Nature & Energy Insights
As a natural-born bird lover, I’m so very grateful to have a job that allows me to travel the world. When I do, I try to take extra days to explore the natural area nearby before returning home. Experiencing the native flora and fauna always proves rewarding. The UK is one of those places I so enjoy. On the last trip, I ventured south to Devon. This time, I’ve chosen to go north of London for a few days - but more on that later.
How do I choose where I go to explore? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a big part of my planning process. Those who live in the UK are quite fortunate to have such a lovely organization. The RSPB has parks all over the UK for exploring birds and other wildlife. To me, their tag line, “Give Nature a Home”, couldn’t get any better. Check out their website and explore for yourself. Many of the parks have visitor centers with helpful volunteers who answer questions and share more about the local wildlife. Some even have little cafe’s for tea, coffee, sometimes even full meals. On one particularly dreadful cold and drab day, I stopped at RSPB Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire to see those adorable Atlantic Puffins, beautiful Razorbills and many other birds along the north coast. I was quite happy to discover their lovely visitor center and café. I was able to have my (at the time) 79-year-old mother enjoy the warmth there as I fought the cold winds down the trail out to the ocean where I could spot my colorful little friends. She, on the other hand, was able to spot those same little colorful friends on the live feed on the big screen in the visitor center. We were both delighted that she could spend her time learning from the educational displays and enjoying tea in the warmth of the visitor center.
On this trip, I chose 3 RSPB sites in close proximity to one another. My key goal for this trip: see the gorgeous Common Kingfisher. Since this was winter, the chances were obviously diminished for seeing the Kingfishers, but I wasn’t daunted. I hired a car and planted myself in a convenient lodge between them. Several locals had told me there was a fair chance of spotting the Kingfishers at RSPB Rye Meads, just north of London. The winter had been mild and birds around the English countryside had shown signs of some early spring behaviors.
Lucky for me, and the animals, many RSPB sites provide birding blinds. Blinds of course allow you to witness the many glorious birds without ever disturbing them. Once I arrived at Rye Meads, I walked the trail to the bird blind closest to the location most likely to see them – and see them I did! Not only one, but two, were busily flying in and out of the sandbank nest cavity – likely trying to determine if it was suitable for their nesting. I was in heaven! I spent the morning enthralled by the Kingfishers, then exploring some of the many other spots. I also caught a glimpse of a handsome fox meandering through the park just beyond the Kingfisher activity. I was also able to see - and experience the unforgettable sound of - a Mute Swan at takeoff. I couldn't help but think, to other birds, this must be to them like the difference between a 787 and a turboprop to us!) Also along the way I discovered the Tufted Duck, Gadwalls, Greylag geese and more.
I stopped so many times just to take in the beauty of the green everywhere – it was a sight for sore eyes. I stopped to listen to the stream and recorded a video of the water rushing over rising foliage underneath. I spotted an unsuspecting male pheasant and got a quick glimpse at a few other birds including a little Treecreeper. But otherwise, neither people nor birds shared my quiet morning meander along the 2 mile trail. It was just perfect to focus on the beauty and other lovely sounds of nature that I may miss while focused on the singing birds. It reminded me to take time to admire the trees, the gorgeous colors of the season, and the simple but soothing sounds of a babbling brook.
Three RSPB parks, three different personalities and experiences, it’s all here for us birdwatcher travelers or locals. Many thanks to the RSPB for bringing it to us. I’m now a card-carrying member of the RSPB, and armed with my Member’s guide, I can look forward to the many new parks I will explore. And, whether you’re a foreigner like me or from the UK, I do hope that you get the chance to experience the UK’s beauty, wildlife and these lovely parks for yourself. I've featured some of this beauty in my photo products here and on my Zazzle storefront.
Please remember to support your local wildlife carer/rehabilitator and reach out to them for any wildlife in need of care. Happy Birding …
Continuing on the theme of exploring winter’s migrating avian visitors, this Christmas week we drove up to the Cosumnes River Preserve and environs near Sacramento to see the Sandhill Cranes. If you’re a birdwatching traveler in or heading to the Sacramento area, this is a helpful guide to great places to see them. We had most luck right across from the visitor center at dawn. But believe it or not, you can observe hundreds of thousands of them in the central parts of the U.S. The Audubon Society calls their spring gathering along Nebraska’s Platte River, “among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent”. At one time, you can see “over a quarter of a million birds”.
