I endured the first lockdown while living alone for a period in Spain. The virus was rampant in the country and measures to stop it were draconian. For nearly three months I lived in virtual confinement with the occasional visit to the corner shop being my only respite – my only chance to see people other than a rare visit from the postman. We were not even permitted to take exercise.
I was based in Mérida, a city in the south west. The front of my flat overlooked an incredibly ugly secondary school – out back on the terrace, the skyline was dominated by chimneys and satellite dishes. There was not a lick of green to be seen. As many will have experienced, it was a very tough time.
The only thing that pulled me out of my doldrums was nature: from my small terrace, watching the daily flights of various birds of prey, including black and griffon vultures, lifted me no end. As did the a male spotless starling, whose home territory included a television aerial on a nearby rooftop. I watched him claim his coveted song post, singing his heart out, attracting several females, mating with one of them and eventually bringing his family back to the aerial where it all began. There was something very satisfying about seeing nature unfold in daily episodes.
I was not alone in finding solace with nature, and particularly in birds. People noted the abundance of song and sheer number of birds in their neighbourhoods, sometimes truly seeing this for the first time. Stuck at home without the omnipresent hubbub of the white noise that we create in our streets – car horns blaring, people out and about – we were noticing more of the nature that has always been around us. Back then, in April and May, we were also blessed with fine weather that made some aspects of lockdown just that little bit more bearable.
This new phase of lockdown may be rather different. We are fatigued by the virus and weighed down by the thought of more short, dark and cold days stuck at home, away from any feasible social life or even family contact. But now is the moment to turn to nature to help us through – there is still lots to see and hear out there. When going out for a daily walk, be mindful that there are always birds to be spotted. In an urban area, keep an eye out for roving flocks of tits as you pass bushes and trees in front gardens and parks. The more recognisable blue, great and long-tailed tits are sometimes joined by coal tits, nuthatches, treecreepers and chiffchaffs – these are normally summer visitors that have taken to wintering in the UK in ever-increasing numbers.
But even glancing at the feral pigeons that inhabit our streets can be a pleasure: ignore their “flying rat” moniker and instead think of them as magnificent flying machines that in level flight are capable of outflying the mighty peregrine – another newly urbanised denizen.
Before 2020, not many people living in the vicinity of Wormwood Scrubs, my west London birding haven, ever seemed to venture on to its hallowed turf. Now, it has become a mecca for those who have recently discovered its understated wild beauty. And it’s not just the usual suspects of dog walkers and joggers. The people I see using the park are from all walks of life: they may have first come here simply to get some outdoor sanctuary amid difficult pandemic days, but they are also experiencing wonderful slices of nature. Similar scenes are being played out across the nation.
The weather may not be particularly pleasant for the next few months, but it’s still worth wrapping up and getting yourself out there. Rediscover the parks that you frequented during the summer months. Of course, they will look different now, but spare the time as you walk to marvel at the gulls that have collected on the playing fields. A brief scan may reveal numbers of starlings, crows and possibly winter thrushes such as redwings and fieldfares in their midst too.
We all need to take care of ourselves during this new stage of lockdown, and I have found that engaging in the nature that surrounds us certainly helps. All you have to do is get outside, take a deep breath and look up!
David Lindo is a broadcaster, writer, speaker and tour leader, focusing on urban birds, urban conservation and wildlife