Review: The European Eel by Steve Ely.

What the publisher says:

80-page hardback (illustrated throughout with artwork by P.R. Ruby). Steve Ely’s The European Eel is a long poem that imagines the life cycle, ecological contexts and enigma of the charismatic and critically endangered fish of the poem’s title. Based on Ely’s in-depth engagement with the scientific literature, discussions with leading eel researchers and conservationists, and hands-on experience with the eel in river systems across the country and abroad, The European Eel is unique not only in its sustained birth-to-death focus on the eel, but in the vivid way the eel’s riverine and marine habitats are evoked and articulated—and in its portrayal of the daunting array of anthropogenic threats that are currently threatening this once common species with extinction. 

Extracts can be read here -as well as being able to buy a copy £12.99 +£1.99 P&P.

I have no knowledge worth sharing about fish. I know this is not the best way to start a review of Steve Ely’s amazing book. But I do have an endless fascination and some guilt when it comes to Eels. I will start with the guilt. More than the three birds eggs that made up my collection when I was eight, which I can never put back -Wren, House Sparrow and Greenfinch. Neither can I un-catch the Eels fished from their murky lairs.

What I think:

On a dry August day, whe Eels were much more common than they are today, an Uncle and I lifted the water trough of my Grandad’s chicken pen and found some damp ground; the only place we were likely to find any worms. We dug them, held them in a jam jar and and took them out in the cool of the evening to the Bannett and one of its reed lined pools just inside the sea bank at Blakeney, Norfolk. We managed to tempt two or possibly three unwieldy souls out of the ‘bottomless’ pond. He knew his wife, my aunt, would not want them so we took them to his mother. Alas, Nanny too did not want Eels for supper or any other meal. From the generation that wasted nothing, she boiled them, chopped them and fed them to the chickens. This should not have been the ending for these Eels.

And the endless fascination? While fishing I was given knowledge about this mythical beast and its travel to a mythical place -The Sargasso Sea to breed, as best my Uncle could remember it. I am pretty sure I also did see the results of this spawning as tiny elvers returned, but I cannot be sure.

Then came Rachel Carson -‘Under the Sea wind’ describing in the Autumn how an Eel who had lived the equivalent of more than half my life in Bittern Pond until the lure of the Ocean called. To me it was still remarkable that in the early 1900’s we had discovered the cycle of life adopted by Eels. and to think on the timescale of eons as to how evolution had worked on a species which even now we have not seen breed; just the results of such pairings. And like with so many other wild creatures we are watching in this 6th Extinction the demise of a species we still don’t fully understand.

I have previously bookmarked books about Eels but did not want to sift the science from another story of self exploration; however fascinating the science is, I was not going to plough through this? So thanks to a RT from @glaveneel I came across a link to the blog Steve wrote about his upcoming publication. He describes the perilous decline of the Eel, his fascination for it and the medium -book length poem, he is going to use to describe ‘The European Eel’. His previous exploration into this was Zi-Zi Taah Taah Taah -life of the Willow Tit.

The book is divided into four parts. The first describes -in long poem form, the passage of the Eel from the Sargasso through the Humber to Yorkshire. The biology and the human created obstacles including the water borne pollution are described in a way that really gives a feel for how precious and fragile an Eels existence is.

Part two describes the Eel the author kept one summer before returning it to make its journey to the Sargasso. For sciece purposes this was the insight he needed. But for me it brought back some of the feeling of guilt about how we treat wild creatures as exhibits in our show.

Part three returns to the long poem and the Eels return to the sargasso to spawn and die. You get a reall feel for teh journey and how the body of the Eel goes from a fish we recognise to a vesicle for eggs or milt.

Part four explains some of the terms and also explains that we still do not know exactly the Eeels story. Much of the early development from and around spawning is supposition. The insight of part four does not detract from the story and infact enhanced my understanding.

Anyone who spends their own money on a book and then reviews it is always going to say its a great read. And this review is no different. If you have any interest in this secretive fish or the environment we are creating for it, and by inference us, get a copy. If you have any interest in considering the ecological state of our waters and the impact our heavily medicated world has on everything else, challenge yourself with this book. How will you make the difference?

