Breaking things down…

I’ve gone back to work this week after a busy summer off. It’s a genuine time of fresh starts at work and so I applied this to Bird Therapy, took the plunge and deactivated the Bird Therapy Twitter account. Instead of tweeting and threatening to do it, in a conceited act of self-important ego-massage – I just did it. No fanfare, no bullshit, although the irony being that few will read this as I can’t tweet about it!

It simply had to be done. The behaviours I’ve written and reflected on, in my previous three blogs ‘antisocial media’ (pts 1-3), were getting worse. The impact was great. First thing in the morning – check Twitter, all day, periodically check Twitter, go back to work, keep checking Twitter. NO. I have too much to do. Twitter doesn’t pay our mortgage or provide for our daughter. Time to switch off.

The obsession had begun to burn, to sear a Twitter feed into my retinas, to replace meaningful outward interaction. The harshest thing that was happening in my brain was the comparing. I’d begun to really obsess about another person on there, watching their followers grow and grow, as mine slowed and then began to deplete. This made me think I needed to post more and more. More inane crap – drivel that nobody cared about. More taking of pictures JUST to post them on there, or writing of poems and haiku’s, that were lacklustre at best – further attempts to garner favour and interest. Sad really.

I’d sidelined other obsessive and compulsive behaviours with a new obsession – Twitter and my ‘profile’ on there, I’d become obsessed with ‘famous’ people and being on that pedestal myself (although my last blog states how that dream imploded). I’d ‘connected’ with some of these people and took it really personally when they didn’t reply to messages. None of that was real. My compulsions had transformed, compulsions to tweet and attract attention, compulsions to seek sympathy and gratification through narcissistic tweeting, compulsions to check, check and triple check – to interact for interactions sake. I think I’d rather be obsessed with going to the toilet again, than the mental anguish these delusions of grandeur and self-importance were bringing.

The book, which I sweated adjectives and dried up manuscript handwriting pens (thanks Berol), to write, isn’t out until July 2019 at the earliest. Social media can wait. The people I’ve been obsessing over can continue to grow – they have the capacity to do so – I, simply don’t! I’ve conceded that life is too short to be hung up on social media interactions. The real interactions happen at work – supporting students with SEN, teaching staff and families, to achieve better outcomes. Lots of people commented on my inanities and helped me to see this – thanks to the author Melissa Harrison, in particular, for her sage words of advice.

I can be emailed birdtherapy@hotmail.co.uk and reached through here on the contact page. I’m still developing a teaching resource to go with the book, so those that offered to make video clips, I’d still like them, if you see this. I’m doing a supper talk at Cley Marshes NWT – more info and tickets here (although they’re available at the visitor centre too). Logo tee shirts are available for 2 more days here and are definitely printing, as 32 have sold. I think that’s it. Stay positive and happy birdwatching.

Joe

On faltering, fatherhood and falsification

The last week or so has been very, very strange for me and it’s led to a lot of deep reflection on what Bird Therapy ‘is’ and what, if any, are my aims, as life progresses?

You see, the issue is that I’ve reached a bit of a crossroads. The book, which chronicles all I wanted to get across (and more, I think), has gone to it’s first edit. It was hard to let go of it and to not obssessively check and edit it myself, but after a few weeks, the dust settled. Well, it didn’t settle, it kicked up and created a bit of a cloud – no, not a cloud, but a void. A yawning chasm in my life, that had filled three years of spare time, a lot of my efforts and a hell of a lot of emotions.

Then our daughter was born.

IMG_5239

I wanted the book to be finished before she arrived and it was (give or take a few tweaks to the reference list). The void was full. Full of cuddles,  kisses and an immeasurable love, the likes of which, I never thought it would be possible to feel. I reeled from having to fill every void in my life with something – writing, reading, puzzle books, research, sorting things – to only wanting to spend time with her, to watch her, to adore her and to love her. I had been concerned that my mental health might swing uncontrollably in the other direction, lurching towards blackness and bitterness as my life transformed from preoccupation to parenthood; but nothing else mattered – only her, only us.

OK, so I didn’t go out birdwatching for seven weeks, but when I did, not only was time spent catching up with good friends, but there was also no urgency. It had dissipated. There was no desire to seek and find, no urgency to troop and trail, no, just a coveted contentedness in nothing but being.

