Bird Therapy teaching pack – please help

A while ago, I wrote a blog called Feeling resourceful? which was about my aim to produce a teaching resource to work alongside the book. I’ve been working with young people who’ve had negative school experiences (permanent exclusion, unmet needs, bullying etc) for many years, and with that kind of target group in mind, I had grand visions of producing an all-singing, all-dancing interactive resource.

But that was definitely no more than just a vision. I researched the possibility of getting it accredited, but the cost was astronomical for me to cover and would mean I’d certainly have to charge for any resource. I want it to be free and inclusive, so that idea was ruined. It’s a shame, as all the preparatory work and research implied that a short course would be the most rewarding option for all.

Anyway. Life is always determined to put obstacles in your path and spanners in the works – and the notion of making a teaching resource was pushed behind by the demands of work and fatherhood. The last few evenings though, after catching up on my mountain of outstanding work, I started to weave together some ideas into, not quite a teaching resource, but a guidance pack that uses the book as it’s reference point.

The book’s illustrator Jo Brown is being wonderfully helpful, in making her book illustrations transparent so that I can use them with the chapter quotes as pausing points in a slideshow. Her art completes the book and simply has to be a part of anything connected to it.

I’m also lucky that I’ve taught a considerable amount of lessons and units on mental health and wellbeing and in my true obsessional style, I’ve made a lot of resources to accompany these. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m going to include some of these with the guidance pack and make a few more for some of the other tasks. It’s looking like it will feature a solid mix of wellbeing and nature-related tasks, much like the structure of the book. Some examples here:

Back when I posted about this before, I asked people to help, by making some little videos to be a part of the slideshow – and I’d still love for that to happen please. I’m using one of the chapters to talk about special places and this would be the theme of any video. Basically, this is what I’m looking for:

  • Mobile phone selfie videos are perfect! Much more personal.
  • Introduce yourself, what you do for work maybe and if you suffer with your mental health.
  • Film in your special place and introduce where that is and why it’s special to you.

I only ask that your special place is an outdoor one and that’s literally it. 30 seconds I reckon? They can just be emailed over to me at birdtherapy@hotmail.co.uk as the file size should be pretty small.

Here’s my special place.

  • Winterwatch video

    If you couldn’t or didn’t watch it, or perhaps didn’t know we’d done it, I recorded a feature on Bird Therapy with Chris Packham which was aired in January on Winterwatch.

    The feature focuses on mine and Chris’s experience of suicidal thoughts, how I discovered birdwatching, how it can help promote wellbeing and engaging with it. I’m really proud of the overall feature and the messages it conveys. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

    I uploaded the video to YouTube a while back and you can watch it here

    The proof is in the final proof

    Yesterday morning was shepherded in by streams of gulls. Regular pulses of birds in linear formations, making their dawn flights to daytime feeding grounds. On the drive to work, two Skylarks bounced up from a field boundary and over the car. I couldn’t hear their streams of bubbly notes, but I recognised their pot-bellies and triangular wings. On other morning commutes, I’ve observed many birds – Fieldfares roving, Linnets arcing, Cormorants darting and Pink-feet returning – all above the same familiar road. Not yesterday though, yesterday was a normal day.

    Until early afternoon, when I received an email from the editor of Bird Therapy with the FINAL proof attached for my perusal and approval. A flood of emotions poured over me, from petrified excitement to gnawing doubt. I knew that all the final edits were done, so I had a flick (well – a scroll) through it and checked the illustrations were all ok; and yes, it really was finished!

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    Four years of writing; of ink and emotions bleeding into notepad after notepad. The research and reading, so enlightening but time-devouring. The conversations and discussions, the friends, both lost and found. The frustration, the lows, the lack of confidence that I could get the message across in the right way. Not to mention the crowdfund, that was a different beast altogether!

