What is it about the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch weekend? Why do all the birds mysteriously disappear from my own garden?
Normally on a fine January day I can look out of my suburban window and expect to see up to four species of tit (Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit) visiting my bird feeders, a Robin below them on the bird table and a Dunnock delicately pecking up food spilled onto the lawn beneath.
Blackbirds are likely to be working their way clumsily through my berry-bearing bushes, perhaps joined by a few Redwing. One or two Woodpigeons will almost certainly be strutting across the grass. And Magpies and Jays may be driving the smaller birds away from the bird table.
If I am lucky, a Great Spotted Woodpecker may visit the bird feeders or a Green Woodpecker may fly down to peck at ants on the lawn. And this year an overwintering male Blackcap has been creeping about in my hedges.
The only RSPB-specified garden bird I do not expect to see is the House Sparrow, which disappeared from my area years ago.
But come Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, everything vanishes. Last year I sat at the window and watched a variety of birds flying over my garden or visiting neighbouring gardens. But they completely ignored my own blessed plot. After 20 minutes with not a single bird to record, I gave up.
This year I again set aside an hour to watch the garden. It was a beautiful sunny morning after a long cold spell, and the birds should have been out and about feeding. But once again, the garden was empty. I had topped up the bird table and feeders and put out new fatballs, but the delicacies that had been so popular on the Friday were now no longer an attraction.
In the first 10 minutes I counted 10 species — but all were either in neighbouring gardens or merely passing overhead. Even the Woodpigeons that normally spend all day on my lawn were laughing at me from a neighbour’s ash tree. So once again I lost interest and gave up.
Guess what? On the Monday my garden was again alive with birds.