Birds make any place a chance for discovery, they make a garden seem wild, they are a little bit of wilderness coming into a city park, and for a bird watcher every walk is filled with anticipation. What feathered jewel might drop out of the sky next? —David Sibley
I recently joined a bird walk as a member of the UCL Conservation Group and its initiative to record biodiversity around campus. With not very high expectations I set off at 8am to meet fellow members of the group so we could start our early morning walk around the UCL campus located in Bloomsbury, London. I was never an avian enthusiast and I did not see the reason behind such a fascination that some people have towards birds. I also never truly paid any attention to where birds nested or flew, in parks that I went to. I was both blind and deaf with regards to their presence in the city. The only bird that never failed to catch my eye was the infamous pigeon. A bird I genuinely despised from a young age as it nests and grimes people’s balconies in Athens, where I grew up.
Within a few minutes after the walk began, I surprisingly got ecstatically avid to spot birds and learn as much as I could about them. From initially being able to identify zero bird species (with the exception of pigeons of course), I managed to learn how to identify eight species in the course of an hour. I was astonished by the biodiversity found around the campus. I also could not believe that I spotted the first Wren of the year in Gordon Square, which was serenely looking back at us and posing in front of our cameras lenses.
At first I could not explain where did all this eagerness come from. On a second thought though, I realised that birds carry along with them an air of peacefulness. A sense of tranquility in their twittering birdsongs and a piece of nature inside their fine slender feathers. A vibe of something that seems inherently necessary for our survival; a vibe of wilderness. As a ‘countryside boy’ caught and baffled in city webs for my entire life, I unfortunately did allow the hustle of my city life to make me oblivious to certain features of the environment surrounding me. Bird watching pushes aside this hustle and lets you enjoy and appreciate these features, letting you therefore to get closer to nature.
Thanks to Janet Hope (UCL Geography Laboratory Supervisor and conservationist) and her extensive knowledge and passion for birds, I am now really keen to attend all the coming bird walks and absorb as much of her knowledge as she is ready to wholeheartedly provide. Thanks to my really good friend Becky Lee who is leading the Conservation Group and took the initiative to also plan the bird walks, a door opened to a world previously unseen by me.
Birds are a reminder of how it feels to be free. Bird watching is hence a reminder that there is still hope and beauty in this world. As a new avian enthusiast with much more to learn and experience, I will end this article here with a suggestion. When you walk on the street keep your head up and your ears wide open. You will find many surprises on your journey to your destination!
PS: This is a video of a black bird we spotted in Russell Square, London. It is frantically picking on the ground for insects and worms which are its main source of food. In addition, if you want to learn more about birds you should check out the RSPB website on which there is a guide to all birds found in the UK.