BY BEN EAGLE
Yesterday I joined a local birder on the regular BTO survey (of wading birds) for our local patch. As we set out across the marsh it was still well below freezing, but the sun was bright and the frost glistened. A beautiful day. It was my job to act as scribe, as Paul (not his real name) called out numbers of various species whilst peering through his optics. We walked for several miles, first up the sandy spit and back along the saltmarsh edge, then around the sea wall to our final destination. I’m not too bad on my wader identification, and this was a good opportunity to practise, as we counted each any every bird we could see, but I wholeheartedly hold my hands up and say there are so many species I could be better at identifying – especially the infamous ‘little brown jobs’. More than anything it was wonderful to outside at a time when so many others were still indoors in this place where relatively few people still visit. My diary seems to be never ending, and yet I am making a conscious effort to make time for this kind of activity, giving me a slightly different perspective on my local area, undertaking a task that temporarily lifts me away from my everyday stresses.
Now, watching birds shouldn’t be all about knowing every little thing about them, and you can definitely value birds without knowing their names, but the fact that so many people can no longer recognise some everyday species to be found in Britain says a lot about our relationship with the natural world. For many of us, it’s no longer part of our day to day life. When was the last time (if ever) you actively sat and watched some birds in the garden or in the hedgerow as you walk on a footpath along a field edge? If you haven’t done it for a while I seriously recommend it. Stopping and looking, even for a few minutes, can have immense value. Even when we take time off from working we seem to always be busy in this day and age. I’m certainly culpable of this. Stopping and watching a bird can remind us of the value of what is around us.
If you want to do something different next year and go further than occasionally glancing at birds in the garden, get out into the countryside and get to know the birds in a particular spot and how the place and species changes through the year you can do a lot worse than get involved in some regular volunteering for a charity such as the RSPB, BTO or your county Wildlife Trust. I’d really recommend it. It’s one of those things that you will get so much out of. It’s a way of meeting new people, learning new skills and becoming more intimate with a place. Most of us spend so much of our time behind a computer screen that getting out and appreciating what is around us, as well as doing something good for our local wildlife and community, seems to have even greater benefit when we do it. It’s almost the time for new years’ resolutions so next year why not investigate some options and get involved in some wildlife volunteering? I’m sure you won’t regret it.