Every morning I wake to the sound of birdsong. A flock of house sparrows are nesting in the jasmine that grows around my cottage door in the semi-rural village where I live.
Their music is something I have longed, for many years ,to hear. There’s no traffic noise at all, so for around ten minutes, before I get out of bed, I allow the pure, clear notes to filter through my ears into my consciousness. It is the most perfect form of meditation I know. And the gratitude that I feel for this sound is immeasurable. I realise how fortunate I am to be able to live here.
For most of my life I have lived in cities. Most recently, I lived for thirty-five years in a house that was overshadowed by a massive tower block ,and, in a street that was lined on both sides by cars.
Yet, when I was a child, from the age of six to eleven, I lived in deep countryside, again in a cottage surrounded by birds. In this case, tall elms filled with rookeries. I even had a pet bird – a rook – that I fed and looked after, as he had a broken wing. I feel that I have come home at last.
Birds now fill my days again. From my kitchen window, I look out onto a gardenscape full of birdlife. My bird feeders attract several blue tits, dunnocks, sparrows, a glossy blackbird, and the occasional starling. There is a great deal of activity, especially from the dunnocks.
Now that all my cats have gone, a rotund robin owns the whole garden and is ubiquitous, flying from tree to tree and bush to bush.
My neighbour, too, has many more extravagantly filled bird feeders than I do, which helps to attract even more birds such as collared doves, wood pigeons, and magpies. To my astonishment, I even saw a raptor ( a buzzard?) in one of his apple trees last summer, and a pair of jackdaws visit me on the roof outside my study window, which has a distant view of the sea. Seagulls nest in my chimney stack every year, and their offspring invariably fall into the neighbourhood gardens,or my own, and have to be taken to the nearby wildlife sanctuary or deposited safely onto the beach. A lone chaffinch and a colourful jay even turned up recently ! Two birds that I had never seen up close before.
Watching and loving these birds has become a passion of mine.
In the village, there are also two nesting grey herons that roost locally, and can be seen at the village pond. We also have cormorants, herring gulls and terns on the coast. And further out in the countryside there are reservoirs and nature reserves with more birds to watch from hides.
But the most joyous sight locally are the skylarks that nest at the local nature reserve, high on Beacon Hill five minutes from my home. There’s a small stable population there and, as early as February, they can be seen nesting. In the same vicinity there are also migrant whitethroats and goldfinches, but I have yet to see them. In late summer the hill is filled with swifts feeding on the insect-dense air before they leave for Africa, and I have also seen the occasional kestrel here, too, hunting for prey in late autumn and early winter.
The numbers are down for so many birds, sadly, so I cherish the ones that I see every day, and have let my garden grow wild, so that a variety of insects and caterpillars can thrive in order for the birds to feed on them. It helps to be pro-active in these frightening times of climate emergency, and to be able to protect our environment a little even in a small country garden.
Apart from my invaluable RSPB bird manual, I have enjoyed reading This Birding Life by Stephen Moss, the writer of Birdwatch in The Guardian. Also, the riveting H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, and A Single Swallow, by Horatio Clare. It was sensational to read that the critically endangered turtle dove has been brought back from the brink by the hard work and dedication of Isabella Tree at Knepp, as described in her book Wilding.
For so many of us, the beauty of birds offers solace, tranquillity and hope in difficult times.