Walking

It seems like the moment "stay at home" was the order of the day, birding was the word.

Our digital engagement coordinator, Matthew Cunningham, on why lockdown birding is a great excuse to get out for a walk.

Matthew

Convention has it that "we are a nation of birdwatchers", so maybe it should come as little surprise that birdwatching is up there with baking sourdough as one of the definitive pastimes of the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK.

That and going for a walk, of course.

While we all try to take care of ourselves and one another, the only choice we really have when it comes to our daily exercise is how and where we take it.

So it's great to see so many people are incorporating birdwatching into their daily stroll.

Walking itself is a vital component to maintaining our physical and mental health as it is.

Using our walks to engage with nature can take this to another level. It is enormously therapeutic, a great way to reduce stress and apparently it can help stimulate our brains in a multitude of ways.

What's great about birds is that they allow us to encounter nature pretty much anywhere. It's just a bit more special when it is in the middle of town.

And while the circumstances could certainly be better, now is the perfect time to get out there.

Not only is 18 May the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, but with National Walking Month coinciding with the arrival of migrant birds from the south and breeding season, we have everything before us at the moment.

The beauty of birds' plumage and song, yes, but also witnessing the pace and rhythms of their lives.

Their quirks. Their tenacity. Their instinct for survival.

It can instantly transport you. I can watch blue tits hop around the branches of a sycamore tree and, once I have tuned in, I am reminded of how big and amazing the world is, how so much of the noise we make is meaningless.

In fact a common thing recently has been people saying that birds seem to be singing more loudly. Is this because of what is happening in the human world?

The answer is, in all likelihood, no. For a start, the volume is almost certainly because there's less traffic noise drowning the birdsong out.

But all in all we are a bit more aware of the world around us at the moment.

Both these things we should try hard to maintain whatever else changes.

Go ahead - start a list

For hardcore bird nerds like me, this is a frustrating time. It is spring, the highpoint of the birding calendar.

Many of us have apps which show us amazing records from twitchers all over the country. Right now, when we all must stay local, these are nothing more than a tease. Frankly I do not need to know that people were ale to see a white tailed eagle in Whitstable. 

We can all rack up impressive variety of birds at or close to our homes, though.

The reason so many of us have a soft spot for birding is because these islands are really good for birds - midway between the arctic north and the tropics. The whole country is like a massive motorway service station for migrating birds. For some it's even the final destination.

So there are plenty of birds around and we do not need to travel to see them.

At Living Streets a load of us are sharing what we have seen each day during lockdown and we have put together a pretty impressive list if we do say so ourselves, with a very early cuckoo, nightingales, owls, birds of prey, and Tanya's amazing green woodpecker (see below).

I have been lucky to see arctic terns, eight different sorts of warbler and a few glorious yellow wagtails within easy reach of my home in East London.

It's all out there waiting for you.

Take no one for granted

As I say, this time of year is one when my mind is on the rarities like turtle doves, nightingales, honey buzzards and black terns.

Having to limit my scope has made me pay a lot more attention than normal to the familiar birds I see around my home or in our local parks and hedgerows.

And you know what, I almost feel bad for forgetting how stunning some of them are.

Robins are such bold creatures, and I don't know if you noticed, but THEY ARE BRIGHT RED! And how many British birds can claim this? They are so underrated.

So too are blue tits and great tits. For a measure of how beautifully coloured these birds are, check out their far more monotone American cousins, the chickadee. Yawn.

All of our finches. All. Of. Them. How many colours can you see on a chaffinch? Goldfinches, even more dazzling than their decoy name might suggest. And bullfinches are just a design classic.

The same ought to be said of the blackbird. Look at all other thrushes: brown and grey and... pretty enough but, you know, bird-y. Then look at a blackbird. Entirely jet, except for its bright yellow beak. And that's before you get to the song. Wow.

And swifts! Now we do give these guys a bit more attention (harbingers of summertime, screeching through the sky, etc) - but enough? Did you know that, once they return to the nest in you neighbour's eaves, they will have been flying CONSTANTLY AND WITHOUT LANDING ONCE for the entire time since they left the nest last year? Did you?!

And then there's woodpigeons' chilled-out cooing, starlings' iridecent ruckus, chirping sparrows... I mean, I could go on.

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