Although I have lived in Henfield for 20 odd years, I only joined the Birdwatch in 2015 after I met Mike on the SWT Introduction to Birds and Birdwatching course.  I still feel very much a beginner compared to my fellow committee members!  My role is that of Minutes Secretary however my primary activity is to create and run the website.

I enjoy all bird watching although my particular love is for ‘garden birds’ – I’m lucky enough to have 17 species regularly visiting my garden.

Paul Cole

I have had an interest in birds and wildlife since I was a young child and love nothing more than being out in the great outdoors. My family and I moved to Henfield in the summer of 2017 and I was delighted to discover that there was a thriving birdwatching club in the village.

I have a passion for local birding and find it fascinating to build up a picture of what can be seen on your doorstep. It never fails to amaze me what you can find within just a mile of your own home. I feel lucky to live somewhere where we are surrounded by such a wealth of wildlife, and I can hopefully do my part to spread this enthusiasm to the residents of Henfield.

Lesley Milward

I’ve always been curious about birds and wildlife. I still have my Young Ornithologists badge from when I was 10, the ladybird books I frequently thumbed through as a child, and many vivid memories of spending the long summer holidays down on my grandad’s farm in North Devon. My connection with the outdoors has remained strong and I’m well aware of the therapeutic power that nature can have on our health and wellbeing. I love the idea of citizen science and try to take part in as many surveys as I can for the BTO, SOS, and RSPB. I’m also a member of the Perching Manor Survey team. We really do live in a very special village and I feel passionate about protecting the habitats and birds that also like to call our parish their home.

My main impression of the first month of the survey in our garden in Lower Station Road is how consistent the species and numbers have been, there has been very little variation. There has been a good variety of species, 30 in total, with perhaps a brief visit by 12 lesser redpolls being the most unusual. I’m presuming the male and female great spotted woodpeckers are the same birds as are the 2 jackdaws. Blue tit numbers range have ranged between 8 to 14 while long-tailed tits have been 4-6. I’ve no idea if the single coal tit that has visited every week is the same bird, the same can apply to the one goldfinch.

4 blackbirds have co-existed without too much friction, unlike the couple of robins that have occasionally been joined by a third. There have been just a couple of starlings every week while house sparrows have reached the dizzy heights of 14. Talking to Brian and Karen Lang up the road, just about 100 metres away, it is interesting to compare species and they never record house sparrows or starlings. They have got up to half dozen reed buntings whereas we have just recorded 2.

Weather can have an impact on what birds visit the garden and this winter we haven’t had any long spells of very cold weather, just the odd days here and there which have been interspersed with warmer days which means that birds haven’t had to range far and wide for food. The bird food which you put out in your gardens plus, because of the relatively warm winter, means there is still quite a lot of natural food available to them.

Whatever, comes to the garden though is always interesting, how they behave, pecking order at the feeders, and how different species relate to each other is good to watch. Looking forward to the next 11 months!

Mike Russell & Lesley Milward

First published May 2018

As recent joiners to the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO), national garden birds recording scheme, we receive their quarterly bulletins and the latest spring edition had some particularly interesting articles and information. This survey requires participants to submit weekly records of the birds in their gardens (actually in it, not flying over!) and has been going since the 1970’s, peaking with over 1500 people taking part across the UK, making it one of the biggest citizen science projects in the UK.

One of the articles in the current edition highlighted the problems of increased risk of diseases posed by garden bird feeders and indeed it was the garden survey that first drew attention to the fall in greenfinch numbers and the rise in Trichomonosis, a disease that particularly, though not exclusively, affects this species. Every issue publishes the results of each the quarters and this one looked at the October to December records for 2017. The results reflect the short-term factors that might affect a particular quarter such as unusual weather, the success or otherwise of breeding or a shortage or glut of natural food. These results picked up on the hawfinch invasion of last Autumn as over 3% of gardens recorded this species in their garden, ten times more than the usual count.

However, the article that really caught my eye was summary of a newly published book, The Birds at My Table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why it Matters by Darryl Jones. A study revealed that we provide 60,000 tonnes of bird seed annually, enough to feed the actual population of blue tits alone, 5 times over! Feeding birds in our gardens has grown enormously over the last 30 years and the variety of food we put out is now is very varied. Also, views have changed about feeding birds all the year round, as initially it was thought not to feed in the summer, but consensus is now that this is okay. Personally, I don’t put food out in the summer, preferring that adult birds should still provide their chicks with natural food. When it comes to the winter though, I like to put out a lot of food, believing like nearly everyone else, that natural foods are scarce and becoming scarcer, they simply need the food we put out to survive the colder months.

The author challenges this idea though. He cites that evidence shows that for most individual birds, the feeder food they consume is actually a very small part of their diet and that, except in extreme conditions, they don’t need the food we provide, they will simply go elsewhere. They are wild creatures that choose to visit our feeders on their own terms, perhaps because it just the easier way of finding dinner.

Without reading the whole book, I don’t yet know the evidence he uses to support this proposition, it’s encouraging me to go out and buy it though. It certainly challenges my ideas that that feeding birds, particularly in winter, that we are all helping millions of birds to survive this season. I certainly need convincing otherwise and would like to know if a model has been looked at to predict what would happen to our birds should all our garden feeding was to cease.

In the meantime, I and hopefully you, will carry on feeding the birds until ensuring that they have a greater chance of surviving the harsh realities of living in an increasingly hostile environment.

Mike Russell