10 June 2012

The Cat And I Count Birds

Today was the last day to take part in the RSPB's 'Make Your Nature Count' survey. The idea is to spend an hour in your garden counting the number of birds that visit. Always up for an excuse to sit around for an hour I took a cup of coffee and my son's homemade chocolates and went to sit on the bench in the warm sunshine.

Pen poised over my bird identification sheet I waited patiently. Then who should come slinking into the garden? Yep, our old friend ‘That Cat’. Result: likelihood of any birds landing on the ground = zero. So while I consumed caffeine and sugar and ‘That Cat’ cavorted about with a wicked smile on her lips all sorts of birds twittered and sang very loudly in other people’s gardens.

After an hour the final count came to two swifts overhead (you are allowed to count them because they are unlikely to land), two magpies (who strictly speaking landed on my roof, but that’s near enough I thought), and a couple of tiny little blue tits. The last two danced about the Amelanchier for only a short while. I worry about them. They must be fledglings that haven’t learnt to be wary of humans and are unaware of the existence of cats. I hope they survive until next year. Poor innocents.

Uploading the feeble results was an easy process. The RSPB also wanted to know about mammals that occasionally visit your garden. Badgers ... hedgehogs ... muntjac deer? Err, no. Grey squirrels? Oh, OK then.

One of the questions on the form was quite telling I thought. They want to know how near my garden is to farmland. Of course, this must impact on the animals that visit your garden. It would be the source of all those badgers. As you see in the above results page the greatest distance I could enter was 5km, when I estimate the reality is about 10km, assuming you class a field as farmland. I understand the scientific reason for this question, but does it also reveal the attitude of conservation groups to urban gardens? I get the feeling the people most likely to do surveys like this are people with an abundance of birds in big gardens on the edge of towns. But the majority of Britain’s population is urban, with a large area of land being covered with domestic gardens just like mine (and populated by naughty cats). As I’ve said in previous posts I don’t think the wildlife of towns and cities is taken seriously enough. Which is important because, let’s face it, that is where the wildlife of the future is going to live.

ichneumon wasp on lily

On the positive side of my hour’s sojourn I did notice the garden has a hell of a lot of flying insects in it. So there is an ecosystem there, it’s just that it’s an insect one. One of the discoveries was this little flying creature. There are quite a few buzzing around a pot of lilies. I think (and please put me right if I’m wrong) that these are ichneumon wasps, not flies. Apparently they parasitize other insects and are sometimes used as a biological control. If that is the case I’m not sure what is hiding in the lilies that they are executing their homicidal egg laying on. It might be the lily beetles.

And here to prove pessimism does sometimes turn out to be realism is the predicted occupant of the bee house.  A house spider.

house spider on web