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.


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.


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.





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!


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.


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.


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 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


A bird Survey and a sense of purpose

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.

Grandad Pip and the Great Crested Grebe

In the hot summer months, we used to spend time on their friend’s boat on Salhouse Broad. The adventure always began by parking at the public car-park, dark and shaded. It was surrounded by seemingly ancient trees and however hot it was outside of this dim vacuum, it was always cooler as you strolled down to the broad itself. A ten-minute walk followed, meandering along stretches of muddy pathways and boardwalk. Periodically, along the route, stood gnarled trees with huge chunks of them missing. Although devoid of life, I would breathe it back into them by running and dancing around their cocoons-like trunks. Woodland became nettle-bed, which then became reed-bed and occasionally sunlight would filter through, vitalising the murk with glittering cascades of green and gold.

Towards the end of the path, soil turned to sand and the vegetation began to open out, offering options. Here you had to make a choice – boardwalk or broad-walk? The pull of the open water usually outweighed any other option here – broad walk. I would run, free, up the hill that borders the south edge of the broad. Onward and through the prickly thicket, a rabbit-run made my years of gambolling children. Upon reaching the apex point, I was the captain of the broad, looking down across the surface – day boats speckling the water and families frolicking at the water’s edge. It was a picture-postcard scene, it was Norfolk in a nutshell.

They used to moor up at the waters edge on the south side of the broad and it was from here that we would board the great ship. The water always seemed crystalline and clean, unaffected by the algal growth that’s present today. The boat was the setting for the first steps in my avian tutelage, where my water-based lessons in recognising the commonest wildfowl began. We started with simple and easy-to-remember birds: Mute Swans, Coots and Moorhens. All predominantly one colour, although the larger Coot with its white bill, versus the more compact, red and yellow -beaked Moorhen, was the first differential between bird species I learnt.

What was the slender-necked regal-looking bird that kept diving below the broads’ surface? A flash of dazzling white leading up to a ruffled rufous lions’ mane, satin-white face and sharp grey bill. What was this handsome bird, darting and diving around us. He told me what it was –another species I would be able to identify forever – unmistakable and elegant – a Great Crested Grebe. He would tell me about Kingfisher’s and their beguiling, azure beauty. We never saw one, but I dreamt of the day I would see my first. Would it be fishing? Would I be able to watch it properly?

Anxiety, OCD and me

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety to anyone who hasn’t been exposed to it themselves in some way. My own anxiety manifests in a constant, nagging feeling that I’ve done something wrong or am about to do so. Invariably, I then begin to dwell upon the feeling and what may have caused it and so begins a cycle of negative thinking. I worry intensely about what other people think about me, I’m persistently paranoid and will repeat events and conversations over and over in my mind, convinced that I’ve said or done something bad.

This leaves me feeling constantly on edge and hyper-aware of how I interact with people – having a knock-on effect on my concentration and enjoyment of life in general; thus impacting on my overall mood. I sweat, I shake, I fret and I ache, but time has enabled me to learn what the warning signs are and calm myself enough to function, for example, in a supermarket or other public place. It follows me everywhere and sometimes it gets so intense that it hurts my head, gives me a headache and keeps me awake at night. My OCD is even harder to explain!

OCD – Obsessive Conpulsive Disorder. Obsessive- Everything needs to be a certain way; arranged a certain way, done in a certain way – it’s all about order. Without order, bad things will happen, but I’m never really sure what those bad things are, I just know it will. I can’t really explain what the particular ‘way’ is either, it’s my methodologies that I believe are correct. It’s more to do with how they feel, certain ways of doing things feel safe, right and secure. How ironic that a DISorder is all about order!

Compulsive – I have plenty of compulsive behaviours, some rational and some ridiculous. The worst was a long-standing fear of urinating myself in public and therefore planning every aspect of my life around the availability of toilet facilities. It got so bad that I would go to the toilet for the sake of going, not because I actually needed to. Thankfully, over the last 3-4 years, I’ve managed to overcome this but there’s still a residual over-visiting of restrooms that lingers.

