Binoculars at the ready for Bexley society hosting annual birdwatch

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:00 21 January 2014

A great spotted woodpecker snapped in Martin's garden

A great spotted woodpecker snapped in Martin's garden


The beauty of the birds which call our gardens home may sometimes be overshadowed by rarer or more exotic wildlife. But the focus will be firmly on our familiar feathered friends, from sparrows to blackbirds, this weekend, thanks to a charity’s national initiative.

A starlingA starling

The Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), will see bird enthusiasts and families flock to Bexley’s Hall Place on Saturday, eager to catch a glimpse of different species.

Martin Burke, 47, who lives in Dartford and is a member of the Bexley RSPB group’s committee, said: “Everybody seems to really enjoy it. We get the kids to write on a blackboard the birds they see and we just have a fun time.

“The more people we can get to take part, the more it helps the RSPB.”

This is the third year that he has been involved in hosting the initiative at Hall Place.

A song thrushA song thrush

Many participants across the country will be counting the birds they spot, but the Hall Place spotters keep the event family-friendly by just writing down each of the species they identify.

The day will also see Martin and other RSPB members advise Kent residents on how best to attract birds to their gardens and how to not endanger them.

Martin, a keen wildlife photographer, is hoping that this year’s the Big Garden Birdwatch emulates the success of last year’s event, which saw 150 people attend and 29 species recorded.

He said: “Last year there was a rook and we never really see them down in the London area, so that was quite nice having one here.

The Big Garden Birdwatch

- The birdwatch began in 1979. It enables the RSPB to understand how birds are doing and attempt to reverse worrying trends

- In 2013, 590,000 people took part. Last year alone, 8.2 million birds were counted

- The society recommends participants record the highest number of species they see at any one time, rather than totting them up over the hour, as they may count the same bird twice

- Feathered friends which are threatened include starlings, greenfinches, house sparrows and song thrushes. But garden birds which are thriving include collared doves, woodpigeons and coal tits

- This year is the first that bird watchers can log their results on their computer or smartphone, using the new live bird counter

“We also had a fieldfare, but normally they head over to us when the weather is cold in Scandinavia. It was good to see them and bring in a few new species for us.”

At the heart of the scheme is an ongoing decline in bird numbers, with some species having become far less numerous over the past few decades.

Martin said an RSPB survey has found that there are now 63 per cent fewer sparrows than there were 1979, 29pc fewer blackbirds and 59pc fewer song thrushes.

However, on the upside, collared doves have increased rapidly.

In Kent, a steep decline in green finches from 2012 to 2013 is attributed to them catching diseases from dirty bird tables.

“We lost many of our green finches, about 80pc,” said Martin. “They were getting fungal growth on their legs and went down with a disease.

“I haven’t seen any since, when I used to have five or six a day.”

But on a lighter note, Martin is looking forward to seeing which birds he can spot on Saturday.

“I would love to see waxwings again because they are such beautiful birds, with their colours and crest,” he said.

“But, as they say, every bird watcher wants to get a new tick in their book.”

The event will run from 10am to 3pm.

For more information about the Big Garden Birdwatch, visit

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