With the Big Garden Bird Watch 2015 nearly upon us (not signed up yet? Check out this post...) and with Roo eager to give her brand new red Christmas binoculars a thorough test run, it has been all about the birds in this house recently. Last weekend we took it one step further and set about building a bird hide in the back garden so that Roo could observe the birds just that little bit closer. I’d also rashly agreed to her rather impractical suggestion of winter camping in the garden. Making a bird hide seemed to tick off her desire for a tent in the garden without subjecting a three year who refuses to sleep under her covers to a night out in sub-zero temperatures – a double win!
When I originally slipped on my wellies and headed out into the falling snow in the garden to start creating Roo’s tent, I had in mind a square of tarpaulin strung between two bushes with a bit of garden twine. Having spotted some garden canes lounging invitingly by the shed my ambition got the better of me and my humble plans rapidly changed. Canes firmly pushed down into the frozen ground backing into the bushes, the trusty garden twine was put to good use. With some binding and a few knots, a basic frame quickly emerged.
Next up it was time to make use of some left-over building membrane discarded by the useless guys who did some work for us recently and got the wrong stuff. It’s pretty durable stuff and completely waterproof but if we hadn’t had it to hand, I would have just used some old bin-bags – preferably those thick garden refuse ones for a bit of extra strength. One piece of membrane got wrapped round the three sides, one fixed over the top and down the final side as a kind of roll-up door/roof. Again, the good old garden twine was used to tie down the plastic to the cane frame. I’m sure there are better, stronger ways of fixing things but you can’t knock a piece of string for simplicity and speed!
Now with a basic tent constructed, Roo came out to join me. I got her to crouch inside to work out where to make a viewing window to watch the birds with and cut it out a Stanley knife. Next, the veggie garden supplies were raided for some netting which is normally used unsuccessfully to keep the wood pigeons off my cabbages. This got thrown over the plastic and pegged down into the ground to make it taut and a window cut into it.
Finally, the fun bit. With help from Roo we stripped our old Christmas tree of all its branches and poked them into the netting of the bird hide. There was enough to cover the front and the roof and a bit of the side, with the bushes behind being used to camouflage the rest. Not wanting to be left out, Roo’s dad came out and raked up some leaves to throw over the top and up against the bottom sides. It looked pretty good from a distance by the time we had finished! Inside we kitted it out with a bench made out of a plank of wood balanced on some bricks and our bird hide was finished. Now for the birds…
Later that day, clutching a blanket for the bench, binoculars, bird book and pencil, Roo and I headed back out to watch for birds. We cheated a bit by throwing some old pears and dried fruit near the front of the hide in the hope one of our blackbirds would find it then in we went and set ourselves up, noses glued to the window. It turned out that the bench was a little higher than I had planned – even Roo had to stoop to peer out the opening – but it worked well enough and we were quickly rewarded by a close up viewing of a fat wood pigeon flying straight past the hide.Then right on cue, Mr. & Mrs. Blackbird arrived, not remotely put off by the odd looking bush that had appeared in their garden. Roo loved seeing them peck at the fruit just a couple of feet away from her and watched attentively until the arrival of a great tit and robin distracted her.
I was amazed at how long Roo sat out there in the January cold, watching patiently, occasionally checking her kids bird book to see if she could find the relevant bird to tick off. Whilst we could have stayed inside in the warm and watched the birds from the kitchen window, it was pretty fun being outside. Unable to see other than through our little opening, we learnt to listen out for the flapping of wings to warn us of new arrivals and Roo showed up a massive gaping hole in my bird knowledge by constantly asking ‘which bird is making that noise Mummy’? It was me, rather than Roo, that decided we had been outside long enough and only on condition from Roo that we came out again soon for another bird watching session.
So now we are all set for the bird watch this weekend. If it stays at the sub-zero temperatures we have had over the last day or two then I suspect that we will be watching from indoors but no doubt Roo will insist on heading out to the hide for a bit at some point. In the meantime, the blue tits seem to have made themselves quite at home on the hide, using it as a midway perch for accessing the bird table. I even spotted a little wren hopping amongst the old Christmas tree branches on the roof the other day – our camouflaging has got the seal of approval from the birds it seems! Of course, made from canes and a bit of plastic, it’s unlikely our bird hide will be a permanent feature in the garden but we have had enough fun with it already to have made it all worthwhile.