How I made the most out of birding during COVID-19
by Chris Griffin, Somerset UK
Spring was in the air; chiffchaffs just starting to chiff and chaff, the snowdrops appearing on woodland floors, the swallows and house martins just arriving from their distant wintering grounds in Africa. Yet birdwatchers around the country waiting for new arrivals and the scarcities overshooting from the Mediterranean were to soon hear the worst of news.
Since late March the UK has been under lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The outdoors made mostly off-limits to the British public, apart from the local areas nearby their homes, in an attempt to stem the spread of a truly terrible virus.
For the first couple of weeks during the lockdown it felt like a strange dream. Almost like we were all part of a film and I, for one, yearned to be out at my local reserve watching the bitterns, marsh harriers and egrets go about their business. It felt like such a loss and it took me some time to work up the desire to go outside, let alone take my binoculars.
I bucked up my ideas and deciding to make the best of the situation, I worked out a short route that would take me an hour to walk and would lead me through a small wood, next to my local river and around some of the local droves near my home on the Somerset Levels.
Much to my delight, every day that I travelled the same route I saw more and more wildlife. It was a welcome reminder to me that wildlife isn’t just to be found at reserves, or local hot-spots but can actually be much more rewarding when closer to home.
Within a month from my first walk around my new ‘patch’ I found 2 pairs of kingfishers nesting in the river-banks. One morning I bumped into a stunning male wheatear, freshly arrived from Africa, a passage migrant on the Levels that I’d only encountered a couple of times before. I started to see the blackcaps and whitethroats declaring their territories, singing from the top-most brambles and hawthorn bushes along the scrubby lanes. All of this, just a short walk from my front door!
But the best was yet to come…
I decided to go out for an early morning walk, to try and take some images of the Kingfishers on one of their regular perching posts along my route. I’d been waiting for some time before I noticed some movement in the vegetation only a few metres from me.
Watching the grasses quiver, I held my breath as whatever-it-was moved up the bank towards the path. Laying down on the floor, I trained my camera to the area where I expected it to appear and seconds later an Otter broke cover and pattered across the track.
It goes to show that you don’t have to travel miles to find amazing wildlife. It could be just a short walk from your door. At this time of year, a whole host of dragonflies and butterflies are emerging, the swifts are arriving too, closely followed by one of our most spectacular birds of prey, the hobby. Why not take a walk around your local patch and see if they’ve arrived near you?
About the author
Chris Griffin is a professional ornithological surveyor, tour leader and wildlife photographer based in Somerset. Chris has amassed a lifetime of birdwatching experience starting from the age of 6. Using his passion for and his knowledge of natural history throughout his career, he has worked for the RSPB, private environmental consultancies and tour leading companies. He now works freelance around the UK and abroad to help protect wildlife and inspire others to enjoy the natural world.