An unusual garden visitor

Lockdown continues to be a difficult time for many, but garden wildlife and sounds of the dawn chorus are bringing some much-needed comfort to those at home. To celebrate all the wonderful wildlife that our gardens have to offer, we asked our staff members to share what they had seen recently on their local patch. In this blog, our Marine Conservation Officer Abby Crosby recalls hearing an unusual visitor in her garden for the first time…

We had been watching these little birds visit our gardens for weeks and had many conversations attempting to work out what species they were. We finally managed to get a half decent photo and sent this to the ERCCIS to confirm what we hoped – that we had stonechats unbelievably visiting and feeding in our garden.

To our complete delight, the record was validated. We were the proud garden guardians of at least two stonechats. I immediately uploaded the record to ERCCIS via my ORKS app to ensure it was officially recorded. To learn more about how you can share your sightings through ORKS, watch the video below by Shoresearch Cornwall's Volunteer Co-ordinator Josh:

A stonechat sighting in a residential garden isn’t common, so to have them on our land is incredibly special. They favour coastal low-lying vegetation for their nest sites, so the land around our house and garden in Porthtowan is ideal. What is even more fascinating is that they absolutely love our mealworms, and frequently wait and watch for us to come out and refill the little plastic trays we use for them to feed out of. This makes sense as mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle, Tenebrio molitor, which is part of a key food group the birds will prey on in the wild. They are such characters and we love to hear their bird song when out in the garden hanging up washing or playing with the kids.

One of the stonechats in Abby's garden. Turn your sound on to hear their unique call, which sounds just like two small stones being hit together!

What we are really proud of is the way we have managed our garden to result in these birds visiting it. We have young children, so we have to give up a majority of the garden space to play areas and mowed lawns. But what we have ensured is that there is a wild space towards the back of the garden to create a natural habitat and to encourage wildlife in. As a result, we've not only seen these amazing birds but have found toads, watched bats feeding and have seen many butterflies in the summer months, all flourishing in the long grasses and wildflowers of our unkept area.

A male stonechat with its striking black head, orange-red breast and white around the side of its neck

A male stonechat with its striking black head, orange-red breast and white around the side of its neck (Image by Donald Sutherland)

It is testament that even the small changes in how we manage our gardens can bring about amazing wildlife benefits, so I encourage everyone to leave a space for nature in their backyard as the results are very much worth it.

For tips and tricks on making your garden more wildlife-friendly, visit the trust's Wildlife Gardening webpage.