My only gripe is the use of lower case for species names, but upper case for man-made things. This in my mind devalues the other creatures around us. This should not however put you off from this valuable contribution to the discussion. Most of the book puts the Eel front and centre. Part two drifts into ‘new nature writing’ where the person becomes a character, but in my view an unnecessary one in this case.

I read it on the beach at Sennen looking out to the Sargasso and have returned to a wreck of Guillemots and Razorbills in the North East. Whilst the oceans are huge they are filling up with our waste and hubris. Using the science to tell an important story in an accessible manner should be the way forward in engaging more people about our plight.

A review: Naturally Connected

Its not every day that a book written by a long standing friend arrives on your mat. No prelude no warning other than an odd email saying I am working on a project and you will get to see the results soon. It can be bought for £18.50 from Bittern Books an East Anglian publishing company. Well worth the money IMHO. You can check out Barry at Wingsearch2020.

There are many critisism of current nature writing. I went here. I saw that. I went on a path of self discovery (and came out a better/changed person). This is not one of those kinds of books. What you get at the end section is the feeling that you have been into the field with a self-taught naturalist who really knows his stuff. You get the sense of childlike wonder of slowing down, stopping and looking at things as if for the first time. His words are backed up by amazing images on every page. A real treat.

But how do you review a book that you form part of the content -words and a photo?

From the book’s cover.

Do you love nature? Does your heart swell with joy at the sound of birdsong? Do you find yourself smiling when you see a colourful butterfly, or hear the screeching of returning Swifts?  Do you stand in awe at the spectacle of a field cloaked red with poppies? Do you fell the pulse of the wild?  Answer yes to any of these questions and this book is for you.  Embark on a journey of discovery and become truly Naturally Connected.

Naturally Connected combines Barry’s wonderful nature photographs with his writings in a splendid new book showing much of Norfolk’s spectacular wildlife, and some from further afield.  Barry is a lifelong resident of Norfolk where he developed a love of all things wild.   In this book he documents his experiences of searching for, photographing and just admiring the beautiful wild creatures he has been lucky enough to dicover in his native county, around the UK, Europe and much further afield.  Barry is a keen writer having over 300 published wildlife themed articles to his name.  These have appeared in various magazines, blogs and websites, some feature in updated form in this book, although a lot of material has been specially written.  He is keenly aware of the growing disconnect between modern day living and the natural world, and hopes this book will help people to become better connected with the splendour of nature.

After all we only need to look.

From reading the book.

Hopefully there will be no more lockdowns. But if it happens this is the book that will act as a lifebelt in turbulent seas. More likely though it is the book you will turn to on long winter nights or a train journey or any point when you are unable to get out and just be with wildlife.

Barry has distilled hours of being with birds, butterflies, dragons and mammals into 300+ pages of short descriptions of a place and a specific species. Norfolk is full of such wildlife rich areas it must have been hard to choose which ones made the cut. These stories are interspersed with amazing crystal clear photos taken by the author. This eclectic mix is how we view British wildlife, as seasons change and we range across different habitats.

This is not though just a catalogue of things he has seen or experiences he keeps to himself. He poses questions and leads you into his field experiences so much so that I felt I had been there when he was photographing owls hunting. He is leading you to look for yourself. He can invoke the feeling of cold when he is watching harriers and cranes coming to roost, but does not share the earie feeling of the long lonely walk back to the car after dark; you might not read on.

It is part history, from his first wildlife memories and working with John Butcher to run YOC groups in Norwich in the 80s when he and I first met. It is also part geography and illustrates well the changes in nature reserves in Norfolk. this includes the floods that reshaped Cley NWT. Its equally not all big picture items either as he is equally at home showing you around the life in his garden and what a treat that is. So much so that many Beaver Scouts may have had their firstly encounter with wildlife in Barry’s garden. It is this willingness to share, as an equal, his wildlife experiences with anyone who will listen that sets him apart from many who think just adding a species to a list is enough.

There is some listing involved and recounting of Big Days around Norfolk are great memories including the Lark Sparrow at Waxham that stayed a few days and we could plan to take it in. If it had been me I would have told the story of being lucky enough to get our day, Cley and Pacific Swift to be in the same venn diagram. But that may have detracted from Barry’s Pallid Swift find which is cautiously teased out in the book and illustrated with a great photo of the bird head on.

