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Caithness folk urged to take part in RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch

By John Davidson

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People in Caithness are being urged to help in the UK's biggest citizen science project.

This weekend sees the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch take place across the UK, and those in the far north can give a unique insight into the birdlife in the county.

The world’s largest garden wildlife survey takes place from today until Sunday, with people being asked to spend one hour monitoring the birds from their garden, balcony or window.

Rob Hughes, a locally based RSPB conservation scientist and a wildlife columnist for the Caithness Courier, urged people in the far north to get involved.

He said: "It’s fun, free, easy to do and a really good way of contributing to science from the comfort of your own home.

"Caithness Big Garden Birdwatch counts are particularly important for providing a good geographic spread of results for the UK. I expect Caithness gardens' species and counts to be quite different to more southern gardens.

"Last year we had a waxwing in our garden in Castletown during the Big Garden Birdwatch, so who knows what else might turn up?"

Thousands of people across Scotland are expected to take part in the event, which is now in its 42nd year. In 2020, 33,000 Scots took part, counting nearly half a million birds over a three-day period.

RSPB conservation officer Rob Hughes.
RSPB conservation officer Rob Hughes.

The RSPB says that over the past year, we’ve seen how important the natural world is to our mental health and wellbeing. There has been a surge in interest in the nature on our doorsteps and many people have come to rely on garden birds to bring joy and comfort in these unsettling times. A ScotPulse survey in July 2020 found 76 per cent of respondents said they had become more aware of nature during lockdown.

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen just how important our connection to nature is. With more time spent in our homes and local areas noticing the wildlife around us, many of us have found a renewed appreciation for nature locally.

"I would encourage everyone who can to take part in Big Garden Birdwatch, not only for the phenomenal amount of data it produces, but also to take some time really focusing on the little things, to relax and to enjoy the benefits of spending time watching nature.”

The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden bird, visiting 70 per cent of Scottish gardens in 2020. Starling held down the second spot once more, with the chaffinch completing the top three.

Reports of long-tailed tits in gardens in Scotland were up in 2020, boosting them into the top 10 for Scotland, being seen in 20 per cent of gardens.

While house sparrows and starlings may be the UK’s most commonly sighted birds, a closer look at Big Garden Birdwatch data shows that numbers have in fact dropped dramatically since the Birdwatch began in 1979. House sparrows are down 53 per cent while starlings are down 80 per cent. It’s a pattern echoed by two more garden favourites, with blackbirds and robins down 46 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.

Keith Morton, senior species policy officer, said: “The data you submit from your Big Garden Birdwatch helps us create a picture of how bird populations in Scotland are faring, which then informs the work we do to protect those species most at risk.

"Last year, almost 18,000 households in Scotland counted their garden birds for an hour, which makes for a massive amount of data. Could you give an hour of your time this year to get involved? Every submission is important, even if you don’t see a single bird, and enjoying nature is just as important as counting it.”

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2021, watch the birds you can see from your home for one hour at some point over the three days. Only count the birds that land, not those flying over. Record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

To sign up to the Big Garden Birdwatch, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

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