“The Secrets of Living” *

* “may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living.”
e.e. cummings

I’m neither a twitcher nor even an avid bird-watcher, yet I delight in the aviary activity in the garden as well as out and about in nature!

Whilst enjoying a break on the swing bench it’s a joy to see the birds flying with precision and speed to the feeder, some darting back and forth for a quick nibble, whilst others hog the stand for minutes at an end.

In the woods other birds swoop between the trees, their calls echoing around the neighbourhood.

Travelling abroad is always a revelation and this is true for the birds encountered. I will never forget the spectacle in Florida of pelicans flying eye-level past the balcony on numerous occasions, almost within touching distance. The sense of awe was phenomenal.

In today’s world the natural environment competes with digital elements of our lives. We seem increasingly time poor as screens easily win the battle for our attention. It would be a bleak and empty future if the wonder of nature and animals is lost to the latest generation.

In an attempt to combat this possibility, Denzil Walton has written a book to share his knowledge and experience of bird watching with children. Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is written for adults caring for children and gives advice on how to tempt children away from their screens to the outside world. In this first of a series of Encourage a Child the author begins by showing adult how to best bring the world of birds alive for children.

At first I was slightly sceptical. Surely it is just a matter of heading out and pointing at the birds! I could not be more wrong!

The book is highly informative, detailed and well-written. It is aimed for children from seven to twelve years old, however I feel it is relevant for both younger and older age groups. To be honest, I have found lots of helpful information for myself and made notes for future reference. Whilst the book concentrates on birdlife in Western Europe there are also many references to birds in America and Australia.

The book teaches us the difference between merely looking at birds and watching them with real engagement. The explanations are clear whilst still detailed. The format is easy to read and absorb, with sections broken up with a summary list of suggested questions to ask the child. There are ten chapters in all which progress from the basic bird watching, to feeding, caring, closer viewing through binoculars, taking notes etc. Later in the book various excellent project ideas are described and there are some for all age groups. In addition the personal anecdotes makes this a highly engaging and approachable book.

The information within the book includes the best viewing places, such as observing a swan from a bridge which allows the young person “to be able to see the swan’s large webbed feet, frantically paddling away, while on top the swan looks perfectly serene and calm.” Furthermore, Denzil Walton advices adults to teach children to “use mnemonics to memorise bird songs and calls.” The book explains the difference between bird calls and bird songs and suggest that listening to these will help children appreciate classical music such as Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

The writer’s in-depth knowledge is superb and gives us nuggets of fascinating information. This ranges from becoming involved in bird census counts (the RSPB one in the UK has over half a million members) to learning the interesting fact that peregrine falcons reach speeds of 150 mph as they fly to knock another bird out of the sky! Furthermore I learned how to buy the best bird book and how to choose the right pair of binoculars. A quick hint, it’s not all about magnification!

The book helpfully includes a link to Encourage A Child website where there are many other numerous resources. I must hasten to add, the irony is not lost to the author of an ebook and website to encourage young people outside … I would argue that internet research is both unavoidable and imperative in today’s world.

Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is great aid and inspiration for all those looking after children with wonderful suggestions for appreciating bird life and I believe that not only parents, grandparents will find this extremely helpful but also nursery and school teachers etc. My only quibble is the lack images of birds, which I appreciate may be down to copyright, cost issues. However, as a result of reading the book I was inspired to print out lots of images myself from the internet for reference!

Watching birds is a wonderful and relaxing break from our busy and hectic lives and I’m confident that Denzil Walton’s wish to help give a child ‘resilience for stress later in life’ will be fulfilled through this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ebook of Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is available on Smashwords and also here on Amazon UK & Amazon US.

Note: I received the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Finally, I’d like to share a short video of bird life in my garden, centred around a couple of the feeders. Enjoy!

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Chinese proverb.

The photos are all by myself from my garden apart from the first one which is courtesy of pixaby.com.

AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!