Friday 5 December 2014


Tomorrow sees the anniversary of my arrival on Orkney, with today's wintry weather (hail showers driven on by a biting north wind) providing a chill reminder of that snowy night last December.

So please forgive me, long-suffering reader, for a spot of reflection.

Of the many changes that have occurred during the past year, one of the most striking is the list of visitors to our garden and its environs. Not human visitors, I might add, but feathered ones. Yes, upon moving into OTT, I succumbed to the temptation to begin a garden list, a list of birds seen in and from the garden. It's a fairly artificial construct, I admit, placing a human-centric view of boundary and space upon creatures that have their own idea of what makes a territory, thank you very much. Cue angry tweets?

And, to be honest, it's probably even more pointless than that, because although we lived in the original Tense Towers for twelve years, and saw an awful lot of species in that time, I didn't keep a garden list back then. So I can't 'go compare'.

But here's the deal. It's a very unscientific contest between, on one hand, a small suburban garden, on the edge of a large town, as far inland in the UK as you can be, for the period November 2012 to March 2013; whilst on the other, a reasonably large patch of unkemptness, on a sparsely-populated low hill, within half a mile of the sea, yet 600 miles further north, for the period February to November 2014.

The former is a list of resident UK birds that actually landed in a Milton Keynes garden to feed during the winter months. The latter is a list of any identified bird species that could be seen from an Orkney property, either in or around the garden.

It isn't fair, as one period is half the other, with the raw numbers confirming this point:

  • MK species count = 28;
  • OTT species count = 51.
But the intrigue would be any surprising similarity or disparity between the lists.

Let's crunch some data!

The passerine migrants are one obvious difference between the lists, with swallow, house martin, wheatear, black redstart, willow warbler, chiffchaff, red-backed shrike and cuckoo all turning up in an Orkney summer/autumn rather than an MK winter.

The same can be said for wintering wildfowl. I would've been rendered speechless if any goose, let alone a Pink-footed goose, had visited our wee MK garden.

Waders, too, have a bit more habitat to explore in Orkney so, from OTT, we have had joyous views of Snipe, Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit.

MK strikes back with the more 'normal' garden birds: Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Reed Bunting, Siskin and Heron. Throw in a couple of woodpeckers (Great Spotted and Green), some corvids (Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow), plus Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove.

But some things are just simply 'Orkney', like the occasional flyby of a Hen Harrier, Great Skua or Hooded Crow, all tough species to clock in sleepy Buckinghamshire.

Then I thought "Let's even things up!"

Which birds of the 'Orkney 51' have actually set claw in the OTT garden? Amazingly, the number was 28, exactly the same as for MK. And of those 28, there were only 11 species that had frequented both gardens.

It seems to be the season for quizzes and so here's the Imperfect and Tense version.

Which eleven species were seen by us in our Milton Keynes garden during the winter of 2012/13 and also in our Orcadian garden during the Spring/Summer/Autumn 2014? Your challenge is to identify these birds. 

Please leave your answers (hint: cos there's no Ansers) as a comment on the blog before December 13th. All correct entries (or closest entries, if none are correct) will be placed into the Hat of Opportunity, with one lucky winner being chosen at random.

The solution and the winner's name will be unveiled on Sunday 14th December.

And the prize? A 2015 calendar, featuring images of Orkney that have appeared on this blog in the last twelve months.

Good Luck!


Martin said...

Competition entry to come later with reflection. Firstly I think you might want to consider the birds known to be observed from the MK garden throughout the year and how that compares with the 51. I am assuming it to be well below, but will probably include many of the Orkney fly-by(e)s.
Nice data analysis. Statistically unscientific, naturally interesting.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Hmm, I am musing on the question of what we did see in those 12 years, but it'll be even more unscientific, if that's possible!

Martin Bayley said...

Hi Graeme,
Good quiz idea, done some research but i dont think it helped....hoping to visit Orkney in 2016.....heres my eleven, in no particular order
Blackbird, Starling,Blue tit, Great Tit, pigeon, Grey wagtail, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Dunnock,Coal Tit.
West wishes, have a great Christmas
Martin Bayley

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thanks, Martin B. If the upcoming storm takes out our power or internet, you may well be the only entry!

Martin said...

Winter in MK: Summer in Orkney. I think the following birds featured in both gardens. Robin, Greenfinch, Magpie, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Jay, House Sparrow, Pied wagtail, Starling, Chaffinch. The absence of tits is a choice, I don't think there are enough trees for them.

Yes you may laugh at my naivety!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thanks Martin L. There's no laughing from me. I am interested in the views of other folk as it makes me re-evaluate my own assumptions. All input is good.

Martin said...

Well I have to say I was influenced by what I have known to occur in the MK garden. I then filtered by the most likely to occur in the far north, and added an element of seasonality to remove hirundines (plus the argument of over vs in the garden).
There were another half dozen species which almost made the list.

Spadger said...

Here's my guess: collared dove,blackbird, pied wagtail, starling, house sparrow, robin, chaffinch, dunnock, wood pigeon, blackcap, reed bunting

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thanks for your competition entry, JD, it sneaked in with 62 minutes to spare!