Barry has also illustrated listening as well as seeing. Here readers will be pleased to note he illustrated listening to bird song in the bath with a Robin and not himself. Images cant be unseen and we are all spared this.

His love of Norfolk is only part of the story -both as a adventure and as a volunteer at various reserves. He has also illustrated travels across five continents as he brings us close to birds an mammals that we all dream of seeing. I use one of these trips -Costa Rica to illustrate both his photography and his compassionate for the wildlife.

I watched a heart beating today, not my own or that of a any fellow human being, but that of a tiny bird.

Costa Rica, 2017 p254

This foreign travel is sprinkled with observations on conservation, climate change and young people being distracted away from wildlife experinces. They include anecdotes about altitude sickness and his ambition to see all the Bee-eaters, Rollers and Kingfishers of the world. You get a sense as well that Barry is consious of ecological disaster and shifting baselines as he dances through his own timeline. But he does this by taking his friends and family with him, and keeping them close. Reading these pages you too will feel part of the inner circle. Hopefully you to will also share and encourage future generations to get wet and dirty and take joy in being there and seeing things up close and personal too.

I onlyhave one regret and that is he did not put this picture of a rook carrying several acorns last autumn. Instead he went for a Jay to illustrate this. You make up your mind when you review the book.

It’s the little things that matter.

In the Spring as heather was still be burned up to its mid April legal deadline, it was clear the devastation was going to be extensive. To maintain heather moors for driven grouse shooting everything else is collateral damage. We fixate on the big things that are missing -killed and poisoned, the Hen Harriers are the flagship species absent from the wide horizons of most of upland England.

But alongside of the absence of the star species everything else also looses out too. And its the absence of little things that are fed upon by the bigger things that stops the world from turning.

We live in a post truth Orwellian world of double speak. So if this is the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty we would not expect to find anything natural. Drained and burnt we find a peat having the life dried out of it. I had the intention to revisit a Green Hairstreak site, but with cycles of burning have left nothing more than ankle deep. The lush deep Bilberry that feeds the caterpillars has been reduced to a few centimetres high with few flowers. I fear for this fragmented colony.

Bracken as the only sign of life.

So in 90 minutes I saw.

2 Curlew, probably with young.

3 Lapwing.

6 Meadow Pipits.

3 Red Grouse -one I nearly stood on

2 Buzzard, one with asymmetric wing feather moult (left wing) suggestive of gun shot.

4 bumble bees -2 species.

Solitary bees -including a large number of nomads.

3 Common Heath Moths

1 Green Tiger Beetle

1 Large White Butterfly

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence as is often the case when hunting Hairstreak. So it was good to hear three had been seen earlier in May. But looking through the photos maybe on a different part of the hillside.

It is difficult to think that this land, out of sight of most, can be butchered to such an extent. Its hard when you only have a limited time to be out in nature -we are being told its good for us. So why would you spend time here with so little to fill the soul and make the heart sing. But go, just every now and again, and post your pictures. Then maybe just maybe we can get this changed.

Essential ingredients.

Do you remember having those nature tables at school? An adhoc collection of ephemera not a curated collection. The new lockdown has helped focus on those little things that catch your attention and demand more reflection. As yes, we still have all that time we wanted.

The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago. So as most of our hedge and the trees in it pass into their thirtieth winter, now is a good time to take stock and review progress. It’s a mixed hedge, and apart from a Yew and a Holly deciduous. Even in winter, leafless, each species is distinct and recognisable. For those interested I see these 5 as essential ingredients -Hawthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Elm -possibly Wych, and Hornbeam with its retained leaves.

Celebrating essential ingredients.

In a week that sees the greed destroy the 2020 Woodland Trust tree of the year and the indifference people have to the everyday it seemed a good time to start a adhoc nature table. It continues the theme of the last entry of not seeing the trees for the wood.

Elm; Hawthorn; Hazel; Field Maple; and Hornbeam.

The second best time to plant trees is now. I don’t need any more of these in my collection. However it is amazing to think that all these five twigs if stuck in the ground, with a little care, has potential to become a new tree. Go on treat yourself to a new project.