If you haven’t seen a Sandhill Crane, they’re definitely a site to behold. Standing at almost 4 feet high, their wingspans can reach ~7 feet! As part of their mating rituals, they’re known to “dance”, lifting into the air - as if jumping - and prance around to attract a prospective mate. Not expecting to see this behavior outside of the mating season, I was delighted to see them do something similar. I’m not sure if this was fighting or exasperated communications of another sort, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show. ;-)
I didn’t realize, until researching the best places to see them, that actually 2 different Sandhill Crane subspecies visit California during winter: Lesser and Greater Sandhill Cranes. If you don’t know much about Cranes, here are a few fun facts from @AudubonCA about Greater Sandhill Cranes who overwinter in our central farmlands:
At the same time, I’ve always loved the Cinnamon Teal. There’s something about their hues of deep crimson that make them another object of my affection. It was this very duck that opened my eyes many years ago to the realization that there are in fact many more duck species than the Mallard. One day walking my dogs in Virginia, I noticed this “odd-looking” duck in my backyard waterway. Why was this Mallard a deep crimson color? And so it began my education about Teals (Cinnamon, Blue-winged, Green-winged), Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ruddies, Wood, and oh so many more beautiful ducks to discover. Imagine my excitement this week to realize that, while closely studying and enjoying the fascinating Cranes, that all the while the Cinnamons were right in front of me! Sure enough, maneuvering around the Cranes’ feet were none other than …. Cinnamon Teals. I have searched far and wide during previous winters to find the Cinnamons only to be disappointed to see only one or two here and there. Right here, right now, was an entire flock foraging in the shallows of the flooded farm fields!
While, as a traveling birdwatcher, you may not get excited standing out in the cold. Blood draining from your hands, nose so cold you can no longer feel it, it can be off-putting. But this was worth it. I do hope you get the chance to get out and explore nature this winter. Maybe it’s not birds that are the objects of your own fascination but the changing of the trees across seasons, the beauty of frost on a leaf glistening in the sun, or a moonlit walk on a snow-covered field. Whatever brings you joy, get out and do it! I leave you with these words from famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was himself assuredly inspired by nature:
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Enjoy – and don’t forget your hat and gloves!! ;-)
eThis time of year is so exciting to me. Many winter migrants have arrived and I’m always eager to set out early mornings to see who has arrived overnight or over the last week. Do you know which birds come through your own area this time of year? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you will see birds who have flown south to warmer climates. They are either stopping through or staying through the winter. The benefit of stepping out or looking out of your window for these birds is multi-fold. Realizing there is a whole ecosystem of life outside our own helps draw us into the present moment – dissolving our troubling or stressful thoughts.
The birds that you see have risked their lives, skipped many meals, flown many hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to arrive. Spending your morning with a loved one, exploring – either through the window or at a local park – is a nice way to enjoy your day. My mother regularly peeks out her window and shows her great-grandchildren the many birds that come through. She’s thrilled that her great-granddaughter, Alaina, proudly ensures other people know about the birds she encounters now, too. What a blessing - a gift - to a young child who to be introduced to and to enjoy the wonders of nature.
I love being a traveling birdwatcher but I still avidly watch my own yard every day. There, this winter, I’ve discovered at least 2 new species I’ve not seen here before. We’ve lived in the same house over 10 years, so seeing new bird was amazing! It’s likely due to a slight change in habitat these new species seek. Our garden has more growth from new low shrubs and purple sage this year and a clearing from trees that we had to cut down due to disease. We’ve seen Golden-crowned Sparrows and Orange-crowned Warblers, the latter of which I never even knew existed.
I’ve also been heading out along the San Francisco Bay’s many parks and to Monterey Bay, never disappointed. Right now on San Francisco Bay, we’re seeing Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Ruddy Ducks, and the latest arrivals, Lesser Scaup. The irony: I’ve seen SO MANY Northern Shovelers over the years at Palo Alto Baylands that I almost ignore them now. But this year, as they took to the skies or rose up on their haunches, I discovered even more colors on their plumage. They are even more captivating when their wings are open! Now my new obsession: being in the right spot, in the right light, at the right time, and the right angle with their back towards me, to catch this same beauty aflight. So far, only blurry pictures.... Luckily, I have the whole winter to keep trying! ;-)
Where will you go this winter to explore? Whether you are a traveling birdwatcher or stick close to home, will you take your grandkids, your sons and daughters, your husband or wife, your mother or father, your best friend and go explore? As John Muir once said....
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Pamela, Eyes4Nature's proprietor, enjoying life out in the field among the animals and the peacefulness of nature.