Black-Caps and #BirdTherapy

As I approached the glen this afternoon, I was immediately welcomed by a melodious, cheerful, flute-like song. I stopped in my path and followed the sound with my eyes, tracing it to the tip of the highest tree. There. A small bird, lightly brownish grey with a distinctive dark cap. I instantly recognised it – the Black Cap. As cheesy as might seem, it brought an immediate smile to my face. Black Caps are one of my most favourite birds. I agree, there is nothing particularly special about their appearance, but their song is something worth stopping to listen to. Its song is sometimes compared to two of other famously talented vocalists – the blackbird and the nightingale (both of whom would probably win a bird Grammy if there was such a thing). The Black Cap is loud, its song carries across the area well – it demands you to stop and listen.

I watched the little bird, a male. I attempted it take its photograph, but it refused to stand still long enough for me to lift my camera and point it in its direction. It danced around me like an excited puppy, fleeting from branch to branch.

But I must admit, its beautiful song is not the only reason I have an affinity for Black Caps. I am currently reading ‘Bird Therapy’ by Joe Harkness – a wonderful book that discusses in great depth the amazing effect that bird watching can have on ones mental health. I can relate to this book greatly – while I am fortunate to have generally good mental health, I like everyone, have times where I feel a little more anxious than usual and some down days. And like many others, I have discovered the fantastically calming outdoor remedy – nature.

The book quite regularly discusses those moments that we have nature that stick with us, the ones that become etched into our minds that we do not let go of. Those moments that we go back to, over and over again. One of these moments for me, involves our little capped songster.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I was looking for a job in the environmental sector (a frustrating process for any graduate). I had at this point decided to go back to university and get my masters degree. I was working part-time in a small super-market, but I found myself with masses of time on my hands. So, I started volunteering at my local nature reserve (I say local but in reality, this was a 20 minute bus journey followed by a 25 minute walk) every Thursday. I was part of a wonderful volunteer team that would meet weekly and do some conservation work around the reserve – I am very grateful for this team. I learned from them every week and this is where my obsession for nature really took hold!

One Thursday, I stood waiting in the carpark at the agreed meeting time for quite a while before concluding that no-one else was going to show up (check your emails kids, sometimes groups cancel…), so I decided to take myself for a good wander along the river. At this point, my bird knowledge was pretty limited, my bird handbook was never far from reach, and often I would spend time flicking through the pages, obsessing over the pictures. In honesty, I don’t remember much of that particular morning. I remember walking along the river, and I remember not being in the best of spirits. I took some time in each of the bird hides, looking out across the wetlands, admiring the birds I didn’t know the names of. I remember the feeling of being very hungry and deciding to call it a day when my legs started feeling like jelly. As I walked along the river, I took a sharp right, back towards the exit, and up the hill. To my right, I heard that loud fluting sound. In the tree, a pair of black caps were resting, right at my eye level. They were beautiful – simple little birds, the male had the distinctive black cap, and the female had the iconic chestnut brown. I remember gasping, excited to have seen a new species and that I was able to recognise it from my book.  And as quickly as I spotted them, they were gone, but that moment seemed to last much longer. It’s cheesy, I know, but that simple of simplest moment brought me pure joy. That for me, was a #birdtherapy moment, a moment that boosted my bird obsession that little bit further, a moment that made me even more determined to go and get my masters degree. It is a moment that I go back to when someone asks me ‘why are you so obsessed with birds’ (which to be fair, happens fairly regularly) and when I feel a down day coming on, I think of how good those blackcaps made me feel that day – that’s when I grab my binoculars and take myself out for a stroll. You never know what bird you might stumble upon.  

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