The back gar­den birder

Our other senses can be won­der­ful for help­ing us ex­pe­ri­ence the wildlife we can­not see in our back gar­dens

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species -

By its very na­ture, bird­watch­ing is just that. Bird­watch­ing. There’s very lit­tle sug­ges­tion in those se­man­tics of the other ways in which we might use our senses to im­merse our­selves in the ac­tiv­ity that brings us so much joy. Bird spot­ting could be an­other way to de­scribe what we do but, again, that’s all about what we see. It ne­glects what we hear, feel and smell. You’ll no­tice I’ve left out taste – for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. If you want to eat the birds we fea­ture here, this is def­i­nitely not the magazine for you. I just want you to think for a mo­ment of your favourite ex­pe­ri­ence. Don’t close your eyes just yet, I want you to read on. Let’s say you woke up early and you wan­dered into a dense for­est as the morn­ing light fil­tered through the canopy. Or you stayed up as the sky turned from inky blue to ebony and the stars ap­peared like glit­ter­ing pin pricks in the sky. You were there. And you were look­ing. But you were also lis­ten­ing to the coo­ing of the Wood­pi­geon per­haps, or the shrill shriek of the Barn Owl. It helped you to es­tab­lish where these crea­tures were, and how, if you were lucky, you could get a glimpse of them by fol­low­ing the sounds that are unique to them. I’ve said many times to you that I am not a bird ex­pert in any way and I am rub­bish with facts. Ev­ery­thing I share with you comes from my own am­a­teur ex­pe­ri­ence and all the things I dis­cover in my gar­den and the sur­round­ing ar­eas. If I want to know who is mak­ing a par­tic­u­lar noise, I open my lap­top and I Google it. Last week, I sat on an old Welsh blan­ket be­side my firepit toast­ing marsh­mal­lows (re­mem­ber, I’m a fluffy sort of per­son) and drinking hot choco­late spiked with rum. It was around 10pm. It was a beau­ti­ful, quiet evening, aside from the low-fly­ing air­craft that have clearly cho­sen a new flight path to take in the beauty of my gar­den with my own il­lu­mi­na­tions of so­lar lights with vary­ing lu­mens. The marsh­mal­lows had now van­ished and I heard noises com­ing from the bot­tom of the gar­den be­yond the com­post heap and the piles of kin­dling I’d been col­lect­ing. I closed my eyes and re­ally tried to lis­ten.

Dogs rarely ‘woof’, but it seems that Tawny Owls do ‘kee-wick’ and it’s a sound that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly scarce ac­cord­ing to The Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy (BTO) who, in Septem­ber this year, asked peo­ple to take part in its Tawny Owl Call­ing Sur­vey by spend­ing just 20 min­utes in their gar­dens, lo­cal park or even their beds (with the win­dow open, of course) to try to hear them and re­port their find­ings to bet­ter es­tab­lish a pic­ture of this species in to­day’s land­scape. It runs un­til 31 March next year, so if you want to take part, you still can via bto.org Bird lis­ten­ing, then, can be as use­ful as bird­watch­ing. Smell, too, has the power to transport us to an­other time or place, but per­haps this is the least tan­gi­ble way we know that birds are near be­cause we never get close enough to them to trig­ger our ol­fac­tory re­cep­tors. I’d imag­ine that they have a more earthy, less flam­boy­ant odour than Chanel No. 5 but I might be wrong. To each other, I’m sure, in mat­ing sea­son, they smell fancy. In­stead, con­sider the smells of cer­tain habi­tats that your favourite birds fre­quent and ab­sorb it. A study un­cov­ered that Star­lings use cer­tain leaves in their nests which are cho­sen for their smell be­cause they are known to keep par­a­sites away and many birds will know their nests by its smell. Mal­lards, too, know when it’s time to em­ploy some Barry White, when their mate re­leases pheromones. We’re yet to cover touch. And it’s an elu­sive one. Have you ever been close enough to touch a wild bird? And if you have been, should you? Lit­er­ally, though, we’re all touched by birds – we are amused at their be­hav­iour and im­pressed at their skills or wowed by their syn­chro­nised mat­ing dis­plays. We are in short, touched by their very ex­is­tence.

Tawny Owl

One of the de­lights of a win­ter gar­den is lis­ten­ing to a singing Robin

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