Nap-time, a sodden pushchair and over a thousand Starlings

You can tell when she is tired. She starts to suck her thumb more vigorously and strokes her ear lobe, plus her eyelids look noticeably heavy. She has been tired for half an hour now, in-fact, she is overtired and fighting her bodies natural urge to sleep. Every time she is laid down on the sofa and wrapped up, she looks like she is about to succumb, then smiles and starts to stroke my face – I cannot help but smile back – then it becomes a game. It is probably because she fell asleep in the car seat on the way back from the food shopping. Yes! The car seat! She has never been driven to sleep purposely, but if she misses this nap then the repercussions could continue into the ensuing days. We are going to give it a try.

Within five minutes of being in the seat, she is asleep and we are driving without purpose. The off-road buggy, rain-cover and changing bag are all in the car boot, so really, we can drive anywhere. She needs to sleep for an hour, ideally, so we head away from town and suddenly, the coast seems like the perfect destination and we can get out and go for a walk. It starts to rain, not that heavily, but it is persistent and the wipers have to be clicked up into second gear to clear away the raindrops. The sky is much greyer when we reach the cricket club car park and as we’ve only been driving for forty minutes, the engine will have to keep running to continue the sensation that we are still on the move.

Five clicks of the handbrake and she is awake, grizzling for a s’nack’ and some water. The buggy is put up, she is hastily but gently put in it, the canopy is over, rain-cover on and we are off up the old coast watch track in the driving rain. The buggy’s rough tread helps it to negotiate the muddy brown puddles and we talk all the way to the squat brick shelter. To be fair, though, it’s a one sided conversation about the importance of good sleep patterns and the wonder of bird migration. The rains tenacity increases and it bounces off the rain cover, splashing into the canvas bag tray at the bottom. She’s happy, babbling and laughing each time that the buggy stops and I crouch down to look through her ‘viewing hatch’. We smile and continue walking.

The elder bush is alive with the movement of birds. We can see several Chaffinches, some Reed Buntings and a charm of Goldfinches – that all take flight, coalesce and then separate into the surrounding bushes. We make it to the shelter and as we enter, on the brick windowsill (albeit, long devoid of an actual window) sits a sodden Goldcrest, visibly exhausted and trembling. It does not show concern for our presence and sits for a few minutes, watching, as she eats some coconut rolls and has some water; the Goldcrest, drying. We talk about the journey these birds will have just undertaken; the weather, the loneliness – the magic! The Starlings start to trickle over the cliff like a black band twanging in the wind. They stay in formation, ordered and purposeful, as they continue to stream over the clifftop. Over the next ten minutes or so, hundreds of them emerge from the misty murk and arrow into the beet tops of the field next to the shelter. She has seen the miracle that is bird migration firsthand. I smile – she giggles – and we begin to walk back down the track, once again negotiating the pock marks and puddles.

Epic podcast chat with Jonny ‘Dovestep’ Rankin

A few days ago, I spent a couple of hours in the evening having a really good chat with Jonny Rankin of Dovestep fame (he also contributed to Bird Therapy too). We talk about a lot of non-birding stuff as well – but it was great to chat to him about mental health, birdwatching and social media.

You can listen here

The art of noticing

One of the core ethos’s of Bird Therapy is to take notice and chapter three of the book is focused around this idea and that if we slow down and take notice of the everyday beauty around us, then many benefits may be unlocked. From feeling more connected to our world, to feeling more connected with ourselves; this blog post follows these two arcs and I’ve found myself hyper-focused on taking notice recently, as you will see.

In June and July, there’s a little bit of a lull in the usual hubbub of our local avifauna. Sandwiched between spring and autumn passage, the summer months are a time of tending and tenderness, as local breeders fledge their young and some move onto second broods. We have 3 S’s nesting in our eaves – Sparrows, Starlings and Swifts. In times of confusion and despondency, I know I can always look up and observe their nesting and feeding behaviours – the Swifts are especially fascinating. There’s so much to notice about them when you can see them up-close; their tiny feet, folded scythe wings and vigilant head movements as they deposit food to the nest.

In the summer months – when it’s hot and humid – I suffer. I find myself afflicted with what I can only describe as summer ‘blues.’ It can be beautifully sunny outside, but inside my mind it remains overcast. As the end of the summer term, time speeds up at lighting pace and I become heavily engrained in my work. Outdoor time is often confined to the back garden with my daughter; delighting in the Blackbird that’s brazen enough to visit the lawn next to us and laughing at the silliness of ‘Mr. Pigeon’.

