Since 2016, I have been committed to conducting a monthly wildfowl count at my local patch – known as a WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey). I have missed a few counts, for a variety of reasons, but I make a date in my diary – literally – and try not to miss it. WeBS is a monthly count of the wetland birds that are present on a specified waterbody. Counts are done on the same day nationwide and this helps to map trends, not just locally but also on a national scale too. I discovered that my patch wasn’t registered as a survey site and managed to get the BTO – who co-ordinate the surveys, to register it.
A feeling of purpose and responsibility came with doing these surveys and purpose is a running theme throughout my writing. A 2014 study into purpose, by Larissa Rainey of Pennsylvania University, is interesting reading. By taking elements of many other definitions, she deduces that there are five key ‘ingredients’ of purpose. Two of these ingredients are particularly relevant to birdwatching – that purpose provides direction and creates goals for the future and that it provides a benefit and/or connection to someone or something other than the self.
Birdwatching certainly provides direction and goals for many people. This can be through twitching and listing – with a goal to see more birds than other people. Or perhaps, specialising in learning about one family – woodpeckers, for example. In my own experience, I longed to be part of something – to feel a sense of connection and community. I also have a personal goal – to share my message about the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching with as many people as I can. Birdwatching brings opportunities for lots of altruistic actions – whether that’s inspiring the next generation or sharing sightings with others, it definitely connects one to someone or something other than the self – even when that connection is with the birds themselves and the natural environment.
My monthly count made me feel good. I was part of a network, a web of other people who, on the same day, were scanning their own flocks of wildfowl on a local lake, or dreaming of a rare Grebe paddling out of the reed fringes. I was part of an initiative, a citizen scientist. As well as having a count to look forward to every month, it strengthened the bond I have with my patch and ultimately, led to me spending more time there. I also noticed that this produced feelings of consistency and purpose, that were having a positive impact on my wellbeing – helping to curb the inflated sense of responsibility that I often tarnish my everyday life with.