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Culture: The Big Garden Birdwatch (with a difference)

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Reed bunting
Reed bunting

Happy New Year to you all! As soon as Christmas is over and done with for another year, the RSPB’s eyes turn to the Big Garden Birdwatch.

If you haven’t heard of it, it is a garden wildlife survey that has taken place every January since 1979. The idea is to spend an hour watching the birds in your garden or local green space and counting the highest number of each species that you see at one time during that hour.

If I am around over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend (which usually takes part over the last weekend in January), I always try to take part in it here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen. We have bird feeders behind the visitor centre which attract the usual suspects such as blue tits and great tits. The feeders are also patronised regularly by a small charm of goldfinches, which brighten up everyone’s days with their tinkling calls.

As we are a wetland nature reserve, we are lucky enough to see some species on our feeders that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with gardens. The most regular customers are the reed buntings. These chunky, sparrow like birds are very distinctive. Males are streaky brown with a white collar and a black head. Females are streaky brown with a creamy brown eye stripe. Although they are not typical garden birds, they are becoming increasingly regular in some gardens, especially near water.

There are also some alder trees near the feeders. Alders attract several members of the finch family, especially siskins and redpolls. When these species are feeding in the alders, they regularly visit the feeders to grab an easy meal.

Male siskins are extravagant birds with their green and black plumage. Male redpolls are tiny little birds. They get their names from the distinctive red caps (or “polls” as their name suggests). Although the females of both species look like duller versions of the males, they are still great to see nonetheless.

Having these species around means that taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch at Lakenheath Fen can be very exciting indeed. You can sit in the comfort of the visitor centre with a cuppa and enjoy seeing the species mentioned above at close quarters. Although you are not guaranteed of seeing all of them in an hour, you stand a good chance at this time of year. This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch takes place January 27-29, so if you want to do your Big Garden Birdwatch here, the visitor centre will be open 9am-5pm on these days.

If you would like to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch in your own garden or area of green space, please visit rspb.org.uk to find out more information about the survey.

Happy counting and we hope you see some good birds!

David White

Visitor experience officer

RSPB Lakenheath Fen