South of the River – The Great Skua

Compass-SouthComment logo 2I’ve never been very taken by the idea of ornithology, or bird watching or ‘twitching’. It’s always seemed a bit obsessive, like train spotting (the hobby, not the film). But seeing flocks of unidentified sea birds wheeling over the sands as the tide goes out, or skeins of geese flying in from the north west to find somewhere to over-winter, really made my heart soar this week.

I’ve been over in Cumbria. I wasn’t hill walking as the fells were cloaked in low cloud, but it didn’t matter because we were staying by the Duddon estuary and there was lots to see.

I can identify a few garden birds that I see in Beeston – Blackbirds, Sparrows and Robins. Walking regularly in Middleton woods has introduced me to Jays, Coal Tits and Green Woodpeckers; I even heard a Cuckoo there last spring. But the Duddon boasts a host of birds I don’t see in Leeds like Bullfinches and Yellowhammers, my brother swears he saw a Kingfisher. Plus down on the beach are all manor sea birds.

We get seagulls in Cross Flatts Park – I think they’re Herring Gulls. But we don’t see Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Cormorants or Shags. With help from my zoom lens and a bird book I identified Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings skittering along the shoreline. I heard, but didn’t see, a Curlew too – a bird I associate with the fells and moors.

Am I boring you? I seem to be becoming a bit ornithological, reeling off all these names. I have got excited by seeing so many different birds and wanting to be able to identify them. I hope I don’t get obsessive, I haven’t got time to be.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that a brush with nature is always life enhancing. It doesn’t matter if it’s bird spotting, trees, fungi, or growing flowers and vegetables. It’s been shown to improve our mood and sense of well being.

We’re very lucky in South Leeds to have so much green space close at hand. But what about all the back to back terraces and high rise flats, I hear you ask. South Leeds is inner city isn’t it?

I met a civil servant from London who knew all about inner city deprivation, he was shocked at the amount of greenery we had. ‘How can this area be deprived when you’ve got all these trees?’ he asked me, I pointed him to the figures. But the interesting thing was we weren’t stood in Middleton Park, or even Cross Flatts Park. We were down at the bottom of Beeston Road by the motorway.

The trees he was referring to were next to Beeston Hill St Luke’s school and the bowling green. By the way, I’m told the school hedge is a great source of sloes. There are many patches of green around our neighbourhoods – go and explore them, they have all sorts of interesting nooks and corners.

The school holidays are about to start, my message to parents trying to entertain their children is to go outside this Christmas. The days are short and some are wet and dreary, but watch out for some sunshine and take a walk in the woods or the park.

Finally then, can I thank you for reading these columns this year, wish you and yours a merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

I’ll be back next year with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.



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