In the first update on our Bishop's House Garden Wildlife Audit project, Volunteer Surveyor Barry Madden takes us on a tour of the garden and shares the results of the first bird survey.
A fresh, bright mid-March day finds us absorbing the delights of the Bishop's Garden, nestled in the heart of Norwich. With the impressive spire of Norwich Cathedral, and its pair of nesting Peregrines, gazing down upon us, we can commence our early season breeding bird survey.
The garden is effectively a series of compartments flowing seamlessly one to the other. A shady bamboo grove gives way to a sheltered area under dominion of a seriously impressive London Plane. This in turn leads to an expanse of open lawn, that as we survey is being scarified by Sam Garland, head gardener, and his assistant. He assures us no chemicals are used in the maintenance tasks which, although meaning a higher degree of physical labour, underscores the ethos of wildlife friendly management. There are hidden benefits to this policy which may well reveal themselves later in the year. Bee Orchids grow on the sloped edges of this open sward, the ripe fruit of the ecofriendly management policy adopted throughout the garden.
Bordering the lawn is an area of woodland; a buffer zone between the sanctity of the garden and the world beyond. It is a jewel, an anomalous oasis of tranquility surrounded by a 21st century desert. The woodland edge bleeds into more formal borders of roses and herbs, although even here there are banks of weathered stone and high stone walls beyond. There is a regimented box garden with a centralised pond, but there is a feeling of deliberate hands off. Yes, it must be pruned and mowed, but not too much.
And then we come to the wild flower meadow dotted with aged, weather-beaten pear trees. A circular contemplative path is mown here, popular with children and families on summer open days. This serves to take people on an intimate tour with the inhabitants of this micro world. Beyond this area are formal flower beds, offering wells of nectar for many insect species as well as being a visual delight. The totality provides plenty of differing habitats for nesting birds.
Sam has left out bunches of moss, dried grass, small twigs and even old wool for birds to use as nest material. These have simply been left near bird feeders or hanging around the garden in places where birds are known to nest. He has also been putting up nesting boxes to encourage smaller birds to nest in the safe refuge of the garden. Time to begin our formal survey which involves a slow circular walk plotting each and every bird encountered.
Almost the first bird on show is a circling female Sparrowhawk that sends the local Feral Pigeons into a frenzy and mutes the resident smaller birds. The hawk is a regular visitor to this patch as can be gleaned from bundles of feathers that we find dotted around in quieter spots. It is unlikely to breed in the garden itself though, and soon drifts away to hunt pastures new.
Robins resume their singing, and we pinpoint at least four discrete territories. Blue and Great Tits are also well represented, not yet nest building, but prospecting and certainly paired up. We see a minimum three pairs of each. Wrens belt out their trilling cascade from locations at opposite ends of the garden, and it seems three pairs of Blackbirds are building their nests in the dense hedges.
A pair of Goldfinches tinkle over the meadow area, where a pair of Dunnocks chase one another through the shrubbery. A Jay scolds us harshly from deep cover as do a pair of Magpies flying around in the belt of more mature trees. Woodpigeons are difficult to survey as they seem to be all over the place, lending themselves to double counting. A conservative estimate is three pairs. A Greenfinch with its nasal call completes the list.
Our first survey indicates there to be a minimum 25 pairs of likely breeders of a dozen species, a very satisfying result. We will return during April to undertake the survey again, pick up any birds we missed on the first run, confirm actual nesting activity for others, and hopefully pick up any summer migrants, such as Blackcaps, that decide to set up home.
You can find out more about the Bishop's House Garden Wildlife Audit project here.
Barry Madden is a Volunteer Surveyor with the Bishop's House Garden project.
Header image: Bishop's Garden by Luke Bryant.