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Birds, books and blooms

On Monday night I had signed up for an event with the Urban Birder, David Lindo. I'm not a birder, in fact, if truth be told, I'm terrified of birds in close proximity. As long as they are not flapping in my immediate vicinity however, I am happy to admire them. I saw the event being promoted on twitter and the title of the book that was being discussed grabbed me, "12 Birds to Save Your Life" with the subtitle "nature's lessons in happiness". On top of that it was billed as a chat with the author Charlie Corbett about "the healing power of nature" - count me in! I've not got the book yet (although never fear, it will soon be in my online shopping basket; remember to shop at if possible) but, as you'd expect from the title, it's divided into twelve sections, one per month and per bird, although Charlie was quick to point out that each bird is simply a jumping off point for noticing other birds, and indeed other things in nature. Although he'd been brought up in the country, he'd become disconnected from it as a young adult, busy with life and work. A family tragedy brought him back to the countryside and into nature, and he found solace both listening to skylarks in a Wiltshire field, and in watching a robin each day outside the city hospital where his mother was in the high dependency unit. He doesn't profess to be an expert birder, or indeed an expert on mental health so hearing his stories about connecting with nature and the cycle of seasons and of life through bird watching made it more accessible. Awake at dawn yesterday, rather than being frustrated at not being able to sleep, I listened intently at the open window. I don't know who I was hearing, but knowing the birds were out there, busy singing their hearts out, made me smile. (Incidentally, he is also the author of The Art of Plain Speaking, which is a guide to cutting out jargon and speaking with purpose, which bodes well for 12 Birds, being a clear book to read. It was refreshing to hear someone speak about the benefits of not using jargon and why it's not necessary to try and sound impressive through the use of meaningless phrases, but that's another story.)

I do feel slightly ashamed that I have only just come across this In Conversation With... series of webinars but not to worry - there is a wealth of material on the website to delve into, and the good news is that Monday's session was recorded and will hopefully be up there soon too for you to enjoy.

Whilst we're talking about books, yesterday's entry in An Irish Nature Year, which I am reading each evening, was about ragwort. I'm pretty familiar with ragwort, I've done my fair share of ragwort pulling but I could say fairly confidently that I'd not seen any recently. This morning, in the rough piece of unkempt verge that I walk past at least twice a day, clear as anything was ragwort on the cusp of blooming. How had I never noticed it before? It certainly hadn't sprung up to over a foot tall overnight. Out at Chatelherault yesterday (see pic) with one of the countryside rangers, I was introduced to hanging, or pendulous sedge, a quite distinctive looking plant. I was going to write "grass" there but decided to check out if it is a grass. Nope. According to the RHS website, sedges are more ancient than grasses appearing more than 160 million years ago. Where grasses have alternate leaves forming two ranks, sedges have leaves arranged spirally in three ranks. Now you know. Anyway, never having seen it before in my life - there it was in the park, hanging over the path that I walk every morning. I know that being connected to nature is not reliant on knowledge or being able to identify species, but oh my word, there is something wonderful about having your attention drawn to something and then noticing it yourself. I've had to go off and google what that is called - the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon or the frequency illusion. Wiki describes it simply, as when "a concept or thing (or sedge!) you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere."

To mangle the catchphrase of the Urban Birder - look up - and also, look down!

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