Even now, in January, all these, in close up show they are ready for the race to bring forth new life and new hope.

Elm -this may be Wych Elm, but part of me has suspicions of it being a hybrid.
Field Maple.
Hazel buds already breaking open.


Light and shadows.

Again this is not the blog I sat down to write. Perhaps the discipline of writing more regularly will prompt a better flow more of a focused approach and less ambiguity. Though by being ambiguous I may actually get to the point of what I want to do with this.

I wanted to write about trees. Under the banner of not seeing the trees for the wood it was going to be a piece on people like woods but an indiscriminate planting, or over use of one imported species is not acceptable. Its not a rant about the Woodland Trust who planted a site near me about 30 years ago. In good faith they probably chose Ash because there are Ash in the neighbouring woods. Did the stock arrive from abroad? They wont say, but you can guess it was, at least, not local.

They were not to know of the advance of Ash Die Back -none of us were then. But now the site is showing a slow death across its NE corner. This has always been an odd part of the site, numbered stakes still delineate what were presumably blocks for planting on this former arable field. They stand for what would normally be understorey but there are no shrubs in this mix. Roe deer may be holding back the seedlings; they are seen every visit now. Even across the stream there are only the planted trees, including Italian Alder (Alnus cordata). This still survives after last year’s thinning, of what appears to be a random range of species -the clump of eight firs survived the chop. Apparently, in this clear up they also took all the plastic tree guards from the site. Many remained. I complained. Many still remain. These have been added to. In the far west a new field stands proud with hundreds of plastic tubes. Life mirrors art mirrors life.

In places though seedlings are finding a foothold. Here and there the odd Oak and Hazel planted away from the parent tree, possibly by nature’s forester the Jay, as these seeds don’t blow in the breeze. Ash keys -witches fingers do blow. At the south end a thick tangle of seedlings up to the width of a thumb try to establish their right to dominate. Among them, will there be genetic material that fights of Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (formerly Chalara)? Only time will tell. There is hope.

What won’t appear randomly on the site are Elm trees. They will have been selected out in the mix as a risk from our first among equals -Dutch Elm Disease. Each wood around here has a few trees. A few are more than 1.85m as when I try to roughly measure than my hands don’t clasp together- this circumference alone would make them about 115 years old and possibly coming into life during the Great War. Many younger than this also shed seeds -samara, in early summer. The seeds grow easily in damp soil with plenty of light. Not a readily available environment in our unpredictable summers. an environment that is easy to create with peat-free compost and a plastic bag. Even if the conditions prevailed the Woodland Trust have placed their site too far for natural colonisation.

So from a handful of seeds, 20 Wych Elm stand 10cm high from their first summer. Some have been shared with friends. Others celebrated a liberation day and hide among the dying Ash. Planted in pairs, hiding in plain sight it is impossible to see the trees for the wood -marked only by what3words. It rained heavily after they were planted. I was pleased. Now the long wait. Nothing will happen months, their tight buds awaiting spring sunshine. Only then is worth going to see if this is a project worth pursuing. It is unlikely I will see them large enough to flower. So it is unlikely I will ever know if White-letter Hairstreaks arrive one July and lay eggs. But these two species have really grabbed my attention and it is worth trying. Time travel in a year when both these words mean something different.

Winter Lockdown #Gardenbirdrace FAQs.

No birder expected a return of the lockdown #gardenbirdrace. But needs must. For those of you new to lockdown #gardenbirdrace or those with short memories.

Q.  Do I have to use the full 24 hour period?

A. No use as much or as little as you think you need to post a winning score.

Q. Are you adjusting the score for inland or coastal gardens?

A. No.  You live where you live.

Q. Is there going to be another sweepstake to guess the total number of species seen?

A.  Yes your guess for total species seen on the day across all gardens needs to be in on 27th November by 5pm.

Q. Can I raise money for charity by getting people to sponsor me?

A. That’s a great idea, definite yes.

Q. Do I need to wear a mask?

A. No, you are in your own garden, but we are finding that they are good for keeping your face warm in cold conditions.

Q. Do I have to nominate a named driver?

A. No.  This is a solo (or at best shared with anyone you are currently locked down with) venture.  If you mean can I sit in my car and record birds from there.  Only if the car is on your drive which is also attached to your garden.  I understand it can sometime feel a bit weird standing out front with bins.

