It is a windy Wednesday morning in mid-January, and Year 5 are ready to take to the school field with binoculars in hand to take part in the RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch. Hopes are high as we leave the warmth of the classroom and make our way down to the lookout. Some children are certain they will see a golden eagle. Others are quietly confident that they will spot exotic birds of prey or colourful parrots. This being Somerset in the depths of winter, I hint that we might see a woodpecker (if we’re really lucky).
One child is worried that she might be allergic to birdwatching: ‘I did it once and felt really sick afterwards!’ We decide to take the risk.
Hedges and fences provide our cover, and the children crouch behind them with binoculars poised. Silence falls as we scan the treetops. Until…
We hear our first birdcall, and the children gasp at the familiar ‘caw‘-ing of a crow from the next field. Spinning around to get a good look, we see the black plumage of about a dozen crows nesting in the bare branches of a nearby oak. Ruffling their feathers and perching imperiously, they seem as interested in us as we are in them.
The children fill in their birdspotter sheets: ‘I can see eleven. No wait, thirteen!’ says one, screwing up his eyes.
‘I’ll just put down fifty’ says another, rounding up considerably.
“Let’s try and be accurate, shall we?’ I say.
After another few minutes of waiting, we attract the attention of some small garden birds. The children identify three blue tits and a great tit. They delight in watching them through their binoculars, as they hang upside-down and flutter wildly around.
A robin also joins the party; word seems to be getting around. A small brown bird touches down briefly, but in the commotion of trying to identify it, we manage to scare it away. Was it a wren, or maybe a song thush?
‘Did anyone see its beak?’ asks a child.
‘Shhh!’ says another.
‘We’ll call it a U.F.O.’ I say. ‘An unidentified flying object.’
We keep watch and see more crows, some jackdaws and a pair of wood-pigeons calling from a tree. There is an unconfirmed sighting of a goldfinch. Time really has flown, and sadly we must start winging our way back to class.
It has been a most enjoyable morning of birdwatching. How wonderful to get out in the fresh air and appreciate the amazing wildlife right on our doorstep. Birds are free spirits, zooming around like feathered superheroes, singing their exquisite song. There is no price of admission, and you don’t have to drive anywhere or queue up to see them.
The children return to their lessons wide-eyed and rosy cheeked, talking about all they’d seen. It has been a welcome break from the familiar routines of writing in exercise books or staring at screens.
So what are you waiting for? Put out a request for binoculars, postpone that spelling test, hang up some birdfeed and get going. Our feathered friends are all around us, and very grateful for the help in these cold winter months.
Wrap up warm, watch the skies, and don’t forget to count carefully.