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Birdwatch shows how the smaller species were helped by mild winter.

Byline: Tony Henderson Reporter

MORE than 10,000 people in the North East participated in a national weekend of recording birds in gardens and nearby open spaces.

The RSPB said that it was delighted at the numbers from the region who took part in its Big Garden Birdwatch in January.

Sparrows, starlings and blackbirds were among the most common birds spotted across the region.

Nationally, more than 500,000 people took part, counting a bumper 8.2 million birds, providing the RSPB with valuable data which helps to build a better picture of how garden birds are faring.

"We were overwhelmed by the numbers taking part. It is exciting to see so many people involved and taking an interest in their local environment," said Newcastle-based RSPB conservation officer Anna Cucknell.

"A lot of people get pleasure from watching birds in their home space and it is an easy way to enjoy wildlife."

In the North East the Birdwatch weekend revealed how the mild winter has helped smaller species.

The number of long-tailed tits seen by North East spotters, for example, rose by 62% compared with the previous year.

In County Durham the increase was 40%, in Northumberland 65% and in Tyne and Wear 96%.

This moved the bird from 18th to 14th place in the region.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: "This year's survey was another brilliant year for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

"The weather can have varied effects on different groups of birds in terms of behaviour and habitats used. The increase in long-tailed tit sightings, along with other smaller garden birds, just goes to show that, in the absence of very cold weather, these species can survive the winter months in much greater numbers.

"The warmer temperatures have made it easier to find food, like insects, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow."

During periods of colder temperatures birds struggle to find food in the wider countryside so become more reliant on garden feeders.

Long-tailed tits, and other smaller birds, have adapted to feeding on seeds and peanuts at bird tables or from hanging feeders.

Since 2006, the average number of long-tailed tits seen in UK gardens has increased by 525, while great tits numbers have gone up by 135 and coal tits by 9%.

But numbers of well-known species such as starlings have experienced another drop during the Big Garden Birdwatch this year. This decline continues a national trend that has seen the number of starlings decline by 81% since the first Birdwatch in 1979.

The increasing appearance of gold-finches in gardens - partly because of offerings of food favourite niger seed, is also illustrated by the bird appearing in all the top 10s for the region's counties.

The Tyne and Wear results, which have the wood pigeon in fifth place and the magpie in sixth, show these birds have been moving into urban areas. The feral pigeon, meanwhile, appears in tenth position.

OSPREYS RETURN EARLY OSPREYS have returned to their nesting platforms at Kielder in Northumberland two weeks earlier than usual, suggesting that migration conditions have bene favourable.

Two of the regular couples have made it back safely. Male bird YA and Mrs YA are back on Nest 1 and 37Y and Mrs 37 on Nest 2. A total of six young fledged from Kielder last year, where ospreys first began nesting in 2009.

Extra platforms have been provided by the Forestry Commission, raising hopes that more of the fish-eating eagles will nest at Kielder this year.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust is seeking volunteers to help with the annual Osprey Watch project in the Kielder area this summer.

The wildlife charity is hoping to recruit more volunteers at weekends, including Bank Holidays and Wednesdays from June to August, between 10.30am and 4.30pm at Leaplish, to staff an information area with information boards, live web camera footage and telescopes for visitors to view the birds. The trust is seeking volunteers to help at the new nesting site at the Northumbrian Water Bakethin reserve. If a pair takes up residence, the trust will need help to protect the nest, and will have a rota of patrols from April.

The trust is also teaming up with the Calvert Trust to head out on to Kielder Water for a series of two hour motor boat trips between end of May and the end of August. For more details log on at: Volunteers are needed to assist staff from Calvert Trust in helping to share the story of the Kielder ospreys.

Over PS100,000 has been raised for hen harrier conservation through sales of Lush's hen harrier shaped Skydancer bath bomb. The high street cosmetics store has donated all profits to the RSPB to help satellite tag hen harrier chicks over the coming years.

This is part of the RSPB's Hen Harrier project, launched last year to help raise awareness about the illegal persecution of one of Britain's rarest birds of prey.

Over 30,000 bath bombs have now been sold.

In 2014, just four pairs of hen harrier bred successfully in England, and only six pairs in 2015, a fraction of the 30-plus pairs that should be present.

Last year hen harriers bred in the North East for the first time in seven years.

The Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership reported that there were two successful nests on Forestry Commission land in the county, while another nest in County Durham produced three chicks.

TOP 10S: North East: House sparrow; starling; blackbird; blue tit; woodpigeon; chaffinch; great tit; goldfinch; robin; collared dove.

Tyne and Wear: House sparrow; starling; blackbird; blue tit; woodpigeon; magpie; goldfinch; great tit; robin; feral pigeon.

Northumberland: House sparrow; starling; blackbird; blue tit; chaffinch; woodpigeon; great tit; goldfinch; jackdaw; robin.

County Durham: House sparrow; starling; blackbird; blue tit; chaffinch; great tit; jackdaw; woodpigeon; robin; goldfinch.

>Starlings are also among the most common birds


<BA male blackbird pictured at Valley Gardens, Saltburn

<BA house sparrow (passer domesticus) in a hedge
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 2, 2016
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