Q. How far can I go from the garden/house combo. and still count the birds I see?

A. Zero distance -clue is in the title.

Q.  Can I stand on tiptoes to see into a neighbour’s garden?

A.  Yes, but remember they may find this a bit weird.

Q. Can I go up a ladder and sit on the roof?

A.  You can and in May @Boltonbirder did.  He secured the best photo of a Med Gull whilst birding from his roof.  However, even he is checking the weather conditions first.

Q. If I find a rare bird does it have to be accepted by BBRC before it can go on my #gardenbirdrace list?

A. No, primarily because if you find a BBRC rarity you are not going to give two figs about this competition.

Q. Should I record my sightings in a notebook or on my birdtrack app?

A. It is well know that bird racers by 4pm have forgotten if they recorded and counted Greenfinch at 5am.  A notebook always allows a person to claim three days later that they won because they missed that one species.  Birdtrack does the opposite it prevents you entering a species twice.  The choice is purely personal but it would be great to get these records on birdtrack.

Q. Do I have to photograph or draw all the birds I see?

A.  If you are doing a full 24 hrs you have a lot of time to kill, so yes that would be a good idea.

Q.  Is there going to be a fancy dress prize this time?

A. No prize but don’t let that stop you choosing to wear clothing of your choice.

Q. If I notice some of my family are suffering emotionally from the lockdown and this #gardenbirdrace is not for them what can I do?

A.  There are a number of helpful resources at and which may be helpful.

Q. Can I add species I would like to see in my garden to my #gardenbirdrace list?

A. What?  Baz, who’s writing these FAQs?  No. Definitely no.

Q. Can I do it on a different day and pretend it was done on the 28th?

A. No.  Busy? Doing what?

Q. The Northern Isles will get less daylight than southern England is there an adjustment for this?

A. No it gives mere mortals a chance to get into the top 10.

Q.  How will I know if I have won?

A. You have taken part and shared a great day.  You are already winning.

Q. What happened to those Wych Elm seedlings you grew from seed when you were looking for White-letter hairstreaks?

A.  Thanks for asking. I have 12 currently without homes and if you would like one DM me and I will send one in the post.

Q. When do I submit my results?

A. A full list of all species seen (complying with the rules) needs to be submitted before 1am on 29th November.

Have fun.  Stay safe. Be kind.

#Gardenbirdrace: best 24hrs you can have in your garden with your clothes on!

In 1983 Bill Oddie was on Out Skerries writing up his bird race. Monday morning, I am back at my new office -dining table, a few hours before the start of the new normal working week. However, if it wasn’t for Covid-19 for a brief while this dining room table and the garden attached to it would not have been centre of the Universe.

By the end of April a big day birding in May is always a great conversation. I had some great days out in Norfolk with @BarryMadden12 -128 including Lark Sparrow was a highlight in 1991 and the Pacific Swift in Norfolk in 1993 was one of the last great years. We tried it in the North East on a day it raining nearly continuous until 2pm -it wasn’t the same.

Anyway, we had been locked down for 6 weeks with the prospect of it running through May too. So why not do a birdrace from the garden. The first time I suggested it there were a few comments about it not being interesting enough; too late in the year; too early in the year; it’s not my job to organise bird races. Seems its true I don’t listen when people tell me things as I turned those comments into FAQs. And if I am honest, I did make a few up. But not the roof sitting one. That did come as a real question and a real answer from @Stewchat.

One I added for fun was if you see a Turtle Dove on the race you must tell Jonny Rankin. What a piece of luck as Jonny AKA @Dove_Step saw this and it sparked a whole new level. By way of introduction. On 15th June 2013, while I was tweeting about how amazing it was to watch Swifts along the cliffs at Hawthorne Dene, Jonny was finding a Pacific Swift at Trimley Marshes. From there I have continued to follow him on Twitter as he raised awareness and money for Turtle Doves including walking from Tarifa to the Bay of Biscay. Very few ‘real’ birders put much effort into conservation. So, it was a bit of luck that someone like @Dove_Step would be interested in #gardenbirdrace. It was going to happen.