    I’d laid my heart on the page in the book, but I laid it on the line with the crowdfund. I’d been reluctant to even consider it to begin with, and throughout the funding phase, the pressure was immense. Mostly self-imposed, this pressure are away at me constantly and became an obsession. Checking, posting, deleting, rewording, pleading – it was horrible. I was very lucky, that lots of people (hundreds in-fact) believed in the book and in me. The process continued, behind the scenes as edit upon edit ensued, but the ballooning pressure deflated as the target was met.

    Yesterday, seeing that final proof, was the culmination of all of that work, emotion and pressure – the release was incredible.

    The final cover for Bird Therapy

    I’m delighted that today has seen the finalisation of the whole cover of Bird Therapy. It’s a PPC cover, so will be lovely and tactile and at some point, I’ll share the endpapers too – which are equally as beautiful. Some of the comments from my most respected and favourite authors who have read it, have been overwhelming – I’ve shared some of these here too.

    The book is available to preorder at Unbound and also on Amazon

    A week away, some well-stocked feeders and a stone-age pit

    This week, we’ve been at Center Parcs in Elveden for a little half-term break. I’ve been several times and rate it highly, both for children and for disabled access, as I supported someone with a learning disability to visit there twice, in a previous job. I’d always known that it’s good for resident wildlife: deer, squirrels, woodland birds and butterflies – but I’d never fully connected with the birdlife there until this visit.

    Every morning, I spent 30-40 minutes in the observation hide. This slightly raised wooden oblong sits on the precipice of a large dip in the ground, which like some other Breckland sites, is the remnant of some stone-age workings. The dip is surrounded by trees, young and old, and a small pond sits at its nadir, where all of the birds seemed to enjoy a wash and a drink. The array of feeders there is brilliant and one morning I watched them being filled – a military operation of raising, lowering, scooping and pouring, which took twenty minutes to complete.

    When the maintenance team left the birds began to return, tentatively. Blue and Great Tits arrived first in a flicker of blue or blacky-green, offset against bright yellow, a glint and then gone. The skittish flock of Chaffinches came out of hiding and returned to their methodical ground-feeding routines. A peach-blush Brambling stood out amongst them, warm, bold and black-barred.

    A whistling buzz heralded the return of a pair of Siskin to the niger feeders directly in front, offering an eye-level observation of their lemon-yellow zebra-stripes. Their meal was short-lived as a dark scythe cut through the hollow, past their feeders in a rush, down to the next set and then rapidly altering course as it failed to catch its own breakfast. A Sparrowhawk, taking a chance on an easy feed. Dispersing every bird in the vicinity in a cacophony of rapid and urgent warning calls.

    An obvious call, one known well, echoed out over the open space – “pit-choo” – a Marsh Tit. A sound that became familiar around the woodland park, as did the whip-like contact calls of the pair of Nuthatches frequenting the car-park Oaks.

    The week ended with 40 species of bird being seen around the park – mainly in the hide and on the lakes. It was in the hide though, that I was able to completely switch off from everything for a few moments. It was just me and the birds; and it meant that I could spend some time really focusing on, and enjoying, some of the more common bird species. I found myself stripping back to the basics of birdwatching again and it was wonderful. Just like this male Blackbird, whose feathers caught the sun in a dazzling display of depth and light. Magic.

    Farewell to my fallback plan – the passing of a place

    Last weekend, I discovered that a local birdwatcher is moving into the lodge park at my patch. I should be happy, but it’s actually ripped me apart and I’ll explain why. For four years now (this would have been the fifth), I’ve been visiting pretty much the same site for birdwatching and it’s been my haven. When my mind is racing and my head is pounding, the sweeping view across the enclosed lake, swallows up my troubles and absorbs my anxieties. It’s my natural safety net. My escape.

    I gained access to the park in the very early days of my mental health recovery. It’s a part of that time of my life. An important time, of self-discovery and positive change. My journey. Those bygone days were filled with excitement as I developed an understanding of the place I was visiting. Its natural nuances and its resident birds.

    I began to mentally map the locations of breeding birds and where I’d observed more interesting or scarcer species. This made an imprint, like a heat map, in my subconscious.

    I knew and together we grew.

