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Nature columnist Ian Misselbrook explains how lockdown helped people engage more with nature

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It is not surprising that the lockdowns encouraged so many of us to become more involved in our gardens, writes nature columnist, Ian Misselbrook.

For some this meant growing vegetables and flowers, but for many this resulted in an increase in awareness of the wildlife in our gardens and we were encouraged to improve our gardens attractiveness to wildlife. This could be as simple as putting feed out for the birds right through to more ambitious projects such as making a wildlife pond or creating mini wildflower meadows.

It struck me that almost everyone who has a garden watches the activities of the birds that come and go. I have a friend who lives in one of London’s leafy suburbs who has never exhibited the slightest interest in wildlife. After doting on his grandchildren, his passion was pop music, including going to concerts and going to watch his football team. Of course, he was unable to conduct his usual activities during lockdown and it was then that I began to receive regular emails from him about the birds in his garden. To my astonishment this culminated with an email announcing that he had joined the RSPB and that he was intent on honing his bird identification skills!

Song thrush. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Song thrush. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

During the summer and early autumn, I was often stopped in the street and asked where all the garden birds had gone. I participate in the weekly Garden Bird survey organised by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) when we record the species and maximum numbers of birds seen in our garden. The observations follow a familiar pattern each year peaking with a species count in the low twenties in the spring an early summer, dropping to the high teens by mid-summer, then as low as single figures in the late summer and early autumn. Spring witnesses the change-over as winter visitors depart and summer breeders arrive which explains the peak numbers. The reason for birds disappearing from our gardens during the summer and early autumn is down to two factors.

One is the availability of food in the countryside resulting in less frequent visits to our bird tables and the other is that after the nesting season many species start to moult, become shy and hide away.

Numbers of tiny goldcrests are augmented by arrivals in the autumn. Are the goldcrests that winter in my garden the same birds that nest there or are they like blackcaps; continental birds that replace the summering population? Maybe some bird ringers can enlighten us?

Another bird that perplexes me is the Song Thrush. The local population seems to disappear between the end of August and early November - and I don’t know where they go! However as soon as they return, they take up their territories and start to sing. I noted a singing male on November 10. A cheerful herald of the spring that is still a long way off.

Ian Misselbrook

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