Sunday 10 January 2021

Lockdown 3

So here we are in Lockdown 3, and once again our birding (and fishing) plans have been somewhat knobbled. What to do...?

When the first national coronavirus lockdown began in March 2020, all the nearby coastal car parks closed. From West Bay to Abbotsbury Beach, including the National Trust car parks at Burton Bradstock and Cogden, all shut. For a good seven or eight weeks the coastline was empty. Fairly quickly I was able to work out some excellent walking routes which combined decent birdy potential with minimal risk of encountering anyone else. By far the 'riskiest' aspect of every walk was the bit that took me along local streets and through the greener parts of town, because that was where so many headed for their walking, running, cycling, dog-walking etc. Once out in the countryside it was dead easy to give the very few other people I saw a nice, wide berth.

In Lockdown 1 a so-called 'phased' re-opening of car parks began on May 13th, along with a relaxing of the 'stay local' government guidance. Cue mass migration to the coast. This time though, we have an interesting combination in play. The 'stay local' guidance is once again being strongly encouraged, and yet all the car parks remain open. Talk about mixed message.

It's been interesting to read some of the online discussions. How far can you walk? How far can you cycle? Is it okay to drive somewhere for exercise? If so, again, how far? Three miles? Five? Ten? How long can you be out? If you want to stop and look at a bird, how long can you stop for? Can you take photos? Can you even carry a camera? Is it okay to pour yourself a coffee from a flask, or does that turn your 'exercise' into a 'picnic', and therefore 'recreation', which is streng verboten. And so on.

For what it's worth, here's one take on it...

Right through this whole pandemic, a couple of basic principles have guided my behaviour. One, this virus is highly infectious. Two, it kills people. So I don't want to catch it, and I don't want to risk passing it to anyone else. Balanced against that is a need to earn a living, go shopping, exercise and get some birding in. So I try and do those things while absolutely minimising contact with others. Now that we're in a lockdown again I appreciate that we are being exhorted once more to adhere to some strict government guidelines, especially with regard to travel. So, as in Lockdown 1, my local birding will be restricted to what is within walking distance from home. I would like to drive to go birding, but don't feel I need to, so I won't. For now.

However, I do stop to look at birds. I scan fields and hedgerows. I carry a camera. I get it out and take photos. I don't worry about how far I go or how long I'm out. Personally I reckon my chances of catching or passing on Covid-19 would be infinitely higher if I spent ten minutes walking the length of my local high street on a quiet Sunday afternoon. And what's more, I am quite confident that my approach to birding isn't breaking any laws either. The government guidelines are just that. Guidelines. Not law. I wonder if the reason it seems so difficult to reach consensus on how to apply them to our varied individual circumstances is related to that fact? Generally speaking, with a law, you know when you're breaking it. With these guidelines though...well...see paragraph four.

Like most birders I would imagine, I want to exercise [read: go birding] in a way that I deem 'C-19 safe', that avoids interaction with others. But at the same time I don't want to fall foul of the law. It seems there are many, many ways to achieve those aims. My way is one. Others might judge me for it, but I hope not.

Anyway, as yet I haven't found any surprise birdy hotspots. I've explored quite a lot of local countryside, and so far it's been pretty dire. The farmland especially feels depressingly birdless. But maybe I'm not looking in the right places...

This stile is about ten minutes walk from home. Beyond it is open countryside for many miles...

Within a mile of home, this Stonechat felt like a minor triumph today.

I shall press on though, and hopefully find some spots to get excited about. If not, will I be overcome with the urge to drive somewhere? Possibly. Will I be judged? Probably. Someone, somewhere, who doesn't really know anything about me or my circumstances, will no doubt think (or say) 'What part of 'Stay at Home' do you not understand?!' So I'll answer the question now. No part. Does that help?

Mind you, I still think it's daft to leave the car parks open. When the relentlessly poor birding finally does my head in and I cave, at least make it difficult for me.


  1. We are all facing similar quandaries Gav. I am surrounded by fields and woods so birding is fine - up to a point - but, there's nowhere to fish less than eight or ten miles from home. All of the grey areas of lockdown get further blurred when some twit decides that 5 miles is too far to go for exercise and a coffee is a picnic.

    My normally quiet dog walk is an unavoidable procession of the regulars and some newbies, each passing greetings and often stopping for a distanced chat. But I can sit alone by river or lake except they are just too far. It's very frustrating.

    I'm happy...ish to stay at home for now but, having found a flowering celandine, my mind will turn to spring and the need to be out will be at its peak. That will be the big test.

    You still monitoring the sky at all? Or is that being reserved for spring?

    1. I have tried a bit of garden birding recently, and will have another go at keeping a bwkm0 garden list for the year. I enjoyed it in 2020, and there were some real surprises. But standing outside in this recent freezing weather is a bit of a trial - it's more bearable when you're on the move.

      Nocmig recording is reserved for spring though, and again I'll try a bit of live listening too.

      The nearest fishing that appeals to me is 40 minutes away. So that's that.

      Yes, the approach of spring will be a testing time...

  2. It is indeed a quandry. Here in London the local green spaces are ram packed. It would be far safer for me to get in the car and drive to a forgotten corner of the Essex Coast that does not serve tea and cake, I would meet mere fractions of the people I currently have to step off paths for and by happy coincidence the birding would be a lot better too. I would even offer to take any overzealous policeman back to Wanstead to see the scenes there with their own eyes....

    1. I sympathise. Looking back to places I've lived in NW London, like Kenton, Preston Road and Northolt, I cannot think of many (if any) local green spaces that would not have attracted hordes of people. Especially on a nice day. And the birding would probably have been nothing to write home about...