Last Saturday, Chris Packham invited me to be a guest as part of his own talk at the Birdfair. It was the first time I’d attended and having been ‘off the grid’ with the summer holidays, it was a welcome return to professionalism and passion. Except, once I got there, I found that all of my senses were overwhelmed. Usually I have no issue at all with people, crowds and socialising; but I felt a bit like a lost child – confused and concerned – eyes-darting everywhere, head pounding.

I hid in the ‘green room’ where I sat waiting, my hands shaking and my brain becoming increasingly fraught with anxiety. Twice, I had to leave the side-stage area, with the second time producing a bitter, colourless bile, as I totally freaked out about going on stage. Thankfully the talk was well-received and the feedback has been positive. I don’t even know what I said, it was like a waking dream.

IMG_7145What happened after though was that I realised I didn’t fit in there. Cemented by a conversation with someone else there, who felt similarly to myself. Usually I try and fit in, joining in with ‘banter’ and conversations, trying to read people and situations, but not this time. I wanted to hide in a corner. Fuelled by anxious paranoia, I quickly met three of the ten or so people I’d arranged to meet and bailed to my car to drive home. A lot of rumination occurred during this drive, and then over the following days – and that’s how I arrived here, at this blog.

I don’t want to be notorious, I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want money (I have a career anyway), I want and need Bird Therapy to continue in this slow and organic way – speaking, sharing, writing and raising awareness and hope. It seems like lots of people were moved by my words and my story and that’s what I want to do, I just want to share it, help others and raise awareness of mental health. Chris gave me a huge platform to do this from and I’m so thankful. Yes, I subsequently had a needy and narcissistic wobble on social media, as my default self-loathing kicked in and I sought reassurance, but again people were positive and supportive. It’s now time for me to celebrate rather than ruminate.

Joe

Twittering Away

I’m not sure how many people really read this blog or if any of my Twitter followers will end up seeing this, but I’ve become so obsessed with the Bird Therapy Twitter that I simply have to take a little break.

I felt it brewing as soon as we broke up for the summer holiday and I became increasingly more obsessed with posting for the sake of posting, checking, re-tweeting, fishing for likes and just generally being a narcissistic nightmare. I found myself seeking validation from various people and places and it was getting a bit unhealthy.

I just can’t accept that Bird a Therapy is a positive thing, I’ll always feel inadequate and delusions of grandeur, that I’ve always been saddled with, make it feel like the worst thing ever, when really it’s a self-inflicted first world problem.

I don’t have many, if any, people that I can discuss certain things with, like this social media nightmare and the way it makes me feel. I’ve place way too much emotional emphasis on my interactions on Twitter, to the point where they were replacing any external interactions in my life. Not good.

I’ll start with a week away and then see how I feel. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but while I continue to compare my social media ‘presence’ to others with more time, creativity and talent than me, I’ll always feel shit about myself.

If anyone wants to message me then use the contact page on her, leave a comment or email me at; birdtherapy@hotmail.co.uk

Joe

Bird sense – counting birds

Another short passage that was edited from the final book…

There is another aspect to this bird sense that manifests through the art of guessing and analogising.  It seems like the more time you spend looking at, and counting large flocks of birds, then the more adept you start to become at approximating their numbers; often with reasonable success. I have a silly theory for this skill which I call my ‘Magpie Analogy’. It works like this – you’re walking with someone who is not a birdwatcher, and you’re both sharing a leisurely countryside stroll. A right-hand turn into a footpath takes you along the edge of a stubble field, where there are several Magpies lounging in the cropped crop.

You turn to your associate and ask them how many Magpies they think there are. As an experienced birdwatcher, not only are you able to scan the field and instantly pick out the structure and colouration of individual birds, but realistically a split-second scan can raise a pretty accurate guess – there are eight birds. However, it takes your friend the time to count each single bird and to recognise each one individually in order to reach the same conclusion.

