by Jack Nuttgens
I spent most of Boxing Day on a birdwatching trip at RSPB Fairburn Ings with my dad. It was the perfect follow-up to the house being full of people and excess of food on Christmas Day; it was sunny, we were in the fresh air (though it was quite windy) and we enjoyed a brisk walk among the trees, around the edge of the lake. And, of course, we were lucky enough to see a wide variety of birds.
I won’t spend ages talking about birds, but I enjoy birdwatching (and seeing any kind of animal in the wild) because, amongst other things, they seem to have different personalities; the Northern Shoveller, a duck with a very long bill, looks comically serious; slim, white Little Egrets strut through the mud as though they don’t want to get their feet dirty, and a bright pink male bullfinch eating seeds from a feeder looks flamboyant until it’s chased away by a territorial robin.
The rewarding (and frustrating) thing about birdwatching is that it requires patience. Sitting down in a hide and scanning the surroundings, it can appear at first that there isn’t much to see. But after a while- focusing binoculars or a telescope in on a distant group of birds, or identifying something on an island or post, the diversity of life in the scene becomes clear. Small birds in particular, such as finches and sparrows, will fly away at the slightest noise or movement, but waiting a couple of minutes can show you an impressive range of species. And because many birds migrate, revisiting the same place at different times of year will enable you to see different species. What’s more, birdwatchers are usually friendly and enjoy sharing their knowledge with newcomers, especially if there’s something rare around.
Apart from seeing plenty of wildlife, the day at Fairburn Ings was a chance to get out of the city. Nature reserves are usually planned to attract threatened species by creating habitats, so most of the best ones for spotting creatures are outside of towns and cities, but some are conveniently close. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust site Potteric Carr, on the outskirts of Doncaster, has an overgrown, industrial feel, with abandoned train tracks running through it. I haven’t found evidence that going to the countryside and being around plants and wildlife is beneficial to mental health in itself, but Mind’s website has articles about the therapeutic effects of gardening (ecotherapy), and I find that being able to go outside, take a walk and reflect is usually a good idea.
Of course, designated nature reserves aren’t the only places that are worth visiting. The benefits of exercising every day, from walking to more challenging sports, are well-documented. So although some of them can be a bit of a trek, nature reserves can be a fun and relaxing place to visit.