Big Garden Birdwatch

As lots of you will know, this weekend we took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. I say we, it was more me but I had a bloody brilliant time! I've been dubbed as the new Gill Oddie! Turns out a bird hide isn't just good for hiding from birds but also my children, who at times thought I'd been kidnapped by aliens. Teamed with my new lens I was in a whole new world of photography: as a hobby enthusiast taking photos for pleasure and not just a pay cheque. 

We've been busy preparing for this weekend over the course of last week. Simon gets easily confused with his vocab. He tells me he loathes all my brilliant ideas but really he loves them!

It all started with the bird hide, or bird hive as my brother kept calling it; cue children to copy. Over the course of last weekend we made a start collecting Christmas trees. It was our Forest School teacher's idea. When I asked her what we could use for the foliage, (being Winter there ain't much about) she said left over Christmas trees would be our best bet. How typical that I had seen so many sorry looking trees lining the pavements for weeks and that, in the spirit of home education, we had hired actually hired a tree this year that was probably now quite happy back in soil. Could I find a single sodding tree? No I couldn't.

Anyway, last Friday the kids and I spotted one on Upper Bath Street. With the help of two big burly men we quickly bundled it in the back of the car like a body. A few streets along and I spotted another one in someone's front garden. I knocked on their door and they were only too pleased for us to take it off their hands, which we did the next morning with the help of my brother.

Before that though, whilst out on a run, I had come across another excellent specimen on The Park. My run had turned to a sprint as I dashed home, dropped the hood on the convertible and whizzed round with Wren in tow to pick it up. Turns out convertibles are excellent Christmas tree carriers: just drop the hood and dump the tree in the back. 

So that's how we spent last weekend. Two Christmas trees up and it was still only 9am. We returned home so Wren could eat a semi civilised breakfast: naked and in the company of our beloved bunnies, Flip and Flop. I wrangled her into some clothes and we headed over to the egg farm in Swindon village to pick up chicken food and (another) Christmas tree that was still decorating the drive of one of our home ed friends. Turns out though we got more than we bargained for as the farmer had yet to throw his Christmas tree out and it was a big one: 7ft! What a whopper!!!

I must say I found our convertible rather dashing with two Christmas trees in the back. We did get a few looks as we drove home but what an excellent way to transport them.

Jenson helped us do a quick count up: six trees in total including one rather dead looking one that my brother had brought with him. Only a few weeks ago it had looked splendid decorated in vast amounts of tinsel. Still, I felt pleased we were breathing new life into the pathetic looking thing. Better as a bird hide than on the scrap heap with all the others. 

Howard helped Jenson get to work. First job was to saw off all the branches. Jenson was keen to get stuck in and use his new tool kit he had been given for Christmas, complete with razor sharp saw. 

Wren wasn't so enthusiastic, preferring instead to stuff puppies into Mummy dog's tummy who then joined her outside to watch. 

The garden looked a hive of activity as Simon, Howard and Jenson all worked tirelessly to prepare the trees.

At one point even Wren felt the urge to pick up a pair of secateurs and have a go at snipping off branches! It was lovely to watch the pair of them take such an interest, particularly Jenson, whose attention span is that of a gnat at times. 

And no, it wasn't the children who were being silly for once but the grown ups!! Among all the foliage and pine needles, there was also time to give Jenson a quick history lesson on jousting! I think Howard came off worse!

Finally, when all six trees had been stripped of their branches, it was time to get the frame up. This was probably the most technical part and you would think, with an architect in the family, getting the structure up would have been fairly straight forward. Think again. I'm glad I can't capture words on camera because I wouldn't want to repeat the language that was used. Apparently architects don't do 'bodge jobs' and without any proper foundations there is very little that can be done to stop a hide from wobbling. Pah! I wasn't buying it. After much deliberation and arguments about how best to get the thing stable, a very technical decision was reached: wedge it in and hope for the best.

We managed to coax the children back out and together we fixed the tree trunks. Architect was still in a bad mood though because as quickly as the children had appeared they then disappeared back inside and so he was left in the cold, on his own again to attach the netting. Cue lots of cursing.  

To be fair, these were the boring jobs. Jenson did come back outside to help make a start covering the hide with foliage.  

There was also time to try a bit of fire starting with the fire strike set he had been given for Christmas. Daddy had to step into help but we got this great fire going using the dried out dead branches from Howard's tree. 

Throughout the course of last week we continued to add foliage to the hide so that by the middle of last week it was completely finished. 

We also made our own bird feeders using lard and bird seed, which I have covered in another blog about Remy's party so won't go into details again here. 

It was last Wednesday that we actually got around to hanging up our home made bird feeders. Jenson and Wren had a super time climbing up and down the ladder, over coming their fear and working out their own risk. 

Which brings us up to this weekend. The Big Garden Bird Watch involves watching the birds in your garden for one hour and then counting up the total number of different birds you see at one time, not the total over one hour. This way you are not counting the same bird twice and you get a more accurate picture of the number of birds visiting your garden. Well, I've come to the conclusion that all the birds who visit our garden must have a sixth sense. Whenever I am insiderunning around after the kids, they are on the feeders in their dozens but when I'm sat in the bird hide, poised with my finger ready to take a photo; not a bird in sight. So I did a best of three counts over the three days the event lasted for. Today gave the best results by far:

Big Garden Bird Watch: The Results

2 great tits, 1 robin, 1 long-Tailed tit, 1 wood pigeon, 1 sparrow and 2 blackbirds.

After Jenson's keen interest in the home made hide and bird feeders throughout the week, his interest wained very quickly when it came to actual bird watching. I'd say he lasted just long enough for me to get the shot below before giving up and going inside!! To a five year old I guess it gets pretty boring sat in the cold waiting for the odd bird to appear for a split second before flitting off again. I'd love to say he was a natural ornathonoligst but I don't think he's there, not yet anyway! Still, the fact we made the hide, made the feeders and got him out there for a little bit is still great stuff. Interest, patience and perseverance will all come with age: he'll get there.

And so I think our Big Garden Bird Watch was a great success. We've got outside together, built things together and enjoyed time together as a family. From a purely selfish point of view, I love the fact that I now have my own bird hide to retreat in to escape the children, ahem, I mean watch birds!! I've loved trying out my new lens although the life of a wildlife photographer is a pretty solitary one! Good in some ways but highly irritating in others, particularly when the birds all seem to know when you are there and refuse to show up until you go inside to make a cup of tea!! I'm still waiting for that magical moment of seeing a bird land on these feeders that I made and capturing it on camera!!! Got a feeling I may be waiting a while. I'll keep you posted!