Pleasures of bird life


It’s a most amazing sound…it’s the most beautiful sound.”


Throughout my research, both during and prior to the Sensing Nature project, opportunities to experience bird life have emerged as particularly important in developing meaningful connections with nature. 

Sensing Nature is highlighting how such connections can be forged with all the senses, contributing to feelings of awe, pleasure and understanding. For example, one participant described the wonder of hearing woodland birds: 

I’m hopeless at bird calls and songs, utterly hopeless. But, you know, when you hear the bird song, especially in or round about March/April, and they’re singing in the woodland, it’s a wonderful feeling because – well, I don’t know why – but the wood echoes and it’s like being in a cathedral. You hear the birds singing and all this echoing, it’s a most amazing sound…it’s the most beautiful sound.

This sentiment was echoed by several participants, with many expressing a sense of pleasure and pride in being able to identify the calls and songs of different species. 

Opportunities to learn the songs may arise through participating in organised dawn chorus or bird song walks, through time spent with knowledgeable guides in nature reserves, or with a little help from some carefully crafted podcasts.

I recently spoke to Suzy Buttress, producer of the weekly ‘Casual Birder’ podcast series. Aimed at people interested in wild birds, each week Suzy shares a range of fantastic birding experiences; from her RSPB Birdwatch endeavours to encounters with Antarctic penguins, European greenfinches and the Northern Gannet.

In last week’s episode of the Casual Birder podcast, Suzy spoke with Julian Jackson of VisionBridge. Julian is the instigator of the Big Blind Walk - an epic seven-week hike from Land’s End in Cornwall, to John O’Groats in Scotland - which is hoping to raise awareness and funds for eye health research.

Julian feels a strong connection to nature, including the rich and varied bird life he hears at home, and is excited about the mix of species he’ll be meeting at different stages of his journey. Highlights of Suzy and Julian’s conversation are now available via the Casual Birder website, where you can hear about Julian’s childhood love of birds, his daily garden visitors and his quest to hear an elusive Cornish chough as he starts his trek this week.

Suzy is keen to enhance the inclusivity of the Casual Birder series by, for example, linking the calls and songs included in every podcast to different bird species.  Episodes will aim to provide an insight into the way bird song might change through the seasons, and why different species nest, move and settle the way they do. For people who may not have visual references for particular bird types, Suzy has started likening their size to familiar everyday objects, such as fruits or vegetables.

With her infectious enthusiasm for bird life, Suzy brings avian activities to life and is keen to share the unique quirks and stories of the different characters unfolding around her.   

We discussed the importance of this kind of inclusive audio description during our 2017 Nature Sense workshop at WWT Slimbridge. Building on this, Sensing Nature is excited to be starting a new stream of work this year in collaboration with Vocal Eyes, the UK’s main charity providing valued access and audio description support for sight impaired visitors to heritage sites around the country. This work will also involve the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Heritage Ability and Andy Shipley.

More to follow on this exciting new venture soon!