My friend has been brilliant and has allowed me to share his passion for moth trapping wherever possible. Sometimes before work or at the weekends, I pop to his and we have a coffee as we look at the moths he’s caught overnight. It’s such a different experience to the whole-body immersion of birdwatching. It’s like opening a present and the surprise and variety inside can be magical. I notice how calm I feel in his company and whilst looking at the winged-wonders as they sit stoically inside of the wooden cube. It’s another world in that box – with the free-flying outside world becoming microcosmic and focused. It allows my own hyper-focus and the noticing of minute details and nuances to sharpen even more.

When I do get out, perhaps to the local common for an hour, it’s now more powerful than ever. I find myself noticing every element of the flora and fauna laid out around me. Day-flying Burnet moths zoom over the meadow-tops. Ringlet butterflies are everywhere – lurking and emerging from beneath the grasses. Large Skippers flash a juicy orange as they move from clover to thistle. Lower down, the Common Spotted orchids bloom in pastel pinks and candied colours and over the western side, a cluster of Marsh Fragrant orchids stand tall amongst the swathes of Tufted Vetch. A deeper purple, their heady saccharine scent pervades the senses and sweetens the mind. The aroma of summer.

As I notice more and more detail on these micro-forays into nature, again, I notice more about myself. Social media has become a huge issue for me once more. I’m so close to stopping it and disappearing, which I know will happen eventually, but so soon after the book being published – I don’t want to abandon the people that my words and story seem to be helping. You see, I’ve finally accepted my place in the world as a normal guy who has shared their story and through this, can help other people. I’ll never be ‘known’ and will always be an imposter, but I think I’m finally at peace with where I’m at in this ongoing struggle.

Back to the common.

Bird Therapy T-shirts are available for 3 more days. £15 plus postage. 50% of profit to Norwich Men’s Shed. Help spread the word about the benefits of birdwatching. T-Shirts are here!

Birdwatching with a baby – a fresh approach

A derisory laugh, pumping – almost rattling – sounds out behind us. They call it a ‘yaffle’ and it’s difficult to find a different word to capture the sound. ‘Did you hear that?’ I ask her, knowing that she isn’t going to reply. ‘That’s a green woodpecker.’ Suddenly, as if it heard me, an almost luminous-green bird comes bounding over our heads and along the tree-lined path. It’s bright red cap gives it an almost clown-like appearance, quite apt then for its chuckling call. I turn so that she can see from within the sling and point it out as it undulates away from us in flight.

It seems that with every step we take, a ‘new’ skylark gives flight. A bubbling and almost-constant backing track of nostalgic melody surrounds us. ‘Can you hear the skylarks?’ I ask her, already knowing the answer. A pair of dunnocks flick across from the fence line and onto the gorse, quickly disappearing into prickly growth. I know she can smell the gorse and so I tell her about it, ‘that smell is gorse, it smells like coconut, you’ve tried coconut!’

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You see, it’s not about me and my own experience of being outside anymore. She’s the number one priority and I want to share it all with her, not force it upon her. I just want to talk to her about what she can see, hear and smell (she’s not tasting much as she keeps chewing on the shoulder strap of the sling) Occasionally, she acknowledges me or our surroundings, screeching at a dog-walker or turning to look towards wherever I’m pointing. It’s a constant and calming conversation, albeit particularly one-sided. We turn to walk along the southerly path, back to where we began our walk.

On this side, the wind is too strong for her and I have to put her hood up and eventually, the wind-protector on the sling. There’s no focus on being immersed outside anymore, just on getting her back to the car. Bird moments become briefer. The onomatopoeic chunt of a chiffchaff beats over from the car-park, I tell her all about it, it’s journey and how it signals spring. How Daddy has written about them in his book and that this season is a time of wonder and new-emergence.

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We’re almost back to our starting point and the buffeting has stopped, for there’s more shelter in the south-eastern corner of the reversion field. The cover and hood come down and we stop to look at the horses in the paddock. A scratchy sub-song emerges from the hedge that borders the horse-fields; and it blossoms into a fruitful fluted melody – a blackcap. She laughs at the horses, they always make her laugh. I smile at the blackcap song and the reassurance it brings.

As we hop the fence to the track where the car is parked, a lone Fieldfare sits atop the outpost tree down the track. It should be moving on now, as we are, and I like the comparison. It’s on the tree that has been the staging post for many a ring ouzel and the singing spot for many a mistle thrush. I inform her about the significance of the tree and she shrieks in delight, but at the horses again, not the reminiscence. Off it flies to continue onward, as we do, to the car and then home.

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NB: None of the pictures in this post were taken yesterday as nothing takes you back-to-basics more than having to accommodate the needs of a child over your own. The camera stayed in the change bag!