When the pandemic hit, Jamie Morton – a Birda ambassador, was living the young, professional lifestyle in London. Suddenly his mental health took a turn for the worst and he found himself seeking relief through nature and birdwatching. Read below to find out how his childhood obsession with wildlife was reignited.
As a young child I was obsessed with animals, albeit more Elephants and Tigers than Redstart or Brambling. Eventually though, I remember seeing a Jay on my grandad’s veranda – which was always festooned with birdfeeders – and finding it striking. As I grew older, my priorities changed and my passion for nature sadly ended up on the backburner. A classic tale. That said, it never truly left.
When the pandemic hit, I was living the young professional lifestyle in London. The whole situation went south for me, crushing my mental health, and I found myself taking a lot of long walks around Hampstead Heath. I started noticing the Blue Tits, Wrens and Robins, and felt a spring of childhood joy well up inside me. Then, I started noticing ‘new’ birds like Blackcap and Green Woodpecker. Before I knew it, I had binoculars and a guidebook in my hands and, as life opened back up, I would head out to nature reserves and come back beaming to have seen a Kingfisher.
When the opportunity to move to the Isle of Mull came up I immediately accepted, my head full of White-Tailed Eagles and Puffins. Two years later I am just as obsessed with nature as my five-year-old self ever was, and birdwatching was my route back in. I rarely leave the house without my binoculars, and regularly undertake volunteer bird surveys as well as – of course – posting on Birda.
How has birdwatching changed your life for the better?
Birdwatching came to me at a very difficult time in my life and put me back in touch with who I am on a fundamental level. I never feel more myself than when I’m out in nature, reveling in the wildlife and, usually, sharing my excitement with whoever will listen. It is both something that makes me happy for what it inherently is, and that also makes me feel happy in myself.
Since getting into birding, I feel like I’m a better listener. My natural curiosity has developed into a whole new sense of wonder for all the fascinating things contained within the bounds of this planet, both with and without wings, and I am now a person with a better sense of humility. From the outside it may not seem like looking at birds can change your entire worldview in this way, but it really can.
I know now that wherever life takes me, I will always have my binoculars by the door and this whole world to immerse myself in. I just hope we can protect the birds themselves and their habitats.
What does birdwatching mean to you?
These days, most of what surrounds us is human-made. We live in towns and cities, we drive cars, we go to the pub, we watch Netflix, and so on. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but we have definitely lost touch with nature.
But whilst we live our modern lives, just outside and above our heads there is an entirely different world that does not know or care about what we’re up to. That world is still out there and you can experience it, just by going for a stroll and having a good look and listen. Yes, there are some brilliant shows on Netflix, but down the road in a thicket of trees there lurks a creature that has evolved over millions of years alongside us. Its hearing is 10x better than yours, it has a pair of huge, dark eyes and its song has mystified humans for all of written history. It’s a Tawny Owl. You can go and check it out. You’ll have to find it, but then again that’s half the fun. In our modern world, there is something just a little bit subversive – dare I say rebellious – about birdwatching.
How has birdwatching helped you connect with others?
In life, I think we all have a subconscious tendency to stick to our ‘tribe’, and that can be unhealthy. The beautiful thing about the natural world – and birdwatching in particular – is that it reaches out and touches people from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you are, how old you are, how rich you are or anything like that. If you find beauty and excitement in a hovering kestrel or even a goldfinch in your garden, you’re in. I can’t count the amount of ‘bird-y’ conversations I’ve had with people that have left me thinking ‘I’d likely not have met that person in any other setting, but they were really cool’.
On Mull in particular, I’ve found that knowing your eagles from your buzzards from your hen harriers is a great way to settle in!
What would you say to someone starting out birdwatching?
Firstly, enjoy the process and don’t think for a second that you need to be an expert straight away. If you see a bird you don’t recognise, and then manage to ID it, treat that moment as the awesome discovery that it is. Even if you become more experienced and realise that that bird was quite ‘unremarkable’, it doesn’t matter. You will have a connection to that species every time you see it.
I would also say that there is such a wealth of knowledge and information out there, all waiting to be hoovered up. Experienced birders are usually happy to share tips and advice, and there are more guidebooks, apps and websites than I could mention. Organisations like the BTO also offer training for citizen scientists, which I’ve found to be great.
Finally, your ears are just as important as your eyes! Maybe even more so. It took me way too long to work that one out.