Jan 22

My garden has never been more popular. It’s a hotbed of activity at the moment… well, the little part garden with the bird feeder is. Though perhaps hotbed is the wrong word, since it’s absolutely freezing!

When the temperature dropped a week or so ago the birds started visiting my garden in huge numbers, in a fever of feeding. The snow has made natural sources of food more difficult to find and they expend so much energy just trying to keep warm in these freezing conditions that they need to feed often.

Photo of robin perched on tree branch in snow

Robin in snow

Fatty food is best in the cold, so putting out things like fat balls, good quality nuts and seed, or even grated cheese is a real help. I use sunflower hearts in a seed feeder and they love it. In the last week I’ve had great tits, blue tits, goldfinches and robins, the occasional blackbird pecking around on the floor and even a nuthatch.

Here at the RSPB we’ve had stacks of calls from people telling us about the fieldfares in their gardens too. Not usually known for visiting gardens, fieldfares are being driven into them in their desperate search for food in these harsh conditions.

Photo of redwings and fieldfare perched on snow covered tree feeding on berries

Redwings and fieldfare feeding on berries

So, all of this garden activity could mean an exciting year for the RSPB’s 34th annual Big Garden Birdwatch, taking place in the UK on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 January. It’s the world’s biggest wildlife survey and everyone can join in by spending just one hour at any time over the weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their garden or local park at any one time, then submitting the results to the RSPB. Schoolchildren and teachers will be doing the same in their school grounds as part of Big Schools’ Birdwatch between now and Friday 1 February.

Given the extra birds using my garden due to the cold at the moment I’m expecting to have plenty to report.

Photo of blue tits on a bird feeder

Blue tits on bird feeder

You can find out more about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, enter your results online and help with identifying the garden birds you see at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

Wendy Johnson, RSPB

Jan 4

What do red kites, yellow ants, white rock roses and common blue butterflies have in common? All are species that can be spotted on Discovering Britain walks.

Discovering Britain is a series of geographically-themed walks created by the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers. Each walk explores how the landscape has been shaped by forces of nature and by people. That includes natural landscapes that are home to different species of mammals, plants, insects and birds.

Discover an estuary

Walking along the embankment of the Thames estuary near Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, the landscape looks like a lifeless flat expanse of grey mud. But look a little closer in the saltmarshes and on the mud flats at low tide to see a colourful and dynamic environment teeming with life.

Our Essex Estuary walk visits one of the key nesting sites of the avocet. You can also look out for brent geese who stop off here on their migration and watch boats collecting cockles as they have done here for centuries.

Flock of brent geese flying over beach

Flock of brent geese flying over beach

Enjoy a cliff top stroll

Along the cliff tops just outside Torquay, your attention is naturally drawn towards the sea and the spectacular view of the coastline. However, on our Babbacombe walk the seemingly-ordinary section of grassy cliff top at Walls Hill is worth a closer look.

On the thin soil grows the unique squill-spurge fescue grassland. Some of the rare and special plant species that thrive here attract colourful butterflies. You may see clusters of yellow Kidney Vetch which is a favourite of the Small Blue butterfly. Also look out for the common blue and marbled white.

Royal Geographical Society's Jenny Lunn at the summit of The Wrekin (c) Jenny Lunn

Royal Geographical Society's Jenny Lunn at the summit of The Wrekin

Explore the grassy plains

Salisbury Plain is the largest military training area on British soil. Although some parts are off limits to the public on our Salisbury Plain walk you can enjoy safe parts of these vast grasslands.

You may see soldiers on manoeuvres and tanks rumbling past. Take a moment to look in the muddy puddles created in tank tracks and see if you can spot a fairy shrimp. These tiny creatures which once moved habitat in the hooves of grazing cattle now use the treads of tanks. Also look out for great bustards which were successfully reintroduced on the Plain a decade ago.

Photo of a male great bustard displaying

Male great bustard displaying

Always take a closer look

The Discovering Britain walks encourage you to keep your eyes open when on a walk and discover more about the landscape around.

Whether it’s red kites on our Chilterns walk or red Deer on our Quantocks walk there is always something unusual to look out for.

Visit www.discoveringbritain.org to browse and download the free self-guided walks

Discovering Britain

 Jenny Lunn, Discovering Britain Project Manager, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

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