Flushed 4

I’ve been out with birdwatchers, who seem to be able to look at a flock of Golden Plovers in the sky, that to my eyes, just appear like a whirling, shimmering mass, that’s moving and glittering in unison. To them, there’s 350 birds – just like that – scanned and noted. It’s an amazing skill to witness, and one that clearly develops over time, but I’m still working on it myself. I’ve been out with people and we’ve counted the same flock of wildfowl, but our approximated counts are always different. It may take me a little longer to achieve the same, accurate count, but if I take the time to count the birds methodically then I usually get there in the end.

The trick is to divide a large flock into smaller groups of the same number and size. I’d suggest grouping ten birds, then scanning across and accumulating these clumps into the full flock-size. I’ve tried this a few times with large flocks of waders, pigeons and finches and it works well. This flock of Linnets, I estimated at 200 birds and minus the few out of shot – it’s not a bad guess!

IMG_1288

11th July, 2018

Please have a read of Jonny Rankin’s new blog on his birding commute. It’s an enjoyable read about urban wildlife and his reflections on his journey into work. His kinetic approach to birding is also featured in my upcoming book too.

The birding commute

I finally got round to reading the summer 2018 edition of BTO news (Issue 327) on today’s commute. This is a publication that has improved massively, in my opinion, over recent years.

It has progressed away from solely informative and Journal-based to a thoroughly enjoyable and well presented read. It’s still steeped in fact and science just presented in a true ‘magazine’ format. Here are my two favourite snippets from this issue:

Did you know? … that Blackbirds live longer in cities, but have poorer health than rural birds? Their telemores, a part of the DNA which shortens with stress, are shorter, indicating higher stress and poorer health’.

The effects on mental health – Birds tend to be visible, vocal and active during the day. They are also found throughout towns and cities. Together, this means that birds are not only more likely to be present at…

View original post 207 more words

Yellow-browed Warbler

With the right pressure systems and wind direction in October, we are often gifted with vagrant birds from Siberia, colloquially known as ‘Sibes’ to birdwatchers. The most common ‘Sibe’ in the UK is the  Yellow-browed Warbler, whose numbers have increased markedly in recent years. In keeping with this chapters theme it is thought that this can be attributed to changes in our weather.

October 2016 saw large volumes of Yellow-browed Warblers along the entire Norfolk coastline. Over the following weeks, bird news reporting implied that they were slowly making their way inland. These reports seemed like they were getting  closer and closer to the conurbation of Norwich, and as they began to scatter across the county, I felt an increased sense that I might chance upon one locally. With this sense came a determination to get out as much as possible and find one.

This led to me visiting my patch almost every day after work and I spent a lot of time observing the movements of a large tit-flock that roved through the trees encircling the lake. I’d found a spot where tree branches enclosed the path, about a foot above head height – and this was seemingly the perfect spot to stand and wait for them. I could set my scope up and observe the lake, whilst patiently waiting for the rising tumult of contact calls from the Long-tailed Tits. This encircled position meant I could enjoy and scrutinise the entire flock as it spilled around me – immersed and unrehearsed.

IMG_2147

I’d learnt from other people, literature and most importantly, experience, that vagrant birds often tag onto these flocks. Several days had passed without any stragglers within the flock, but on the third day, after about twenty minutes, I could hear them approaching and I waited.  Still, under the green canopy, my anticipation increasing as they got nearer – contact calls increasing in volume until the first birds were moving above me. The delicately thin tail of a Long-tailed Tit, a silhouette in the foliage, then the bulkier frame of a Great Tit passing to my right. Lots of smaller birds were moving through too and I assumed they were Goldcrests. I watched until the majority of the fifty birds had passed.

It was time to move on and complete a customary lap of the lake, when out of nowhere “Swee-Ooh” slurred just over my shoulder. I recognised the call immediately – but surely it couldn’t be? I snatched at my binoculars and searched frantically for the bird that had uttered that familiar sound. The call broke out again from directly in front of me and then it appeared, flicking confidently into my view escorted by a cavalry of two flanking Goldcrest’s.

YBW - MT

There it was. The desired target of all my searching – a Yellow-browed Warbler. They’re beautiful little leaf warblers and a species I never expected to actually encounter at my patch. Determination and sheer persistence was really paying off for me when it came to patch birding. I had put the hours in and been determined to find something wonderful. This was just that – wonderful.  Even though I cherish the everyday experiences of nature and revel in their beauty, there is still something intrinsically magical about finding a scarce bird in your local area. This was  a product of stoic observation of patterns and by now you should know how much I love a pattern! Patterns in the weather, patterns in birds passing through – the patterns of nature.

