By Michael Blencowe
Head of Community Action for Wildlife, Sussex Wildlife Trust
Above the kettle in the kitchen is the spice cupboard. It sounds more exotic than it actually is. Inside you’ll find some soy sauce, Oxo cubes and lot of small jars of spices which we have purchased over the years to add half a teaspoon of essential flavour to a fancy foreign recipe… and then never used again. Somewhere at the back beyond the cayenne pepper, sumac and fenugreek you’ll find a tatty A4 piece of card covered in excited scribbling: ‘My Garden Bird List’.
I started filling in this list on a cold New Year’s Day in 2013 shortly after we moved in to our new home. I had a rule that I only count birds which are within the garden’s boundary and lower than the chimney (so I don’t count ‘flyovers’ otherwise I’d have Osprey, Mute Swan and Cormorant on my garden list and that would be ridiculous).
The list quickly filled up with Blackbirds, sparrows and Starlings and soon I was on 20 then 30 then 40 species but in recent years new additions to the list have been few and far between. The list has stayed resolutely stuck on 49.5 for about four years now (if you want to kinwo what the .5 was my complete garden bird list is here)
But that all changed on 18 February 2021.
One bird I’ve always dreamed of adding to my garden list is the Yellowhammer. Yellowhammers are farmland birds which can be encountered singing on hedgerows in the countryside across Sussex, their song famously sounding like a request for ‘A-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’. (listen to the song here). In cold winters these rural birds can be pushed into suburban gardens in search of food which gave me hope that one day I would be blessed with a Yellowhammer. During colder winters flocks of Reed Buntings – relatives of the Yellowhammer- have taken up a regular residence in my garden and I would hopefully scan them for a flash of yellow - which is what finally happened on 18 February. After eight years, bird number 50 arrived - a Yellowhammer.
Then again on 19 February.
Then a pair flew in on 20 February.
I raced out to the local garden centre and bought a bag of birdseed and diligently spread it under the bird table recreating the bird’s farmland feeding habitat. Now each day I’m visited by a flock of 16+ Yellowhammers!!
Sixteen of these beauties can be pretty distracting when you're trying to work from home.
I sit stunned each morning as I watch these beautiful canary-yellow birds brightening up my garden with a startling burst of bright colour. One has even started singing on the fence!
After the long, dull lockdown winter I’ve suffered these exotic-looking birds have delivered a jolt of excitement that has really spiced up my spring.
I put the trail camera near the birdseed and captured a few clips of these gorgeous birds.
Wilder Horsham District is an innovative five-year partnership between Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council working to deliver a Nature Recovery Network for Horsham District.