It's a year since we started the NRN Garden Survey during the first Covid Lockdown with nearly forty households taking part. When the freedom of summer came, many of us understandably rushed out of our gardens, leaving our surveys behind. But some of us have continued steadfastly, week after week, through the seasons. This means that we now have a small but significant body of data that tells us which species inhabit the gardens of Eynsham. Surprisingly (and joyfully) there are more species than one might imagine and our gardens still appear to have a connection with the surrounding countryside - at least for those animals that can fly, walk, swim, or crawl!
Equally excitingly, a formidable band of experienced Eynsham and Cassington birders have gathered over the last few months and are now extending bird surveys beyond the villages. The group is being led by Allen Stevens who did his doctorate on marsh tits in Wytham Wood. They have promised to enlighten us with their knowledge through the newsletter and website, and with guided bird surveys from time to time.
If you are keen to take a patch to survey around Eynsham or Cassington and feel confident surveying independently, please contact us. If you are wanting to set up surveys in one of the other villages, we have developed an app with our grant from Natural England, which we would be happy to share with you.
Below, Ally Bunning of Eynsham and Yarnton shares her delight in the long-tailed tits and their nest building skills, following a survey of her patch. She also reminds us to take down our nut feeders, at this time of year, as young birds can choke on even the smallest pieces.
Chris Baker reports below on the importance and pleasures of Eynsham's Garden Wildlife Survey. If you are one of those people who really wants to start up the Garden Wildlife Surveys again, now is the moment. Already the momentum to make Eynsham's Hedgehog Superhighway is gaining full swing, but people have also reported foxes and badgers, mice and moles in their gardens, and if that isn't enough, you might be lucky enough to find slow worms and grass snakes too.
It will be amazing if we can grow the number of households taking part again. Question: If the garden survey was once a month instead of once a week would that make a difference to you taking part? Please contact us if you are becausae we are keen to get as many households to join in as possible.
Mumruffin, Bum-Barrel and Flying Lollipops: Ally Bunning reports on Long Mead's long-tailed tits and their exquisite nest-building skills
'We were carrying out a Bird Survey on Long Mead recently and whilst stopping just to observe and listen we spotted two long-tailed tits busy nest building. What an amazing intricately woven little nest!
As you may already be aware long-tailed tits usually fly in a family flock or “volery” making lots of contact calls. Other small birds can join the flock like chiffchaff, blue tit, etc. The exception to this rule is during the breeding season. The male and female that are going to breed pair off and start building a nest as early as the last week in February. This is a good two or three weeks earlier than their cousins the blue tit and great tit.
The nest is made of moss woven together with spider webs and hair, camouflaged on the outside with lichens and lined with an average of 1,500 feathers. Because of this combination of materials the nest can expand as the chicks grow.
On average they lay 6-8 eggs, but can lay up to 12! Sometimes the breeding pair is assisted by family members that are not breeding to help feed the young chicks.
A long-tailed tits average weight is 9g, roughly the same weight as a pound coin. Their average lifespan is 2 years. Once the chicks fledge the birds all stick together in a family unit again, foraging and sleeping together in a line on a hidden branch. There is a hierarchy within the family group with the adults taking prime spot in the middle of the roosting flock and juveniles on the outer edges. The birds in the middle have the best advantage to keep warm and survive extreme weather conditions. Unfortunately long-tailed tits struggle with cold weather, and if the UK has a severe winter, this tends to affect the tits survival rate.
Here is a poem by John Clare using some of the old English names coined for long-tailed tits. (If you look on-line there are a lot more common names, some too rude to quote in this little piece).'
Bum-barrels twit on bush and tree
Scarse bigger then a bumble bee
And in a white thorn’s leafy rest
It builds its curious pudding-nest
Wi’ hole beside as if a mouse
Had built the little barrel house.
Chris Baker (Witney Road) reflects on a moment in Eynsham's Garden Wildlife Survey
'The sparrowhawk perched on the garden bird feeder was about six feet away from me in the kitchen making tea.
It looked me over in the mad-eyed, super-caffeinated way birds of prey have. Quite a moment. And then it was off -- living a wild life on fast-forward, unlike slow lockdown me. Whatever garden bird it had been after this time had got away.
These days, such experiences are noted on a clipboard kept by the kettle in our kitchen. Then each week I fill out a form for the British Trust for Ornithology, and I also send the data to our local exercise, the Eynsham Garden Birdwatch.
There’s a serious point to this slight bit of admin. Get a big enough collection of bird sightings and scientists can work out all sorts of stuff about the natural world and how it might be changing. But it relies on volunteers for enough sightings. It’s fun to be useful, but it’s also useful to have fun. Something like the sparrowhawk sighting would stand out anyway. But you can’t enjoy what you don’t notice. And having the spreadsheet by the kettle keeps us noticing and enjoying all our garden bird visitors.'