted by organisations such as the BTO and The Wildlife Trusts, presented in a very readable way to help keen garden birdwatchers to do more for our feathered friends. It may be over 10 years old, but this is the kind of book which perhaps is needed even more today.
Birdwatch update: Wood pigeon 2, Robin, Blackbird, Herring Gull, Blue Tit, Blackcap, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Crow (all 1), Great Tit 2 and Dunnock 1. Fewer species this year and not such great numbers as I usually get on a sunny day. The blackcap was a BIG bonus though :)