Every year at the start of January, my local area birdwatching group orchestrates an annual bird count – often referred to as their bird ‘race’. The boundaries are set to the confines of the recording area the group operates in; and the count itself begins at 8am – ending at 4:30pm I noted to utilise all of the available hours of daylight. Shorter in these early days of the year.
In principle, the idea of a bird race jars with my overall approach to birdwatching. I champion a back-to-basics approach and often find that adding these unnecessary layers to any interest, starts to make it complicated and more difficult to emotionally regulate. That said, I also champion the connective power of birdwatching and an inclusive activity, like the bird race, radiates with it.
Mainly though, in these shorter and darker days, when our moods and tempers fray with the loose ends of rising and falling in blackness – the bird race is a respite and a reason, to spend a day outdoors and invigorated, with a sense of purpose. An aim.
In the lead up to the day of the race, my teammate and I were in regular contact as we tried to narrow down the places we were going to visit. I have a decent grasp of the local area and have spent lots of time, alone at various sites, looking for and enjoying the resident and visiting birds. In-fact, my connection with the local area is a tangible force.
It’s a bit like licking your finger and sticking it in the air to determine the wind direction; just being out there, in the measured wilderness, I know. A lot of it comes down to the innate calendar of winter – a rhythm – that beats through me in these colder and more static times. A constancy in their presence. The Pochard on the lake. The Jack Snipe in the mire. I know what’s going to be there because I can feel it in the air.
He trusted my intuition and we were rewarded, my friend and I. The day was frenetic. It rushed and darted, paced and paused. From site-to-site, lake to field and hedgerow to mill-pool – we checked and noted every new species until we reached 77. Ducks and finches, tits and grebes, to thrushes and geese. A plethora of birds, variety bringing wonder and consistency as it does to every nature experience and nuance of exploring a local area. A place.
The warmth of a village hall offsetting the cool evening air outside. A communal hub, where we competitors, met for hot drinks, homemade cake and glowing conversation. Lemon drizzle crumbs and talk of that elusive Whooper Swan. Mirth and laughter in the air as the ever-creeping anxiety grew with a tangible desire to be crowned winners. Scores were gathered and two teams were left – ours and one other. We were to reveal our scores at the same time. A tie – 77 each.
In that room sat 13 teams, making up at least 40 people and perhaps close to 50 years between the youngest and oldest people there. Yet for all of the differences in our lives; status, family, career, heritage and so-on – we were connected. Connected by a passion for birds and nature. Connected with love for our local area.
Connected through competition.