However, at this stage it had no hash tag. Randomly, this was another piece of luck. I had followed @stuttonsparrows from a random tweet he posted years ago about how well his newly planted hedge was doing. And here he was suggesting #gardenbirdrace a phrase to trend on 16th May for a while at 20. Just wow. And with @barrymadden12 and his Wildwings2020 challenge postponed to 2021 we started.

It was all meant to be a bit of fun, but we had the right rules from the start which worked. The only new question seemed to be could people count toy birds. I am surprised people didn’t ask can I count every species that my local Starlings impersonate. That loop hole is now closed.

It was meant to be a bit of fun to take away some of the misery of lockdown. More and more people started to say yes just by word of mouth. At the time I was disappointed we had no RT from RSPB, BTO garden or Birdtrack, but now I am happy with that. They have missed out. We did get some RT from organisations, authors, illustrators and a few companies that deserve a special thanks at the end of this piece. I continued to produce a few tweets comparing my garden habitats to places I would love to be -May Day Farm, Titchwell, Strumpshaw, Sicily and Minsmere. @Dove_step responded by setting up Suffolk’s newest and as far as I know only inland bird observatory.

The worry was that as the Government changed the lockdown rules in England and on 13th birders were getting back to normal. Did this mean the race was going to crash and burn. Now though we were getting #gardenbirdrace TV from Suffolk from @dove_step. So even if it was just a few folks I was still going to enjoy a full days birding. What indulgence.

Via Twitter some people were still taking this seriously and from Orkney a tweet on Friday 15th from someone sounding a bit desperate that he had not registered, and could he still join. That was really heart-warming.

I did not have a tent so was happy to put on my lucky @yolobirder Henharrier Hat and my ‘Be more Tim’ Bristol Rovers scarf as well as a body hugging Cape May ‘Gone Pishing’ shirt through several other fleeces and step out at 3am into the darkness. It was also quiet apart from the traffic going past the Metro Centre. Perhaps people were right I should have done it last weekend. I would not have been so bloody cold and there may still have been migrant waders. Nothing until three Blackbirds set up their duel. What volume! It was truly uplifting. Robin and Crow before sun up then my only Grey Wagtail flew over -first for the garden this year. A Chiffchaff briefly sang and that was it for the day so two birds worth getting up for. It got colder.

Eventually, the sun came into the garden and I could sit to warm up a bit. Suddenly, our neighbour was shouting over the fence asking what I was doing. Apparently, his wife had seen a ‘militant’ in our garden and was worried. Luckily, my wife arrived, asked why I was wearing so many layers and made breakfast. 8:30. I had not at that stage made 20 species. But Twitter was fired up. The hashtag was trending, and would have trended more if I had my reading glasses and was actually writing it correctly. From up and down England and Scotland and Guernsey people were out watching birds in their garden with the competitive zeal reserved for ‘proper’ listing. Wow. I am still humbled by this.

Everyone it appeared was seeing their garden afresh. Many people were racking up higher than normal garden totals and many were adding new species to their garden list. A DM from @patchbirding told of a of a Red-footed Falcon he had just watched coming in off. He apologised that he was going to try to relocate it, but still returned to the race later. Just wow. Truly wow.

Having seen Tweets about peoples first garden Ospreys I too managed one. You know that weird call Crows make when they are alert to a bird of prey. I still hadn’t seen a Sparrowhawk by then so was amazed that I too now was watching an Osprey fly over the garden. The neighbours did not hear my ‘militant’ shouts apparently. Sparrowhawk did arrive and took a House Sparrow. Still no Coal Tit -the little shits; I was not alone in this regard. By 4:30 I was flagging and even though other people were still adding birds and at the party I went up to our bedroom. Not for a sleep but from there I could see up to a garden who I think puts out bits of dead things for a pair of Kites who turn up at 5pm. Today they were late but, I still added my 29th and final species by 5:30pm. 14 and a half hours. I was done.


