Written by James Lowen
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t watched birds. My father reckons the starting point was on a country lane, hemmed by towering hedges, near our family home in south Devon. I was three, still toddling but nevertheless clearly observant. A big bird appeared in the sky, so my dad’s tale continues, prompting little Lowen to ask what it was. ‘A crow,’ my father grumped. ‘No it’s not. It’s too big,’ insisted the precocious fledgling birdwatcher.
Birds of a feather flock together: in this case, stone-curlew © James Lowen
A few days later, identification guide purchased, the bird was identified as a common buzzard. In those days, back in the 1970s, buzzards were almost exclusively the property of southwest England. Forty years on, they have spread north and east throughout Britain: a rare success story in a broadcast otherwise dominated by declines and extinctions.
Birds have riffed through my life ever since. I cannot recall a single day when I have not seen at least one bird – even if it were just a glimpse of gull or pigeon above the concrete jungle of my hometown. Other creatures you need to look for – but birds you simply bump into, wherever and whenever. Birds form the backdrop to your summer of wildlife, and regularly take centre stage as well.
Unmistakable, much-loved but now globally threatened: the puffin © Agenturfotografim, Shutterstock
Perhaps 220 species of bird breed in Britain in any one year with others passing through either side of summer. Seeing them all takes considerable commitment, yet seeing many of them demands remarkably little effort. With a score of diligently planned trips you can rack up impressive quality and quantity.
Deafening seabird colonies, skyscrapers built of rock and windowed with auks, fulmars and kittiwakes. A woodland before dawn, light seeping downward and inward while the air fills with birdsong. A red-throated diver calling forlornly on a remote Scottish loch. A coastal lagoon whirring with the white and black wings of avocets. A bittern blowing over the neck of a reedbed beer bottle. And a common buzzard soaring free over the fields near my home. Birdwatching is – and always will be – magical.