An Introductory Note.

This week's blog is a little longer than usual and a little more serious. I make no apologies for that, it's about a serious and important subject. Please bear with me and try to make it to the end. And if you can't, don't worry – the usual fun and frivolity will be resumed next week. You know how I love a good frivol. Right, here we go....
SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF – very like a normal Chiffchaff but with no yellow or green on it.
GREEN SANDPIPER – white belly, very dark topside, looks like a big swift when flying.
WATER PIPIT – like every other Little Brown Job but wearing a Fieldfare costume.

These are the “big three” sightings that have recently been reported from our Wombwell Ings site, less than a mile from Old Moor. Armed with these home-made “how to recognise” notes (research is everything) I went looking for them at dawn, filled with coffee, hopes and expectations. An hour later I returned to my car, filled with angry disappointment, more coffee and a desperate need for a toilet. As mornings went, it had been a complete failure.

On occasion I've found myself seething at other people's inconsiderate birdwatching actions. Sometimes it's been due to them trampling down vegetation and straying way off the designated pathway to get closer to a seldom seen rarity. Other times it's people hogging hide space for hours on end while others bob and weave behind them, struggling for any kind of view over their multiple tripods. Or it might be vandals who destroy hides. Or irresponsible dog-walkers who let their canine pal “have fun” by chasing birds. In most of these cases there's been nothing that I could (or was brave enough to) do. Impotent rage is a terrible thing.

Besides that there's been Christmas, statistically one of the most stressful times of the year. And worries about the deadliest plague to hit mankind in centuries. And the economy. And all the usual concerns about loved ones, political upheaval and my ability or otherwise to pay the gas bill.

And to top it off, this week includes Blue Monday, traditionally seen (at least on the internet) as the most depressing day of the year. A day when we're most weighed down by gloomy weather, post Christmas debt, the return to work and our failure to stick to New Year's resolutions.

All in all, life can be a bit rubbish and stressful sometimes, can't it? If only there was a way that we could at least temporarily dispel our stress, anxiety and depression, chill out and unwind for a while... (can you see where this is going?)

Birdwatching can be great for mental health. It can, honestly. My psychiatrist said so. Leave all that aforementioned stuff for a moment and imagine this... The bubble of a Curlew on a misty morning. The iridescent flash of a Kingfisher streaking along a riverbank. A straggling line of a hundred Pink Footed Geese. All magnificent. All beautiful. All calming.

Sights and sounds like these can literally stop you in your tracks. You pause in your walk. You lift your binoculars to your eyes. A smile spreads across your face. You even might let out an involuntary grunt of satisfaction.

You stop.


This is what birdwatching is really about. Enjoying that single moment of pleasure. Right here. Right now. It doesn't really matter if you see that mega-rarity, or if you get the perfect shot or if you simply enjoy watching a Great Tit pecking away at a feeder, as long as you take time to recognise the small simple pleasures that birdwatching (or any time spent outside in the natural world) can provide.

This recognition is also the basis of several mental health treatments. Placing yourself in the moment, taking time out from our fears of the future and the replaying of past events. Simply being aware of what you are experiencing right now. This hour, this minute, this second.

Try it. Get outside into somewhere natural and spend just a few seconds concentrating on the environment around you. The feel of the sun or rain on your face. The sound of the wind through the reeds. The temperature. The birdsong. Just take it all in and leave everything else behind. Totally focus on this and nothing else for just a few precious, glorious seconds. For most of us, it's much more difficult than it sounds but the benefits are well worth the effort.

It won't make the things that stress you go away, but it might help your head let go of them for a few a short time, to give you space to see things as they really are, not as the catastrophes that you paint them. Just a few simple heartbeats of calm can help you reset, step back from the panic and problems, and appreciate the beauty and magnificence of the world around you. Despite all the bad stuff, it still is a most wonderful world.

There's a Wellness Trail around Old Moor which might be of use too. It features eight signposts with both long and short mental exercises on them. Some can take as little as a single minute. Others are longer but just as worthwhile. There are QR codes to provide further information on these boards as well. Everybody can benefit from giving at least the short ones a go, I promise. Calming, Refocussing. Reframing. Decatastrophising (I'm not certain if that's even a word but I hope you get my gist). Come along to the reserve and give them a go. Have I ever steered you wrong?

So my “compete failure” at Wombwell Ings could be seen totally differently. True, I didn't see the birds I'd hoped for but this is nature; you get what it gives, not what you want it to. And I was out and about, enjoying a crisp winter's day with the site all to myself. While many were travelling to work I was fortunate enough not to have to go into an office or a factory. I heard waterfowl bickering, songbirds proclaiming their survival of another night and gulls screaming at each other just because they could. I saw the colours return to the day as the sun clambered over the horizon. In short, I had a brilliant time.

If you want help or further information, maybe try one of these links. They're all full of great ideas and understanding, I promise.

I'm going to close with a poem. Don't roll your eyes at the back there, it's a good one, honest. You might have heard at least the first few line of it. It was written by a chap called W.H. Davis who lived about a century ago and it's still relevant today.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Please try and make the effort to appreciate all the glories that Old Moor and places like it have to offer. It'll do you good.

Oh, and Blue Monday? Utter tosh. There's no scientific basis for it at all. The only good thing about it is that we get to hear New Order on the radio.