A few years ago, father of two, John Dearden faced a life changing event, which put him on a path to finding photography and birdwatching. His journey was, and still is, filled with sinkholes, dips and valleys, but he has found not only the will to persevere, but unexpected rewards. Through times of difficulty, it can be hard to see the positives. Huge changes can rock our lives. Mental health can make us feel at rock bottom, but through this pain can come victories. Here’s John’s birdwatching story.
In February 2019, John suffered a broken back when on holiday with his family and was bed-bound for months. An operation that same year was expected to repair his injury, but instead left him paralysed from the chest down. This led to bouts of severe depression and anxiety.
“I was in an unprovoked attack whilst paying for parking in Blackpool and was pushed into my car door at an angle, breaking my back. The man who did it ran away and was never caught. It’s difficult to move on from something like that. From being able-bodied for 39 years to being confined to a wheelchair, it was a big change and I didn’t leave the house for a while afterwards.”
Recovery and new beginnings
Recovering from his failed surgery and still bedbound, John took up photography as a way to keep himself motivated.
“My house faces West so I was taking pictures on my phone of beautiful sunsets. I decided to look into photographing these scenes through a camera. When I began to feel better, I went to my local park, Sankey Valley in St.Helens UK, and started taking pictures of all the different birds I could find. What really sparked my interest was the Kingfisher. I’d never seen one before, but it was common knowledge that there’s at least one there.”
“After 18 visits, I was still unable to find him. This is when I began my YouTube Channel to document my journey. I’d titled one of my videos “Capturing the Illusive Kingfisher” and thought that if I didn’t get the Kingfisher, I’d still be able to show other birds, like Robins, Great tits and Nuthatches.”
Then, on one of his regular visits, John had an unexpected encounter.
“I was heading down the path in my electric wheelchair holding my camera, when out of nowhere, this blue blur zoomed straight between my hand and face! I’d never seen anything so quick so I slammed on my brakes and turned to watch it head past. It was my first face to face encounter with this elusive bird. It was like a tiny superman!”
John’s eyes light up as he mentions his sighting of the Kingfisher, but the light quickly dissipates.
“There are so many birdwatching spots that I want to visit, but tarmac or good paths are really important. There are a few sites near me which I can only get to about 30% of because the paths are quite poor. I’m having victories here and there, I do get compliments from my pictures and it’s great to feel validated by that, but often depression can make you feel at rock bottom. It can be a real slippery slope, but hopefully I can continue getting my pictures because I love it.”
“The social aspect of it is brilliant. My local park can often be filled with a line of us with cameras scoping out the Kingfisher. Even when I’m photographing on my own there’s always people who will stop for a chat. You see people of all ages, 8 to 90 years old.”
John’s smile gets wider and you get a sense of his growing excitement as he mentions how his children are also getting into birdwatching.
“My son will come to tell me what birds he’s seen in the fields nearby. Both of my kids have taken up photography too using the cameras they got for Christmas. Other dads can kick a ball with their kids but birdwatching and taking photos is our hobby. We put up a bird-box on a wall which housed some Great tits. We kept seeing their little heads pop out of their hole. My daughter and I got some great pictures of the fledglings leaving the nest… It was such a special day!”
“I downloaded Birda and a few other apps to help me identify birds and calls, but I’m still learning. Birdwatching is so addictive; I’m trying to get a Goldcrest but I’ve not seen one yet. I love wildlife, just getting into landscape photography now but it can be really tricky for me to get to very remote places to see these incredible nature scenes. I’d love to go to the wilds of Scotland to see the White-tailed Sea Eagles. Maybe one day one will zoom past me.”