Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Winds from the east

The last week of September delivered a feast of migrant birds for east coast birdwatchers. With winds from the east, coupled with cloudy and wet weather hanging over the coast, conditions were ideally suited to produce an autumn ‘fall’ of small birds to coastal hedgerows and shelterbelts. Good numbers of redstarts and pied flycatchers were widely reported, together with less common birds like yellow-browed warbler, red-breasted flycatcher and Richard’s pipit.

One of the real joys of birdwatching the Norfolk coast under such conditions is not knowing what you might find while out working a favoured patch of habitat. There is a chance of something unusual, something unexpected and, just occasionally, something rather special. It is just a chance mind you, but the more time that you spend out there the better are the odds of something really good turning up.

It is interesting to think about the birdwatcher’s perception of what is a good bird. While for some it is all about rarity, for others it is the challenge of securing the identification of a bird that is notoriously tricky. For me it is about the sense of place, the bird in the landscape and part of a wider experience. Looking back through my notebooks for this time of the year underlines this. Notes on a barred warbler I found at Kelling, for example, are mixed in with mention of late bush-crickets and the antics of some young common rats, clambering about in the bramble to get at the berries. It is not so much the bird that is the focus but the wider experience.

There are barred warblers about again this autumn and a chance that I might stumble across one, just as I might see young rats or something else, a chance encounter providing a lasting memory. Just being out provides the space to think and relax, to sense your place as the seasons shift and nature responds. Given how much time is spent in an office or in front of a computer, I believe that these moments spent outside have an important role, keeping us rooted in the natural world, reminding us that we are part of something more dynamic and responsive. Computers and televisions direct our gaze to a single point and narrow our horizons but being outside frees us from this, it allows us to gaze around, to be saturated by sounds and sights and to immerse ourselves in something real and tangible. Birdwatching provides an excuse to get out into the countryside and to engage with the natural world, just as walking, riding or volunteering can. It is about extending our horizons, being expansive and engaging with the natural world around us.

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