I heard on the radio this morning that watching birds has been found to be a good antidote for anxiety and depression. The only thing that surprised me is that this was thought to be newsworthy. I started watching birds when I was a little lad, and I’ve been watching ever since (that far-away look in my eye, when you’re talking to be, just means I’m looking over your shoulder at some bird or other).
I’m not a ‘birder’, and I’m definitely not a ‘twitcher’ (twitching is where ornithology meets book-keeping). I don’t even go out to watch birds; the truth is that I’m never not watching birds. As a hobby it’s provided me with sixty years of guileless pleasure. And it’s cheap. I’ve always had a monocular (generally 8x30) and a bird-book to hand, both upgraded fairly recently. The book - Collins Bird Guide - is a wonderfully comprehensive guidebook which concentrates on the business of identifying any bird I’m likely to see. The illustrations, though small, are stunning… and very accurate. For my visits to bird reserves I now have a spotting scope. Nothing fancy (a top of the range scope can run to £1,000 or more), but it does the job.
This time last year I was planning a trip around the bird-haunts of East Anglia, to see (or, more likely, hear) a nightingale. I found my nightingales - plenty of them - at a delightful little reserve in Essex called Fingringhoe Wick. I’d heard my first nightingale in fifty years even before I’d parked the Romahome. I remember walking around the grassy paths on the reseve in a bit of a daze, surrounded by birdsong.
There are a few birds I’d still like to see, if the opportunity arises (like spotting cirl buntings late last year, in one of the very few places in the south-west of England where they can still be found). I’ve never seen a hawfinch or a nighthar, or a lesser spotted woodpecker; maybe I’ll be lucky this year…