© 2014 by Barbara Copperthwaite.

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The perfect time for beginners

As I’m walking along I see not a lot of wildlife really. A grey squirrel runs in front of me, there’s a man sitting in front of the pond having a can of strong lager even though it’s only 12 (so even though he doesn’t count as wildlife he certainly looks as if he’s settling in for a wild old day if he carries on like that). Oh, and some dogs are jumping in and out of a very large, very muddy puddle indeed, watched by their owners, who don’t seem to know whether to laugh or cry.

But as I’m walking along, it occurs to me that actually now is a really good time to start nature watching. This might initially seem counter-intuitive, given that a lot of things are disappearing at the moment. But actually, because the leaves are dropping and everything is barer it means things are easier to see. For example, Jays are particularly in evidence at the moment. Normally, they are very shy birds, which like to hide in the branches, and feed on the ground among a bit of undergrowth if possible. At this time of year though, they become a common sight: their white rump as they swoop, the flash of the blue on their wing, the tell-tale rose of their body, all are easier to spot currently for two reasons. Firstly, they are busily creating a store for the tough winter months, so they are gathering acorns and hiding them. And secondly, for the simple reason that there is less cover for them to hide in.

The lack of cover makes everything easier to spot – great news for novice nature-watchers.

With fewer species around, autumn and winter make a great time for beginners too, because it gives them the chance to grasp the basics. Yes, alright, you may ‘only’ see blackbirds, and crows, and robins, and blue tits, and starlings and the like but you will become very, very familiar with the way that they fly, their characteristics, where they hang out, what they like to eat and where. You will get to know them so well that you’ll be able to see just a silhouette of something, or a flash in the corner of your eye and you will know it was a robin, etc. Which means that when spring comes, and with it more birds of a more exotic, rarer breed, you will be able to easily pick them out.

So there you go, that’s my advice: you may think you’ve missed your window of opportunity to get to know about nature until spring arrives once again, but sometimes just concentrating on the basics is the best thing.

Learning about the common or garden birds also makes one realise that they are just as beautiful and fascinating as rarer species. Never be dismissive of what’s right there on your doorstep; nature doesn’t have to be exotic. In fact, if we all got to know our own little section of wildlife and looked after it actively, what a massive difference that would make to the world’s nature.