Square bashing


Lockdown has had a few (albeit minimal) plus points, among them a realisation amongst birders that they actually do have good birding resources on their own door-steps. Where once the knee-jerk reaction to a day’s birding was to see what rarities were around, select the tastiest morsel and then jump in the car and drive a few hundred miles, as this was off limits the choices open to us were far more limited. Our choices were, in fact, extremely limited. Early lockdown suggested an hour’s exercise - on foot - from your place of dwelling. Most birder’s plumped for nearby fields, parks or the back garden, if indeed they had one. Some made do with a window. And do you know what? Hundreds of birders up and down the country discovered a brave new ornithological world. One of surprises. One of wonder. It had been set-out before them all along, hiding in plain sight.

At a time of social-distancing, together with climate change, rising air pollution and the ever increasing build in car traffic, our need to question where we go and how we get there has never been more important. Lockdown just might have opened up our eyes to the possibilities - the reality - of successfully swapping a birding life on the road for one in which we just walk out of the front door and carry on walking.

Easier said than done?

It must be cosy for those who live on the coast, or by an inland wetland, to spout on about staying close to home and not needing to wander far to get your birding kicks. I have often read the tweets and posts from such people and thought that it is far too easy for them to be ‘holier than thou’. Would they like to swap prime birding habitat for a city centre - or dry farmland - for a few years, and would they still wax lyrical about staying local afterwards?

I’ve given this a lot of thought recently and have hardened as a local birder. I’ve taken on an almost evangelical zeal regarding finding and watching my birds close to home - you could call it a perverse pride in doing things the ‘right’ way. It is not all necessarily on foot, although most of it is. I will allow myself a 15-minute drive southwards to the North Downs between Colley Hill and Ranmore. I will also allow myself the same time in a car north to Beddington. Without these mini-excursions, birding could - would - become hard at times. But even if the car was taken away, I would still be able to walk to places where I have seen Little Bittern, Ring-necked Duck, Dotterel and Bee-eater, plus have witnessed Brambling flocks in their thousands, Hawfinches in their hundreds and enjoyed vis-mig sessions that would have impressed an observatory warden. How can anyone, in all reality, suggest that such an area counts as birding hard work?

To give this ‘local’ birding a structure, I have adopted three 10km squares. Why three? Mainly because I live at the extreme south-western corner of one - the bottom line literally passes outside my front door and the houses opposite are in another square. These three squares will act as a recording base for my birding, a reason to walk every footpath, search every wood and check every fenceline. High ground will be used to scan from and water bodies (the few that are present) cherished. It just so happens that my home square contains Beddington Farmlands (above). Lucky that...

It is easy for me to make such a commitment, as I’ve already been birding for over 45 years and experienced the many facets that birding has to offer, travelling throughout the UK in the process. I’ve seen my fill of rare birds. I don’t like flying. Car journeys bore me. What sacrifices I will make are not major. If anything, it focuses my birding into something more meaningful than random trips to the coast. Such trips will still take place, but whereas they might have been the first consideration for a day’s birding, they will go to the back of the queue.

Maybe, in my case, these are the actions of an older birder finding a new angle. But such commitment excites me rather than inhibits me. There is still much to see...

Comments

Derek Faulkner said…
As someone who has carried out that form of birdwatching for the last 60 years, I thoroughly recommend it and have often been surprised at what can turn up but I do think that it would be considered too boring for many birdwatchers. It takes a lot of dedication to plod round the same area day in day out, especially when rare birds start being seem elsewhere but so far I've not succumbed to temptation.
Mark Bravery said…
Easy to get wedded to a particular way of doing things, and it can take an unexpected development to show us alternatives.

I've been without a car since January, but long before that had been doing a lot of my birding by public transport. Living in London means I'm a fair distance from favoured spots but can quickly get onto the transport network. Since lockdown I've also been doing much more birding on foot, walking to Beddington Farmlands and Richmond Park as well as visiting my local patch Wandle Meadow (a minute from my front door) more often, rewarded with a Sedge Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat that I might otherwise have missed.
Steve Gale said…
Derek - good to hear from you. I assume that, even after all of the winter rain, the dry spring has turned Sheppey rock hard again?

Mark - you needed something to fill the Sutton United and public house void! Hope to bump into you at Beddington sometime soon.
Derek Faulkner said…
Yes Steve, Sheppey is indeed bone dry again and it is having an affect on the Lapwing breeding season here for a start. Lapwing chicks need wet areas with muddy fringes that attract lots of insects, a lot of which dried up to quickly.
Stewart said…
Steve! have you been kidnapped by Dylan Wrathall! ( Sorry Dyl) :) You almost had a soap box out there.

You raise,as usual, some thought provoking points. Firstly I think you are biting off more than you can chew with 3x 10km squares. That is a huge area. I remember having a home based 10k some years ago for a Northumberland County atlas and found that hard going to get into every tetrad several times a year, let alone 3 times that. I'll watch with interest.

You are correct about things depending on where you are placed geographically. I commented very recently on twitter to someone about this and said I am finding staying local a doddle, but would I be so smug living in Wolverhampton or Sheffield? Maybe not. I probably wouldn't last a month without motoring to a good area.

Maybe this will change our views on travel overall? I for one don twant to be getting in a plane with hundreds of people I don't know. Only time will tell...

Steve Gale said…
Hi Stewart. I saw your tweet and, if I’m honest, that is what made me push this subject forward, one that I had been mulling over for some time. Of course three squares are too much, but I can always reign back on that! Here goes...
Gavin Haig said…
I've been pondering this topic recently also, and wondering how to turn it into a blog post. And I saw Stewart's tweet, and likewise found it thought-provoking. A good post, Steve. I might yet chuck in my two pen'orth, but I can't help thinking that living so close to the coast makes anything I have to offer on the subject feel a bit irrelevant.

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