The First Birds of the Year A Guest Blog By Jeni Bell

Blackbird 1

2021 began with a blackbird. All bright-eyed and cocked head perched on a frosted fence post. Its beak more golden than the sun that struggled to fight its way through the blanket of grey tucking the world in. That, I thought, is a good bird to start the year on.

Charismatic, bolshy, strong-willed and smart. Blackbirds, to me, always look quizzical, as though they are questioning everything they see; what is that, why is it there, how come I haven’t noticed it before? I feel like these are some strong attributes to carry forward into the New Year. A need to look at things in a bright light, to tilt your head to one side and gain fresh perspective over the familiar.

He didn’t stay long on the fence, it was cold, frost had formed on frost and he would be in desperate need of energy. With a flick of his midnight wings he shot off at speed for next doors hedgerow. Hopefully, in its dark shelter there would be some thawed ground he could investigate for invertebrates. Failing that, there were always the many bird feeders on the estate. Winter essentials.

Black headed Gull

Black-headed Gull in winter dress so no black head.

Those feeders bought me the years next birds; a quick-witted robin, the gentle woodpigeon, and a scrappy gang of starlings fighting over whatever was for breakfast that morning. Overhead the winter-white shapes of black headed gulls pushed through the air on soft wings. Their features seemed delicate in the glow of a weak, rising sun. Their calls on the other hand were not delicate, but shrill, bubbling cackles all too much for an early morning after the night before. But I was pleased to have a clear head, to not be fogged with a hangover. I like to start the New Year as I mean to go on, and I had been eager to rise early, whilst the rest of the world was still sleeping.

It’s a tradition. One that, for me, started a few years back when I first really got into bird watching. Keeping lists is a huge part of the hobby, and one of the most anticipated of the birdwatchers’ calendar is the New Year’s Day list. A fresh page, a clean slate, and whatever other New Year cliches you fancy, all ready to be filled with birds. Now, I probably don’t take the tradition quite as seriously as some. I’m not out at the local nature reserve frantically scouring groups of gulls or ducks for that extra species. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not for me.

I like to see them in gently, to greet them with a cup of tea in the garden, create a habit of mindful observing to carry me through the year to come. I’m trying to create a bit of stillness with regards to my wildlife watching. To savour it in a way I didn’t before, like comfort food, or a favourite book that keeps calling you back. Perhaps, what I’m trying to do is not take my wildlife encounters for granted. I want it to be more meaningful than just ticking off a species as seen and moving on. If that means I see less birds but know them better, then surely that’s just as beneficial as a list that spills over endless pages.

Another new bird has arrived. A collared dove. Smog grey with a smart black collar and innocent eyes. They are a garden favourite of mine. This one doesn’t come to the feeders, favouring the surrounding chimney pots instead, singing out its easy-going call as it lands. Just the one this morning, usually there are two.

Take a moment to really look at a Starling they are such amazing birds.

The starlings have left, probably off to rove the estate in gangs. Raiding feeders and beat boxing from rooftops. There is one among them that can do a pretty impressive impression of a car alarm, and the others clicks and whistles, like tuning radios, are joyous accompaniment to the first hot drink of the day. I wonder if they will learn any new noises in this coming year.

Absent from the feeders are the blue tits and great tits that used to be a common sight when I was little. I know they are around though; from the other side of the estate I can hear the pulsing ‘teacher teacher’ of the boldly dressed great tit. They tend to spend their time in the gardens that have oak trees and denser hedges. A safer bet for a smaller bird. Especially with the sparrowhawks that prowl the skies here, not that they are present this morning, but I will see them in time, I’m sure.

Sipping warm tea, from my new mug, which is aptly decorated with a motif of brightly coloured garden birds, I’m pleased with my small haul of garden birds. And I’m pleased that the first one to greet me was the blackbird. Out of all the birds I might have seen when I drew back the curtains on the 1st of January, it seems as though he was the most fitting. My gentle reminder to not take things for granted, to be confident in any coming tasks, and to always look at things with a tilted head and inquisitive eye. Here’s to channelling our inner blackbirds this 2021.

Another garden always worth stopping to really enjoy - Great Tit.

Please check out Jeni's own blog for lots more of her wonderful writing here...

A male Blackbird - wont be long before these beautiful birds begin to sing - hope.

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