"I know very little about birdwatching, but I assumed that it would be relatively easy"Benjamin Balazs/Pixabay

Three hours doesn’t sound very long. Although it probably is in Cambridge terms (one whole exam paper!), it is also the amount of time I can spend in the library, flicking from one social media app to the other, or the amount of time I can spend cooking-eating-watching YouTube-washing up. Three hours, however, when it is cold and damp and I would much rather be filling myself with self-loathing in the library, feels like a very long time indeed.

So: three hours birdwatching! Admittedly, I know very little about birdwatching, but I assumed that it would be relatively easy and pain-free. I have a pair of binoculars (free with a magazine), a warm coat, and a mildly functioning pair of eyes. I know what birds look like. I know what some birds sound like. I am good at sitting still for long periods of time. It sounded like, if not the perfect, then at least an acceptable pastime.

But, as they do, things started going wrong.

Not catastrophically, not in a riding-your-bike-into-the-Cam kind of way, but in a quiet way, that made me regret even coming up with this idea in first place. For a start, it dawned on me that I had not chosen the best location. I walked a short way to the nature reserve on the way to Grantchester, and just, well, sat down. In hindsight, I realise that that wasn’t the best idea, that perhaps I should have looked a little harder for an Appropriate Birdwatching Location, and not chosen the first log that could take my weight to sit down on.

“I was looking for birds, for life, when really I should only have been looking for space, for peace”

I thought that it would be fine; the last time I went that way I saw a kingfisher and a spectacular number of bats and I was certain that there would be more interesting birds. This was linked with problem number two: I am not very good at identifying them. Sure, I know my way round some of the more common Small Ones – I can tell the difference between a blackbird and a blue tit – but when they are all Small And Black And White it can be very difficult. At home, I tend to just walk about, exclaiming “yes! a red kite!” without much authority and certainly without an RSPB identifier guide. This is a guide that I do not own. I had run out of data so that I couldn’t even Google the birds anyway – I was simply forced to rely on my basic instincts (every other bird was a wagtail, even though I wasn’t quite sure what one looked like) and desperately hope that I could remember enough detail until I got home.

Problem number three: I couldn’t remember a thing.

I have a short memory and an even shorter attention span. I would have liked this column to have been lyrical and lovely, writing about the joys of sitting still and observing Mother Nature. But I don’t like sitting still. I have to be up and about, moving and fidgeting and continually seeing new things that are not half-glimpsed through a flimsy pair of children’s binoculars.


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Mountain View

Walking through autumn twilight

As you can tell, this did not go particularly well. I like to think that, as an English student, I can pay attention to detail, that I notice things woven into texts but unfortunately this skill does not extend to noticing birds darting through trees. They move so quickly; and although they perch and remain stationary for a surprisingly large number of seconds it still takes longer for me to fumble about with my binoculars. I spy a bird, I look away, I spend too long scanning through tree trunks and by that time I manage to get a close view of half a wing and a foot.

But, as my dad would say, “Little fish are gold fish”, and I’m glad for the time that I spent outside, during one of my busiest weeks so far. It was a time for me to think, to breathe, and although I couldn’t feel my fingers after those three hours (I also don’t own any gloves), it was worth it. My expectations were too high: I was looking for birds, for life, when really I should only have been looking for space, for peace.

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