Way back in the early days of Spring I returned from a wondrous two weeks exploring the Neotropical wonders of Costa Rica for the first time. We were aware whilst out there that the COVID situation was quickly worsening but to be honest never dreamed that I would be at work for just five whole days before being sent home early on the 20th March. Andrea had already been working from home for a week by then.
Everything changed, my RSPB reserve closed, my first tours for Sunbird leading in Estonia and Belarus were cancelled, shops shut up and Lockdown commenced and within a week RSPB staff joined the ranks of the Furloughed. What I was not expecting was to spend the next 225 days away from the job where I have spent the last 17 years.
To start with I threw myself into my neglected garden and spent the first two weeks in true lockdown with everyday day spent cutting back, burning and tidying up. The weather even began to improve and it was actually a joy to be able to watch my garden awaken after another grey, mild and windy winter.
I grew veg for the first time in ten years and planted up potatoes from some that had gone to seed, cleaned out the pond and even tried my hand at some creative garden construction projects. I had time to actually enjoy being out there; to sit back with a sandwich and a lunchtime beer while scanning the sky for Red Kites and the first Swallows. ‘I could get used to this’ I remember thinking...
It was also the start of our Lockdown Birding List competition with 48 members of one of our local WhatsApp groups. It is in fact still running and we are now continuing through to the end of March 2021 to give everyone a full year. It has been quite an eye opener with most of us adding many new ‘from the garden’ species. I am on 84 so far and there is still the hope of winter flyovers to come!
The 6th April was my birthday and I made myself head out on a walk from home; just me and my camera. I had never explored anywhere at all on foot from home despite living in Strood for 18 years and I spent those first few weeks enthusiastically putting my boots on after breakfast before checking the maps and planning a circular route thank ranged from five to 17 miles.
|The first apple leaves
I soon had a good idea of where would be worth going back to with plans in my head for various potential bird species and areas that looked good for orchids or insect diversity. The woodland and meadows of Ranscombe Farm Plantlife reserve became a regular haunt which I could approach from various routes and the six to eight mile loop was just about right for a morning amble. I have always been an all round naturalist but this spring and summer gave me the chance to expand that knowledge even further and botany and diptera probably benefited most from my efforts especially with online help from my friends who regularly got consulted on any queries.
|I became rather obsessed with tunnels and allyways
|Yellow Bird's Nest
|Portevinia maculata - played for and got on Ramsons
|Hornet Robber Fly Asilus crabroniformis - what a beast
Bees and Wasps are still a grey area with me but I gave it a good go but there is so much more to digest and I like to be able to identify things without pinning and dissecting not that I have a problem with such a scientific approach! There were some groovy day flying moths too and Antony intruduced me to the world of moth leaf mines!
|Ornate-tailed Digger Wasp - Cerceris rybyensis,
|Andrena hattorfiana - the biggest Andrena that collect Scabious pollen
|Nomada zonata - so new it is not in the book
|Lunar Hornet Clearwing - it even buzzes!
|Nemphora metallica - a superb Longhorn moth that like Scabious too
|Lyonetia clerkella on Hazel
I did not record every breeding bird species I encountered but I did plot many and sorting my maps will be a job for a dark winter evening or three but suffice to say the KOS will be getting a hefty wodge of data for the west side of the Medway this year. I was pleased to find Hawfinches at two sites and Firecrests at three, successful nesting Ravens and Peregrine, 21 singing Nightingales, an invisible Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest, a young Tawny Owl, Marsh Tit and Spotted Flycatcher, numerous Bullfinch and Skylark territories and a handful of Corn Buntings and Yellow Wagtails singing in the fields. However, I did not encounter a single breeding Lapwing or Redshank and Oystercatchers were my only productive species.
I did about fifty of these walks from home and had clocked up over a thousand miles by the end of August with the Stonechat and Golden Plover that I saw on my Wednesday walk taking me to 133 species combined with my garden list.
These walks took me in all directions from Strood; through the Cobham – Ranscombe Woods and out west to Jeskyns country park, up though Shorne Woods, Great Crabbles and Higham and to the arable fields beyond, to Chattenden Woods with it Emperors and Nightingales, as far up as Kings North Power station beyond Hoo along the Saxon Shore Way and south into Ranscombe Farm and the North Downs Way above Upper Halling and back along the west side of the Medway via Peter’s Bridge, Wouldham and Bostal.
As restrictions lifted I cautiously ventured further afield but as a rule I still stayed in Kent and even then mostly to the ‘top half’. I visited places with almost no visitors and having the weekdays available to me gave me even greater chance of staying clear of the public and as such I managed to spend time in the sunshine with about 19 species of Orchid and 42 species of Butterfly (two of which were just into Sussex) and 27 of Dragon and Damselfly as well as quite a few extra birds and some quality Hoverflies.
Glanville Fritillary Heath Fritillary Duke of Burgandy Metalmark Dark Green Fritillary Purple Emperor White Admiral Silver Spotted Skipper Adonis Blue Chalk Hill Blue Orange Tip Brimstone Grizzled Skipper Green Hairstreak Blue-eyed Hawker Green-eyed Hawker Banded Demoiselle
|Lesser Butterfly Orchid
|Violet Helleborine - two of four species seen
|Early Purple Orchid
|Common Spotted Orchid
Add to this various reptiles and amphibians and a few mammals as well and it was a great spring and summer to wander the highways and byways of my local area.
|Playing Fox cubs
By being sensible I have managed to avoid contracting this insidious virus so far and without my exploratory walks and the determination that the September Lesvos trip would go ahead, I doubt very much that my sanity would have held up if I had willingly confined myself to home and garden for the last seven months.
I returned from Lesvos at the end of September to two weeks of ‘house arrest’ which was strangely enough the most difficult spell of the whole period. The weather was dire and even the garden could not provide me with much solace. Seeing Vigo the Lammergeier on her last day on the 15th October (just after my quarantine ended) as she patrolled the Beachy Head area before heading out across the Channel was one of my most uplifting birding moments and the sneaked in (I was nearby-ish) Bushchat just two days later at least gave me a taste of autumnal birding.
It has ended up being a strangely cathartic experience with a full on lifestyle change quite literally happening overnight back in March. I have barely set an alarm for all that time with no more 5.10am ‘bleep bleep bleep’ to start the going to work process and 7am seems to have become my natural wake up time. There has been no commute and none of the associated frustration, danger, monotony and expectation of idiots and delays there and back each day. Up until recently I have been sleeping better and longer as a rule and yet staying up later and I no longer feel like I exist in a state of perpetual tiredness.
I have more time, energy and motivation and all these things should be telling me something and I am trepidatious about my return to work on Monday morning but in these still troubling times I am counting myself fortunate to have a job to go back to.
Everything will be different now. The ‘New Normal’ is upon us but for once I need to put my own mental well being first and so will approach the oncoming weeks with an open mind as to what my future may hold and with a new Lockdown set to come into place on Thursday all the juggling balls are once again in the air at the same time...