Our Patch: Results – of a Sort

By on Tuesday, January 28, 2014

our_patch_sj_jarmanWell, after buying extra mealworms, putting food in every conceivable bird-friendly location, and encouraging just about everybody I know to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, it was with great trepidation we sat in the kitchen waiting expectantly for the floodgates to open allowing a deluge into our garden.

male_blackbirdWith camera, binoculars, and pen and paper at the ready, we were not disappointed. Within a few minutes of starting, the sky went black. A few minutes later, we were forced to retreat from the conservatory because the deafening sound of the hail colliding with the roof left our senses reeling.

Twenty minutes later, as the sleet and wind abated, we started our count again. Having four pairs of eyes should be an advantage in spotting wildlife – however, somehow it seemed to be a hindrance in our case – although I don’t think it was the eyes so much as it was the mouths, feet and ever-shortening attention spans.

BlackbirdI don’t know if it was the appalling weather, the fact that neighbourhood cats seem to enjoy walking behind our fence to make the dog go wild, or that the children were unable to keep their bottoms on their seats, but we had a very poor turnout.

Over the hour we only saw a pair of Great Tits, one Blue Tit, two Collared Doves, five Magpies, one Wood Pigeon, one Robin, one Dunnock and a pair of Blackbirds. Even the magpies were a bit of a cheat, because they were in the trees bordering our garden rather than in it!

robinAlthough for us there was not a great deal to see, and certainly nothing which was still long enough for me to photograph, this data we submit is just as important as someone walking in the park and seeing every species on the list.

What is not appearing in the Birdwatch is just as important as what is, and trends over the years are helping scientists determine what is happening to our familiar wildlife.

Although the weather forecasters keep promising apocalyptic snow and ice, it’s still fairly mild for the time of year, and I’ve noticed there are some UFOs – Unusual Flying Organisms – in our patch.

Whilst walking through Eaton Street Park, I thought I’d been hit in the face by a falling twig or leaf, but as it continued drunkenly weaving its way through the park after hitting me, I realised it was a queen wasp. Usually hibernating away from the wind and the rain, I wondered, had Her Majesty had been disturbed, or had the mild weather fooled her into emerging a little too early?


My eldest was brimming with excitement when I picked her up from school one day last week, as she had spotted a Red Admiral butterfly over the playground, and it had stayed fluttering about the bushes near there for several minutes.

She was very proud to have correctly identified the butterfly, and also that she had known that some of our butterfly species are known to overwinter in their adult phase, as opposed to many which overwinter as caterpillars or chrysalises.

Although I’m happy to moan that our dog is part dirt-sponge, part hair-shedding machine, she was instrumental in one of our most exciting encounters with nature this week.

We were walking beside the railway line in Whiston and the dog was chasing rabbit scent trails, when by some miracle she actually found a rabbit. She took off chasing it, with absolutely no chance of keeping up with it as it weaved and double-backed through the trees.

It came onto the path and headed straight for me, not noticing me until it was about three metres away – at which point it stopped dead not knowing which way to go. What was amazing is that the dog also stopped, confused that her quarry was not doing the ‘running away thing’ so she could do the ‘chasing thing.’

The rabbit never took its eyes off me – I could almost feel its heartbeat and see the options running through its mind. Within a few seconds, it fled, hotly pursued by the dog, who returned about 20 seconds later panting and confused, as obviously the rabbit had disappeared safely into a hole.

Photo of wasp: Ian Clark


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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