We went out for our evening walk and suddenly I was getting GS Woodpecker and other things not on my garden list. And it included two pairs of Spotted Flycatcher. Twitter was still alive when we got back, and people’s lists started arriving by 11pm when I went to bed. By 7am I turned on my phone and located 76 lists. One was sent in for 1pm and not 1am -read the question. Anyway 146 species what a hall from so many gardens. Whilst the admin was hard it was a great and satisfying thing. Especially as @cerilevy said he had a great day. People were even asking about next year.

species list gbr 20

Winners were anyone who took part I feel. It was set out as fun and it looks like people enjoyed it. Life in the time of Covid-19 has become creative.

Most species @PAABaxter in Aberdeenshire 66
Most from indoors @barrabirder 65

Sweepstake 146 species closet was 144 by @leeharris71
Best dressed@Rachelmapson

Most time in field @colonelbirder inawful conditions on Fetlar.
Rarest bird @patchbirding with Red-footed Falcon. Cranes, 1 and then 2, were second.
Best picture @boltonbirder of a Med gull he took while standing on his roof. @Dove_step has provided prizes for this.

Til next year. Thanks everyone for making it special.

Special thanks for RT and comments to



@gazatkinsonoptics for providing his artwork in 2020 calendars he was using to raise money for CALM.





#Gardenbirdrace FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions


Please read these FAQs to ensure that you have understood the nature of the competition.
Q. Do I have to use the full 24 hour period?
A. No use as much or as little as you think you need to post a winning score.

Q. Are you adjusting the score for inland or coastal gardens.
A. No. You live where you live.

Q. Can I raise money for charity by getting people to sponsor me?
A. That’s a great idea, definite yes.

Q. Do I have to nominate a named driver?
A. No. This is a solo (or at best shared with anyone you are currently locked down with) venture. If you mean can I sit in my car and record birds from there. Only if the car is on your drive which is also attached to your garden. I understand it can sometime feel a bit weird standing out front with bins.

Q. How far can I go from the garden/house combo. and still count the birds I see?
A. Zero distance -clue is in the title.

Q. Can I stand on tiptoes to see into a neighbour’s garden?
A. Yes. Unless they are out sunbathing.

Q. Can I go up a ladder and sit on the roof?
A. You can, but it is not encouraged as the risk of needing a hospital bed and missing part of the birding day and giving your competitors an advantage is quite high.

Q. While in the garden can I also count hymenoptera, coleoptera, lepidoptera, odonata or arachnids.
A. As long as these species don’t get added to your bird list ‘by mistake’ the answer is yes, yes, yes, if you have to, and yes.

Q. If I find a rare bird does it have to be accepted by BBRC before it can go on my gardenbirdrace list?
A. No primarily because if you find a BBRC rarity you are not going to give two figs about this competition.

Q. If I find a rare breeding bird in my garden can I mark it on my list but not tell competitors what I have found?
A. Any suspected rare breeding bird should be reported to UKRBBP and its location not disclosed. They will contact the gardenbirdrace team to validate the requirement of one tick on your list with no species against it.

Q. Should I record my sightings in a notebook or on my birdtrack app?
A. It is well know that bird racers by 4pm have forgotten if they recorded and counted Greenfinch at 5am. A notebook always allows a person to claim three days later that they won because they missed that one species. Birdtrack does the opposite it prevents you entering a species twice. The choice is purely personal but it would be great to get these records on birdtrack.

Q. Do I have to photograph or draw all the birds I see?
A. If you are doing a full 24 hrs you have a lot of time to kill, so yes that would be a good idea.

Q. If I see or hear a Turtle Dove can I tell Jonny Rankin via @step_dove?
A Defo.

Q. Do I have to stop at 8pm to clap for carers?
A. No. Its Saturday not Thursday.

Q. If I notice some of my family are suffering emotionally from the lockdown and this gardenbirdrace is not for them what can I do?
A. There are a number of helpful resources at and may be helpful.

Q. Is there a prize?
A. Yes. I have been in touch with the Football Association. As it looks like there is a delay or postponement of the F.A. Cup they will loan the trophy to this competition. Scottish F.A. are yet to respond.

Q. Can I add species I would like to see in my garden to my #gardenbirdrace list?
A. What? Baz, who’s writing these FAQs? No definitely no.

Q. What happens if the lockdown ends before 16th May?
A. You have committed to the competition.

Q. Can I do it on a different day as I am busy on the 16th and i can pretend it was done on the 16th?
A. No. Busy? Doing what?