It’s been way too long since I’ve had the time to sit down and write a blog. I’ve had a very busy few months, eh…well, I’ve been very busy standing still.
Standing (or sitting) still is something that non-birders expect of people like me. How many times have I heard the phrase…’you watch birds…oh, you must have great patience’? One girl I worked with many years ago wondered if I climbed up a tree and sat there all day watching birds? I kid you not…this was her actual perception of what birdwatchers did.
Birders don’t sit still unless they’re seawatching. Otherwise, they’re tromping across wetlands, flogging headlands in autumn for migrants or risking their lives out to sea on pelagics in search of rare petrels and shearwaters (how many birders have you met who have worn a life jacket on a pelagic?). This is what birders do and I am no different.
Even if on the rare occasion I sit in a hide to either watch or photograph birds, my patience is short-lived. I get fidgety inside a hide. The images might be worth it but I could never see myself sitting in a hide for ten hours to catch that once -in-a lifetime image.
However, for the past number of months I have been doing a wide variety of bird survey work and many of it requires me to sit or stand still in one place for hours. It is a relatively new discipline for me. When I started this kind of work some time back, I wondered if I could possibly survive just being in one place and watching over an area to document what I see or hear? Scanning through thousands of Dunlin is more my kind of thing.
I have to admit it took me a while to adjust to this mindfulness style of birding…being in one place and taking in what was around me. The trouble was that, it seemed at first, that was not much around me at all. However, slowly but surely it dawned on me that this standing still lark wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. I began to enjoy some common birds just going about their business around me. Meadow Pipits displaying over territories or Crossbills going over in small groups.
As spring got going warblers arrived and I delighted in watching Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. This year I’ve probably had the best views of Whitethroats I’ve ever had in Ireland. These special moments with birds like this began to resonate with me. It was like going back to my early days and seeing these birds anew. I found myself looking forward to getting into position and, while scanning constantly for my intended target species, also indulging in everything else around me…birds, butterflies and mammals (I have even seen three Pine Martens this year compared to the three I have seen during my previous 40+ years in the field).
However, as I reflect over the past few months of my new-found standing still life, one highlight stands out for me more than all the rest. It was a miserable, cold day in early May. Strong north-easterly winds were blowing across the open, scrubby bog I was hunkered down in. It was lashing rain and the occasional deluge of hail was adding to the misery of the morning.
There was not a bird to be seen. No bird in its right mind would put its beak out in this weather…or so I thought. As I sat there, I became aware of a movement in the nearby bushes…a bird was moving slowly through the dense undergrowth. I lifted my bins…a Gropper (Grasshopper Warbler). I hardly took a breath as it emerged from the bush and, with barely a glance at me, went about searching for food.
I sat in that area for hours that morning and throughout that whole time, this wonderful little warbler fed around me. It seemed like it was just the two of us who were mad enough to be out in this remote bog on such a wet day. It was like time itself stood still. I was unaware of the cold or the rain. I was just sharing this small space on this remote bog with this warbler and it was great.
'They' say that time waits for no man but I have learned that standing still sometimes helps time to slow down just enough to allow me appreciate what I have around me now, more than ever.
Perhaps as we are all so busy in our lives these days, we need to stand still a little more often?