    As the seasons changed, I lived the seasonal movements as if I were part of the land. It was an undercurrent to the progressive improvements in my mood and mindset – a place I could rely on if I needed to escape. A welcoming hug when I was struggling or having a bad day.

    I took people there and showed them round. We walked past the area of tussock sedge where the Reed Bunting family lived. We passed through the scrub tunnel to my duck-counting bank. We ambled Across to the giant buddleia that brimmed with butterflies in the summer months and we marched, down to the south side, where Little Grebe would laugh and hide amongst the reed fringes. Once a month I counted the ducks for a WeBS count, a BTO citizen science initiative. I was connected, deeply and truly, to the land there.

    I write in the past tense. For my connection is so intrinsic to me, that I know I can’t share it with another person. I know it’s selfish. I know that from many a birdwatchers perspective, more eyes means more birds; but it’s never just been about the birds there for me.

    As I grew – my understanding of myself, my responses and my thought processes – so grew my understanding of this patch and of the rhythms and cycles of the most fundamental elements of being. I’m not even sure that I can go back there at all now, as those deep roots feel as though they’ve been savagely torn out of the ground.

    Yes, my writing and ethos is bedded in inclusion and sharing, but I’m not ashamed or uncomfortable in admitting that this, I just don’t want to share.

    I have four wonderful years of memories. I have a plethora of bird sightings, mapping breeding and migrating birds at a focused local site. I’ve written page upon page in the book about how we are (were) connected and I have a vast collection of sumptuous photos, celebrating the natural beauty of a stunning site. More importantly though; I have my family, my career and my garden bird community to focus on. My daughter had visited. If hoped she would perhaps love this place too one day. Plus, this summer will be hectic with the book, so I’d probably only struggle with feelings of missing out anyway. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

    The patch and I had a fitting send-off though. Last week I filmed a short video with Chris Packham for WinterWatch (airing next week) and I’ll treasure this as my final farewell to my fallback plan. For me, it is, the passing of a place.

    Constancy, my bird community and a flyover Heron

    As I start writing this, two Sparrows on our bird feeders swiftly became four, before something spooked them and they powered across the garden and over the fence next-door. Eight Starlings wheeled over the garden too, tumbling into the tops of the bare birches that stand over the distant paddocks. It’s one of those moments, where I’m reminded of the consistent presence of my bird community. I can hear the chirp and chatter of the Sparrows, they must be communing nearby. Two Wood Pigeons just veered above the telephone exchange, as a laboured gull, Black-headed, cut across their wobbling flight paths.

    A Robin just flew up from the Hydrangea bed and onto the fence. Annual companions, epitomising winter and bringing reassurance with them, their burning breasts like beacons in cold times. This is what my hobby is like for me now, since our daughter was born and my birdwatching is spread sparsely – yet I still love it and live it. Before, when I was more self-absorbed, I would’ve struggled with this change. Now, I’m content.

    Appreciation glows, no, it burns – like embers of satisfaction, for the regularity of the pair of Jays that strafe the roads around my work. Two Collared Doves just dropped in here, cooing as they landed, one on the old and one on the new, BT masts. The birds, they are always here, ever-present and constant. Never forget their place in your world, in the humdrum of daily life.

    Once a month, I still get to the patch to do my WeBS count. It’s a more focused affair now and not a lengthy ramble by water and woodland; as I contemplate my troubles and leave them behind me on the muddy, leaf-strewn paths. We took our daughter there a few weeks ago, I pointed out Gadwall and Shoveler and told her how much I love it there. One day, she may love it too. Even if she doesn’t, we have a wonderful natural place almost on our doorstep and in some way, we will enjoy it together.

    The weirdest thing just happened. I’ve finished writing about the constancy of my bird community when suddenly to an awkward frame lumbers into view. Long, serpentine and prehistoric; it’s a Grey Heron. Only the third specimen in two and a half years of residing here, it bounded up into level flight and then over and away from the house; and this is the magic of birds. For all that consistency, occasionally something is seen and experienced that just blows you away and as that Heron blows away on the December breeze, I walk away from the window, smiling.