Thanks to Mark Thomas for the great picture of one in the hand.

You can still pre-order my book and get your name printed in every copy, as a supporter, here 

Antisocial Media Pt. III

With the imminent arrival of our first child, I decided a few days ago, to stop posting on the Bird Therapy Twitter account until after the summer holidays. Yesterday, I found I was still obsessively checking it and I felt that the only way to counter that would be to deactivate the account.

I always thought that social media was a positive when building a profile of a brand, a product or a person. However, what I increasingly found myself doing, was comparing myself to other people and becoming despondent at not being able to reach their levels of popularity and reach. This actually made my wellbeing worse and has put me in a pretty negative place at the minute.

I’ve read up on the effects of social media use and how it can lower self-esteem and make people feel inadequate. It’s certainly had that effect on me, as I just don’t have the capacity to maintain a presence on there, yet felt that I had to. If I didn’t post – I lost followers. If I posted and it didn’t hit a certain threshold of likes – I felt useless. I had found that I was so focused on ‘being’ someone, on being known – of being accepted. That it consumed my life. I was actually so focused on my social media presence that I’d started to lose a little of who I am in the real world.

These are common feelings though. There’s a fascinating report into social media use in 8-12 year olds, aptly named ‘life in likes’. The issues are similar, almost identical – and although presented from the perspective of children, resonate entirely. I write this to show to other people who are experiencing the same thing – that you’re not alone.

On the plus side – I’m about to become a Dad and in the absence of birds locally as they nestle down again, I’ve seen some beautiful local butterflies and orchids. Pictures below.

Joe

 

 

 

Word-smithing and wing-spreading

Being my final half-term before fatherhood, I’ve been keen this week, to get as much of the book manuscript finalised as possible. Editing your own words is hard enough as it is, editing when you have OCD is hell.

Type. Delete. Type. Repeat… for hours and hours. Get angry. Stop writing. Freak out. Go for a walk. Give up.

Whenever people ask me how close I am to finishing the book, I tell them the truth, that I’m writing the final chapter. What this doesn’t account for is the amount of time I spend trying to battle my anxiety about it’s quality. It’s been really tough to stop re-editing chapters over and over again, but thankfully, positive feedback on the opening chapter has helped to soothe this process for me.

I also made a decision this week – that I’m going to design and produce a secondary PSHE teaching resource to work alongside the book. I try to avoid cross-pollinating my job and Bird Therapy, but sometimes it needs to be done – like with this. Any one who has heard me talk, will know of the Kingfisher analogy – a time when the two have married up in such a beautifully profound way. The response on social media has been great and I look forward to working with those who have contacted me.

The book is one thing, but if it can have a legacy that can follow it, then even better. I know that what I write about – both mental health AND bird-watching, can engage young people, I’ve seen it in my own work. If my story can inspire and support just one young person to recognise any issues they may have and seek help – then I’ve achieved the very pinnacle of what I set out to do.

Recently, I’ve started to receive messages from people who have been inspired, helped and touched by what I write about. As I move closer to being a parent for the first time, my life has been wobbling and balancing out into perspective – like a spiritual spirit level. I’ve written about my battle with social media, narcissism and ego at length and realising that Bird Therapy and it’s impact reaches far beyond me and my microcosm, has affirmed what it’s all about. It’s been a profound epiphany and milestone in what Bird Therapy is and can be in the future and has made me feel so relaxed and empowered – it’s awesome.

Finally, I’d like to extend a special thanks to the BTO, who invited me to speak to their staff team yesterday, in a lunchtime seminar. They made me feel so welcome and were a fantastic audience – receptive and engaged. Thanks for having me and listening to the Bird Therapy story!

Joe

Night of the Nightjars

Yesterday evening, although showery and overcast, I decided to go to my favourite local heath-land site to try and experience some Nightjars. As dusk descended, around 21:00pm, the rain began to ease and I became more hopeful of encountering some of these spectral fliers. For 30 minutes, leading up to this point, the rain had fallen persistently upon the arid ground. I stood it out, foolishly dedicated – maybe, wet-through – certainly, but disappointed – far from.