I combat anxieties with rituals that make me feel at ease. At the minute, I’m struggling with picking my fingers and with social media. I’ve always bit, scratched and picked for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, my fingers and nails are a bit of a mess and the skin on my face isn’t great either. I like to make lists and plan every aspect of my life, something explored further in this book. I call this ‘mapping’. This quest for ideal circumstance and perfection is pithy – I know that I can’t prepare for every eventuality, but it certainly makes me feel better. Birdwatching has been a marvellous coping strategy, distraction and relaxation aid. As you read further into the book and I share more of my positive experiences relating to mental health and birdwatching, I hope you are able to recognise how it has helped me and how I hope it may help others too

Antisocial Media Pt. II

In September I wrote a blog called ‘Antisocial Media’, about my negative and wholly unhealthy relationship with my Bird Therapy Twitter account. This week I found myself having another Twitter meltdown and once again it led to me questioning what it is about social media that I find so difficult to manage.

Fundamentally, it’s my obsessive tendencies and delusions of grandeur that start the negative cycle. I post something, believing that I have a given right for it to be popular and therefore, when it doesn’t prove to be – I take it as some kind of personal attack. This is a mixture of the paranoia and inflated sense of responsibility that come with my mental health issues.

I received some feedback on my writing that I perceived as negative (although principally it wasn’t) and this led to me rapid-fire posting on Twitter to seek reassurances on what I’ve been doing. I then couldn’t cope with the lack of response and interaction that I received and my mood and anxieties spiralled downwards.

I came to a realisation that I had become reliant on Twitter for social interaction and reassurance. This was the reason I came off Facebook five years ago and it just isn’t a healthy way to be. I kept checking my Twitter repeatedly – obsessively – so much, in fact, that when I removed the Twitter application from my phone I had an involuntary reflex to go to the space that was left on my phone.

So, I’ve made a decision to stop posting on Twitter over Christmas and spend this time re-evaluating why I’m writing and exploring the topic. I hope that this can help me to maintain a more positive approach to social media. Hopefully I will return stronger and more in control of it.

A moment with a Marsh Harrier

I remember a day last year when I sat on my own in the Fen Hide at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB – my only company being the gusting thirty mile-per-hour winds that were howling across the exposed reed beds. The Fen Hide is an altogether rickety structure at best and when you are sat inside it on a gusty day, the walls literally shake as they are buffeted by the wind. As it barrels over the reeds it presses them down flat, ironed out by the power of the wind. Between gusts, they sprang back to their erect position, only to be smoothed out by the next one. It was just as well that this hypnotic rippling effect was there for me to watch and enjoy as I wasn’t likely to see a great many birds that day.

That is not strictly true though and as I sat in the Fen Hide on my own, reflecting, I noticed a beautiful male Marsh Harrier sitting out on a bare tree. He perched, still as a statue as if he were the gatekeeper of the reed-bed – seemingly unperturbed by the crosswinds blowing into him. Bright yellow legs gripped the wiry branches, smooth chestnut brown up his breast moving into a lighter-coloured head and small, sharp bill. Reflecting on this made me recall a survey respondent who had written a lengthy passage about their own positive experience with Marsh Harriers, I think it’s apt to share here;

“After a torrid few months last year (close bereavement, work stress, probable mid-life crisis) I felt a real, specific need to watch Marsh Harriers. We booked a holiday cottage in Suffolk and saw some great birds, but two or three days in I went off on my own and found a local reed-bed that had breeding Marsh Harriers and sat there watching them for about an hour. Not something I’d experienced before but it felt like I was fulfilling a deep physiological need, a bit like drinking cool water after a long, dry day in the sun, and when I returned to the cottage my wife said that my face was “shining” and I looked well for the first time in months.”

I found this to be such a profound sentiment and as they went on to describe the ‘wildness’ in a Marsh harriers eyes, I was struck. What a beautiful way to describe a Marsh harrier and to epitomise their wildness. Furthermore, the places that you encounter them – the rolling reed-beds they call home, are the very embodiment of wildness and wilderness. I have written several times about the feelings invoked by views across reed-beds, their openness and beauty. Throw in an exhilarating blast of cold, fresh air that often accompanies such a view, and I’m reinvigorated. A survey respondent made a delightful comment on the wind, saying that it “helps to clear my mind of worries”, a sentiment I certainly connect with myself.

Thanks to Les Bunyan, volunteer at Titchwell RSPB for the exquisite picture of a Marsh Harrier.