Ornithology is the study of birds; I’ve taken an interest in it all my life. I suppose we just used to notice garden birds, but if we went for walks, or had seaside holidays, my parents would name birds without it being anything ‘special’. They became life members of the RSPB, though, and in due course I did too. If you have a long-term interest, I recommend investing in life membership as soon as you can afford it, since you keep getting the benefits even when you get to the ‘trimming your outgoings’ stage!
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
A couple of years before I came to Norfolk I started doing the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch Survey. I mentioned citizen science projects somewhere recently, and this is one of the longest standing ones. Every week, thousands of people note what birds they see in their gardens, and record them online. It used to be done on paper forms – a huge job for the organisers! These scientific records create a pattern of bird movements, population change over time, and nesting season success. It all helps to inform environmental policy, as in the ‘State of UK’s Birds’ publication.
My favourite bit is knowing what birds like using my garden, and how that changes over the years.
Anyone in the UK can take part; you don’t even need a garden as long as you can record something regularly from outside your window. There’s an annual fee (c£18) to cover costs, and there’s a quarterly magazine with news of sightings around the country.
Other countries are also adopting this idea of using local observations to build up a picture of wildlife distribution – check your country’s wildlife or ornithological organisations or see international links on the BTO pages.
I am NOT a twitcher!
It seems the word twitcher is now applied generally to anyone who watches or even just loves birds. It is really a derogatory term for a birder who will go anywhere to find a rarity, and who twitches at an unusual song or call!
If you want to define my birding type, I’m a patcher – I have one or more patches or areas that I use regularly to enjoy the bird life, and may keep detailed records of my sightings. There are many online tools to help people who like to keep records; I got fed up with counting soon after the Bird Atlas surveys finished in 2011, although I enjoyed doing those surveys – real ornithology at work. I do make notes of my first migrant species – like the oystercatchers, common terns, warblers and swifts that turn up here in spring. Well, the oystercatchers often come in January, but don’t get vocal until March. I also record dragonflies, mammals, butterflies and some moths and bumblebees and other insects I see.
I do write about birds sometimes – you may have seen the illustration of the oystercatcher I needed for Willoughby the Narrator that comes out next week. Here’s a haiku about them.
Flashing black and white
Seeking mate and nesting site
‘Peep-ing’ all the way!