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Ranger Tony who joined Bird Aware for the busy winter season, finds there’s nothing like nature for gently shaking you into your senses.

Here he talks about a life-long love of birdwatching and the positive impact of the natural world.

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There’s nothing more I like than donning the walking boots, putting on some warm attire, filling the rucksack with a sustaining snack and a hot drink and heading out into the great outdoors.

There’s one more piece of essential kit I never venture outdoors without and that is my trusty binoculars. You see, I absolutely love watching birds. I have done so since I was a small boy and it’s an activity that has never left me for over 50 years!

I have pondered on many occasions why that is. Why has watching birds (and any other wildlife I may come across, for that matter) attracted and engaged me for so long?

Nature: the antidote to stress

There are many facets to the answer but here are some reflections. The most obvious thing that comes to mind is the simple fact of being outdoors and residing in nature. You cannot underestimate the sheer innate power of the natural world.

Jim Robbins, writing in Yale Environment 360 in 2020 said: ‘Studies have shown that time in nature – as long as people feel safe – is an antidote to stress: It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood’.

And, according to Robbins, you only need to spend a couple of hours a week in nature to significantly feel the benefits. The gains are great and that’s before you’ve even picked up a pair of binoculars!

Being outdoors grabs your attention and pricks your senses into life. Whatever the weather conditions, nature gently takes you by the shoulders and loving shakes you into your senses.

The space around you, once you become aware of it, focuses you and grounds you to a specific point in time and place – it brings you into the here and now, where troubling thoughts find no room to breed and multiply, a space you occupy wholly by just being there.

 

Connecting with the senses

Connecting with the senses is a vital part of the process of immersing oneself in nature. Without them we are left drifting in a sea of thoughts. They are the conduits that blend the outer with the inner and the inner with the outer – they harmonise.

If connecting with the sense of touch doesn’t bring you into the present, then just allow your listening to move outwards, away from any circling thoughts and simply listen wholeheartedly to whatever sound presents itself.

Listen to the birds! Listen to those glorious, wonderfully musical creatures sing out the symphonies of creation. As the famous saying puts it: ‘The earth has music for those who listen’. So, allow nature’s sweet messengers to soothe your soul by just being there and paying them the greatest of attention.

Curlew in flight at Bembridge

A study published in Nature in October 2022, and led by academics from King’s College London, found that everyday encounters with birds boosted the mood of those struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, as well as the general population.

Let your senses be your guide. Not so easy when we live in a world lived at break-neck speed and so full of distraction and pressure. This is where the beauty and simplicity of birdwatching comes into its own.

The joy of birdwatching

For me the real joy of birdwatching isn’t seeing that bird in all its feathered finery through those binoculars.

Rather, it’s the pure focused attention one achieves, delivered through the senses, that brings the calm to the storms raging in the mind. The sheer beauty of the creature is an absolute bonus.

I don’t need to know its name or where it comes from, or how common or rare it is, or where it breeds, or how many eggs it will lay or what kind of nest it builds – none of that is ultimately important. As the Canadian psychiatrist, Eric Berne wrote: ‘The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a Jay and which is a Sparrow, he no longer sees the bird or hears them sing’.

Teal in flight

Focused attention

What’s important is the focused attention, by way of the senses, that one has applied to the act of watching the bird. As the writer, Robert Lynd wrote: ‘In order to see the birds, it is necessary to become part of the silence. One has to sit still like a mystic and wait’.

It’s that focused attention that takes us out of the time frames of past and future and roots us firmly in the ever-present moment. That moment is a completely still, peaceful, free and restorative moment and we should all avail ourselves of it and that is why birdwatching is good for the soul.

Sanderling roosting at the beach

For more tips and advice on how the natural world can boost our mental wellbeing, visit our blog on Looking out for wildlife, looking after yourself.