So here we are in Lockdown 3, and once again our birding (and fishing) plans have been somewhat knobbled. What to do...?
When the first national coronavirus lockdown began in March 2020, all the nearby coastal car parks closed. From West Bay to Abbotsbury Beach, including the National Trust car parks at Burton Bradstock and Cogden, all shut. For a good seven or eight weeks the coastline was empty. Fairly quickly I was able to work out some excellent walking routes which combined decent birdy potential with minimal risk of encountering anyone else. By far the 'riskiest' aspect of every walk was the bit that took me along local streets and through the greener parts of town, because that was where so many headed for their walking, running, cycling, dog-walking etc. Once out in the countryside it was dead easy to give the very few other people I saw a nice, wide berth.
In Lockdown 1 a so-called 'phased' re-opening of car parks began on May 13th, along with a relaxing of the 'stay local' government guidance. Cue mass migration to the coast. This time though, we have an interesting combination in play. The 'stay local' guidance is once again being strongly encouraged, and yet all the car parks remain open. Talk about mixed message.
It's been interesting to read some of the online discussions. How far can you walk? How far can you cycle? Is it okay to drive somewhere for exercise? If so, again, how far? Three miles? Five? Ten? How long can you be out? If you want to stop and look at a bird, how long can you stop for? Can you take photos? Can you even carry a camera? Is it okay to pour yourself a coffee from a flask, or does that turn your 'exercise' into a 'picnic', and therefore 'recreation', which is streng verboten. And so on.
For what it's worth, here's one take on it...
Right through this whole pandemic, a couple of basic principles have guided my behaviour. One, this virus is highly infectious. Two, it kills people. So I don't want to catch it, and I don't want to risk passing it to anyone else. Balanced against that is a need to earn a living, go shopping, exercise and get some birding in. So I try and do those things while absolutely minimising contact with others. Now that we're in a lockdown again I appreciate that we are being exhorted once more to adhere to some strict government guidelines, especially with regard to travel. So, as in Lockdown 1, my local birding will be restricted to what is within walking distance from home. I would like to drive to go birding, but don't feel I need to, so I won't. For now.
However, I do stop to look at birds. I scan fields and hedgerows. I carry a camera. I get it out and take photos. I don't worry about how far I go or how long I'm out. Personally I reckon my chances of catching or passing on Covid-19 would be infinitely higher if I spent ten minutes walking the length of my local high street on a quiet Sunday afternoon. And what's more, I am quite confident that my approach to birding isn't breaking any laws either. The government guidelines are just that. Guidelines. Not law. I wonder if the reason it seems so difficult to reach consensus on how to apply them to our varied individual circumstances is related to that fact? Generally speaking, with a law, you know when you're breaking it. With these guidelines though...well...see paragraph four.
Like most birders I would imagine, I want to exercise [read: go birding] in a way that I deem 'C-19 safe', that avoids interaction with others. But at the same time I don't want to fall foul of the law. It seems there are many, many ways to achieve those aims. My way is one. Others might judge me for it, but I hope not.
Anyway, as yet I haven't found any surprise birdy hotspots. I've explored quite a lot of local countryside, and so far it's been pretty dire. The farmland especially feels depressingly birdless. But maybe I'm not looking in the right places...
| This stile is about ten minutes walk from home. Beyond it is open countryside for many miles... |
| Within a mile of home, this Stonechat felt like a minor triumph today. |
I shall press on though, and hopefully find some spots to get excited about. If not, will I be overcome with the urge to drive somewhere? Possibly. Will I be judged? Probably. Someone, somewhere, who doesn't really know anything about me or my circumstances, will no doubt think (or say) 'What part of 'Stay at Home' do you not understand?!' So I'll answer the question now. No part. Does that help?
Mind you, I still think it's daft to leave the car parks open. When the relentlessly poor birding finally does my head in and I cave, at least make it difficult for me.