Bette(r) Birds

2020 has been a bit of a grind, to say the least. Every morning we wake up to devastating news about the decline of our planet, the various threats to our health, racial injustice, inequality, police brutality, politics, wars, the economy, J. K. Rowling being an idiot. But against all odds, there are some things that keep us going even when everything around us starts to come crashing down.

And it appears that when it comes to self preservation my natural instinct is to go out and look at birds.

Illustration of a coot with annotations and a speech bubble saying 'coot'

Coots actually have way larger feet than this.

It started a month or so before the pandemic reached the UK and I mostly noted down the species I would see on my cycling route between my home and work: different kinds of pigeons and doves, gulls, crows, magpies, those bloody noisy parakeets that are all over London, the occasional songbird, and water fowl when I would take a detour past a pond.

I grew up in the German countryside and am no stranger to identifying birds. But I never bothered to learn the English names in my ten years in the UK, so it felt a bit like getting to know each species all over. I’m not very scientific about it either, I write them down in a small diary with a few reminders here and there of how to tell some of them apart.

Lists of bird sightings from March 2020 with illustrations of different kinds of tits, a goldfinch, and a blackcap

March 2020

Very competitive by nature, I soon started counting the number of species I’ve seen in a day and tried to spot more the next day. Of course it spiralled out of control and I would soon drag my boyfriend to natural reserves and RSPB sites in Kent and Essex on the weekends.

Lists of bird sightings from May 2020 with illustrations of an avocet and a black-tailed godwit

May 2020

The shorter days of October and November meant that we were doing more birdwatching at dusk and in darkness. The bats (not birds but still fascinating) are already snoozing now but we found tawny and little owls in the local park. We named the tawny one J.Lo but after some research into owl calls it turned out Jenny’s a boy ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For me, the beauty of birdwatching is that it gets me away from the screen and into the nature and that it allows me to temporarily block out our mad world. I genuinely believe it’s been vital to my mental health this last year.

Since you’ve asked, we peaked on the first Saturday of November with 42 species in one day, including a curlew and a most gorgeous marsh harrier. Throughout the year we saw a total of 86 species (so far). Which coincidentally is also the number of bathrooms in Amy’s new house.

Who would have guessed I’d fall in love with British wildlife in a year like this?

Bette(r) Days celebrates the things that did not suck in 2020. Each day in December, we’ll be posting about the highlights of our collective garbage fire of a year, type-related or not.