Nature – yoga for the mind, and always rich and diverse

A yellow-browed warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) by “kajornyot wildlife photography” (Shutterstock)

A yellow-browed warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) by “kajornyot wildlife photography” (Shutterstock) - Credit: Archant

There’s really only one thing to write about this month and that is the discovery of a little bird in my garden that was not just a rarity for Hertfordshire but also the 100th species I have recorded in my garden.

It was a fitting milestone for my garden bird list but also an emphatic confirmation of something I’ve been discovering throughout this crazy year of lockdowns and restrictions: the great richness and wealth of local wildlife and nature right on our doorsteps and in particular in our gardens.

Our gardens and the views they afford, however limited, are windows on the wider world of nature. The joy of discovering something unusual, or beautiful, or complex in the confines of our often-mundane domesticity enlivens and connects us with an infinite world beyond ourselves.

To be awakened to this world, with all its possibilities, and be drawn out of ourselves, even momentarily, is perhaps one of the healthiest things that can happen to us. In that moment we are no longer conscious of self with all its needs and wants but present to something outside of us, something totally ‘other’ and, if we allow it, totally engaging. It is also real and, importantly, not manufactured or maintained by us.

Nature is fresh air and wide-open space for our minds in contrast to the black holes of work and online interaction that, like never before, have merged and deepened the ennui. If our sitting rooms provide space for online yoga sessions our gardens give us a space to perform ‘mental yoga’ – if we take the time to look and even listen.

Nature exercises our minds because it requires that we watch, we wait and listen and that we learn. For the most part we simply do not know and this, in itself, is refreshing. Too often we live in closed worlds unable to see new possibilities or believe there are any and the danger is we stagnate in boredom. Nature, even in our humble gardens, offers the chance of surprise – that critical element required to break our mental moulds as something totally unexpected happens!

That is precisely the form that bird number 100 took as I scanned through the flock of tits flitting through the garden. My binoculars settled on a tiny bird, not much bigger than a goldcrest, and I knew immediately that it was a yellow-browed warbler.

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True to its name it sported a thin pale yellow eyebrow and similar stripes on its wings. It is one of the aptly named ‘leaf warblers’ that flit and flutter through the trees, at times looking like falling leaves as they tumble to catch tiny insects in the foliage.

This little bird has been extending its range east from Siberia and has become a regular autumn visitor to coastal counties. More recently individuals have begun to turn up further inland and the number of records for Hertfordshire has increased too. My surprise was therefore not so much that it was there but rather that it had chosen my garden and that moment to appear as the 100th garden bird. What were the chances of that?!

It was the perfect reward for the increased time spent in the garden this year, watching and waiting, often first thing at dawn, and another highlight in an extraordinary year of garden birdwatching.

Of course, it may not be birds that capture your attention. I sometimes think the enjoyment of nature is like a bus journey with the option to get off at various stops. One stop is birds but others might alight on insects – butterflies, moths or beetles – or fungi, or flowers. Wherever you step off there is the opportunity to drill-down and plumb the depths of whatever facet of nature has taken your interest.

I have yet to set a moth-trap overnight but I know many people have since lockdown. It is the first step to uncovering a nocturnal world of wonder as these oft-dismissed creatures are drawn to the light in all their variety and surprising splendour. They might be fodder for birds and bats but theirs is a world equally rich and diverse and there every night in our gardens for the discovering.