I heard a gentle ‘churr’, distantly to my right and walked towards it – my senses were becoming attuned to this eerie world. The rain had stopped and the mixture of stuffy air and descending gloom, made a somewhat heavy atmosphere. Suddenly, in the failing light, a bat-like, raptor-shaped shadow rose to the air in front of me. It was a patrolling male Nightjar and it flew around and over me, inspecting its territory and inspecting me.

IMG_4260

Then another ‘churring’ male started up behind me, the first one landed even closer and they began to try and ‘out-churr’ each other. At one point, the sound of their robotic songs rose so high that it literally rang in my ears.

At least once, every early-summer, I make a pilgrimage to spend some time with these magical birds. Two years ago, I wrote about Nightjar’s for the book – at exactly the same location as last night. This forme d a key component of the chapter ‘A Pipit, a Woodlark and an evening concerto’ and I’ve decided to share an extract with you here:

“Eventually, the gorse tunnel receded and open heathland lay sprawling out to the left and right – a treeline running distantly across the shadowy vista, outlining a clear boundary. The path flowed, bowing round to the left and skirting along the edge of these trees. Walking slowly but purposefully, arriving at a natural halt, feeling like a good position to wait for the spectral fliers. Standing, waiting – really should have brought a chair. Ambling and agitating – was it the wrong evening?

Then it began.

How do you even begin to describe the ethereal singing of the Nightjar to someone who has never heard it before? The first adjective that springs to mind is ‘mechanical’ and in keeping with this word, it does seem to shift up or down a gear in pitch. The ‘jar’ in Nightjar is derived from ‘churr’, which is what the song is supposed to sound like. That churring was the exact sound reeling away behind me, so I headed back towards it, closing in on a cleared area of gorse. In the semi-darkness, sitting in full view on a tree stump and looking somewhat like a broken branch, was the purveyor of the song.

Oh, to be so close to such an oddity of the avian world. To be alone – on a warm summer evening – in the company of nothing else but nature. I spent an hour in the presence of four Nightjars, treated to an otherworldly display of churring and wing-clapping. Darkness fell and the whirring orchestra continued all around me, creating a panoramic soundscape. I couldn’t see them but I could certainly hear them and feel their presence. At a natural lull in their evening concerto, I began the long walk back to my car – feeling elated, ecstatic even. I was only a few miles from my house, yet I was able to experience something so magical and powerful. A privilege of nature.”

You can still pre-order the book from here and you’ll still get your name printed in the back as a supporter until we close the fund.

Joe

A week of unrivalled wonder

This week has been one of the most ridiculous – in a positive sense – of my life. It’s been a bit of a blur really, but as of yesterday (Friday 11th) – Bird Therapy, the book, is going to be published. I’m still in a state of shock, fuzzy and occasionally confused, I can’t quite fathom the enormity of what’s been achieved.

On Tuesday 8th, Chris Packham agreed to write the foreword for the book. He read the first chapter and liked it enough to be willing to do this – can’t wait for him to read the rest. Once I’ve read it multiple times and stopped freaking out about it!

Last week, Adam Huttly – founder of Red.inc became a patron of the book/crowdfund, which significantly boosted its progression, along with the exposure from Chris too. I started to realise that it might actually happen.

By the evening of Thursday 10th, the crowdfund had reached 92%, on a whim I messaged Bill Bailey, who had put a tweet out about it around a month ago. I only wished for him to tweet again, but he also became a patron – taking it to 99%.

I woke up the following morning, still elated, checked the page and it was 100% funded – with the pledge taking it over the line coming from my Stepfather – a beautiful way to reach the target.

To the many people that have pledged so far, I am indebted to you. Thank you for believing in the book, the message – in me. It’s really going to happen and I hope it helps many people to discover the benefits birdwatching can bring. I dreamt of getting the message out and believed a book was the way – to all those who rejected the idea or wouldn’t back the crowdfund – well, you know what!

The crowdfund will remain active, so if you’d like your name in the back as a supporter, you still can – this also means that signed copies and collectors editions will be available until closer to the publication date. I really can’t thank you enough!!!

Visit the crowdfunding page here

Joe