At this time of year I am anxiously looking for flocks of chaffinches, hoping to see a brambling among them (and to get a year tick). But there aren’t any.
Four years ago, when I was doing the River Thame Conservation Trust survey in the nearby Wormsley Valley, the British Trust for Ornithology’s website challenged my 81 chaffinches as ‘unusually high bird count’. I knew I was right though, for at that time large flocks were commonplace.
It seems that chaffinches, like us, are suffering from a pandemic. The BTO’s bird atlas records an 18 per cent decline since 1994 and a 27 per cent decline in the last ten years. The cause is thought to be trichomonosis, a disease which prevents the chaffinches from feeding, and spreads rapidly among garden birds.
So while there are plenty of tits, in my garden and nearby woods, there are very few chaffinches. A great loss.