The Big Garden Birdwatch at Growly Copse

Ciderman Gerry O’Kane reports on the progress of countryman Dave Griffiths through the year at Growly Copse in Somerset. It’s where woodland and herb-growing meet preservation.

I thought I’d kick off the year by promoting the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) Big Garden Birdwatch.

To be fair our ‘garden’ is very big – over four acres including the woodland – Growly Copse.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) eating crab apples. Photo by Teresa Reynolds

Chaucer’s bird of winter, the ‘frosty feldfare’. Photo by Teresa Reynolds

I’d been a little preoccupied with our bird life lately. They’re important to us because we’ve found that they’re great at keeping pests from damaging our herbs. We keep them happy, they keep us happy. But around the end of January it dawned on me how odd the birds’ behaviour had become. They were well in full chorus at all times of the day, ongoing skirmishes between them had become more frantic and regular and they were even pairing up.

They thought it was spring already.

Winter of disconcerted made glorious

A lot of the rest of the country may still be suffering snow, but here in Growly Copse, Somerset, we’ve avoided it altogether. There have been some bitter winds and violent storms, but generally, we’ve had a mild winter and it’s confused the local wildlife.

Flowers are blooming unusually early and the birds think its time to make more junior tits. On-site we have daylilies emerging, rhubarb is already pushing through the soil surface and the Dutch honeysuckle is starting to bloom.

New homes for tawny owls

It also got us thinking about bird boxes. A couple of those storms brought trees down in the woodland and one victim was the family of tawny owls. They’d set up home in an over-sized Ash.

So time to build them a new home. Coppicing can be an issue for wildlife, but if the trees aren’t managed, more of them will come down, so providing new ready-made homes for the birds mitigates any negatives.

Fieldfares first up to be counted

But it was a flurry of fieldfare that prompted me to get on with the survey. It’s the first year we’ve done one up at Growly Copse. Since you can choose your hour any time over three days we did wait for the optimum viewing time. And when 20 fieldfares popped over for a feed, the game was on.

Robins are generally territorial with anything but particularly other robins but probably because we’ve got such a large area with good hedge and tree cover, they can turn up near the bird feeders three at a time. And so they did.

At one point everything disappeared and into sight flew a buzzard, fairly common in this part of Somerset. Three of the wren family who live near the generator put in an appearance, along with a clutch of the finch families – bullfinch, goldfinch and chaffinch and tits – great, coal, blue and long-tailed.

As it happens we got a lot of birds that aren’t on the RSPB short-list and we’re especially proud of our pair of great spotted woodpeckers that popped out of the woods. At least they weren’t too ashamed of the recent news that they exhibited signs of brain damage similar to those observed in American football players.
And by the way the significance of the single finch numbers so early in the year means they’re males and they over-wintered!
That’s all from Growly Copse, for now.

Results in full:
20 Fieldfare
10 Long-tailed tits
7 Dunnock
7 Great tits
5 Blackbirds
4 Blue tits
4 Nuthatch
3 Coal tits
3 Wrens
3 Robins
Pair of Song Trushes
Pair of Woodpigeons
Pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers
1 Buzzard
1 Chaffinch
1 Bullfinch
1 Goldfinch

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