I was 29 years old when I first decided to try birdwatching for the very first time. I’d watched birds (wahey!) for my entire life, but never consciously – I was just always curious about them. When I saw a new bird for the first time, I couldn’t help but pay attention to it. There is something intriguing about an animal that can turn up anywhere at any time, one that may stay or go depending on the season. The birds of prey that show up in the summer and the waterfowl that waddle in for the winter.
My most beloved type of year is always springtime – you can stick your sexy summer and sultry autumn afternoons – spring is the most joyous time of all. While climate change has messed up our seasons – the birds still go for it every year – beating the odds to raise their chicks and send them out into the forests, rivers and seas of the UK. I admire everything about birds and I started getting into watching Springwatch a.k.a ‘Top Gear for animal lovers’, when they were at RSPB Minsmere and I had to go.
The guide in reserve could name every bird that he could see from the hide, and I really respected the enthusiasm that he had for wildlife. But I recognised something else in there – the crucial element of obsession. I don’t know if I’m obsessive by nature, or it’s a part of having OCD, or both. Being able to focus my mind on something is hugely important and the great thing about birds is that you can see them everywhere. No matter where I go, I can distract my mind with birds.
I bought myself a bird book and read every single page while in the bath. There were so many different species that being able to find them all takes great skill and dedication. The beauty is that birds inhabit so many different habitats that it’s an incredible journey to find them all. I love to have a purpose to focus on when I’m outdoors as I’m so anxious that I struggle to aimlessly wander.
I’ve had OCD, anxiety, depression and panic attacks since I was very young and having multiple mental problems is tiring at times. At the peak of my anxiety, I drove to Ynys Hir reserve in Wales and walked around as I tried to drive away the mental fog. It wasn’t a magical cure, but I felt a lot better than I would have done if I’d stayed at home. I also saw my first stonechat, so it was definitely worth leaving the house.
I went back again a few years later, and I felt better than the first time. Returning to this wonderful reserve (also featured on Springwatch) brought home the incremental changes that had happened in me. I felt better not only as I wasn’t avoiding anything, but because the things I was looking for were good for me. I wasn’t looking for approval, sadness or pain – I was looking for birds, and it’s one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.
In the five years since I first went to Minsmere, I’ve been up and down the country searching for wildlife. As a young woman, I’m often very much alone in my age and gender group in reserves. But that doesn’t mean that nobody talks to me, it’s usually quite the opposite and I’ve met many characters down in hides along the way. There’s nothing quite like being alone, yet still in the company of other people with the same passion in mind. In many ways, it’s the ideal way to spend time with strangers, unless they’re discussing Brexit, in which case, there are other hides to retreat into.
Being in nature is one of the best therapies for mental health problems and the more time I spend in the countryside, the more I know it to be true. I hope that one day I will be able to wander aimlessly in nature and immerse myself fully in that world. Every year I try to have multiple dates with nature, and I feel like each one heals me in some way. I also got to meet some incredible birds along the way.
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