The Mindfulness of Birding

Mindfulness is the latest therapy and lifestyle enhancement tool to be brought to the modern life improvement stage of counselling. While its various forms have their roots within a variety of belief systems and cultures, it is one of the ways designed to help people get in touch better with themselves, God (or their belief system and its values) and the here and now (the present). Mindfulness as a therapy helps one learn to adapt and change unhealthy attitudes to past emotional and psychological injuries.

I personally believe that regular birding (birdwatching) and  nature/bush walks, assist in the process of becoming present and in the moment. With the age of information technology and mobile phones many are spending much of their lives inside a virtual reality environment, and thus failing to connect with their real self and the reality of the real world surrounding them. Social media approval, information overload and constant viewing of negative news reports adds to an already stressful life. We all need a safety valve to allow the stress and pain of the past to dispel and loose its power, to allow the real person to be restored and recreated. This better positions us to take control of our life, and move forward. This is what recreation is, a healing and restoring of the real self.  To do this effectively we need to deliberately engage our five senses –  feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting. These are the windows to the world around us through which we engage the present.

Parent with juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet.

 Let me share why over the past 8 years or so, my wife and I, have learned to acutely train our senses (as many other birders have) when walking about, and how it develops and brings a level of appreciation, previously not enjoyed. It is interesting that when non-birding friends come walking with us that they are amazed how we can locate and photograph birds and other creatures which they have no idea are actually only feet away. The above photos show a juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet (dark mottled beak and lesser orange chest) with the adult parent. I could have easily walked past if I had not had my ears tuned in to the unusual noises coming from deep within a tree on one very hot day. A strange faint squeaking sound drew my attention, and after a minute or two these birds were located.

Another example was while we took my grandson birding into the Royal National Park. We were trying to find the Azure Kingfisher to show him, which I had shown to two of my other grandsons on previous occasions, but we did not find it in its usual area along the Hacking River. Looking across the river underneath a large bush and well hidden in the dark, my wife excitedly announced a Nankeen Night-Heron, a bird we seldom see due to it being a nocturnal hunter who rests out of sight during the day. Take a look at this clip and you understand what I mean by sharpening our senses to become acutely aware of what is around us.

Visiting another favorite reserve I walk silently along the walking track through the forest. Listening and watching for signs of movement. People passed walking and talking, the occasional one playing with their mobile phone, unaware of what they are missing around about them. This little Brown Thornbill watched them, without them even being aware it was there. This bird’s classic sound alerted us to its presence, though it took some perseverance to find it.

As I walked pass the shaded ponds I saw this Eastern Great Egret fishing in a mindful pose. It remained completely immobile poised for instant food retrieval. Though this bird stands out and is quite visible, the delight of watching this bird hunt its prey was quite inspiring and brought a sense of thankfulness from my heart to my Creator Father God, through whom I view the world so much more appreciatively. Watch as this bird positions itself for success, we can learn so much from birds.

Here is another…

Finally, the Egret spotted me and stretched its neck high to ward me off. This is what they do to make themselves look larger and more threatening.

As the tide was becoming low I walked down to the mud flats to see if I could see the very elusive and most shy Striated Heron. Most people who look out across the mud flats would not even notice this small bird because its colour blends so well with the mud and most of the time it stands motionless, waiting for its prey. I know what to look for to locate it, and as soon as it sees me it does a runner so I have to locate it very quickly.

However, one bird most people do notice grazing on the mud flat is the White-faced Heron.

White-faced Heron

That same day I took a look at low tide on the beach where I normally observe my waders. The beach appeared empty of any birds but for Silver Gulls. I was looking intently from some distance to the shoreline but could not see anything.  I was about to walk away, and I remembered that I needed to scan very carefully, so I stood and scanned the shoreline and then I found one Eastern Curlew and one Bar-tailed Godwit, a most unexpected find, as Godwits are usually in small flocks. Wader numbers have been noticeably low this year which is disappointing. In this moment I needed to take time to look, and not impulsively glance and leave proclaiming, ‘nothing!’ as I quite easily could have done, being affected by this fast moving, always busy, impatient, impulsive, often distracted I want it now age.

The more we seek to expand our appreciation of birds by investing time to stop and learn the art of being still and deliberately connecting with and tuning into our surroundings, the sooner we gain the skills to identify and see birds nearby by hearing their calls and watching their peculiar movement and characteristic shape. Like all learned skills it takes time and commitment, but the fruit of it is much more than just learning about birds. There’s the bush and forest setting, the wild flowers and plants, other native animals and reptiles, the dappling of the sun through the trees, the cool fresh breeze trembling the leaves in the trees, refreshing upon the face and of course the quiet solitude but for the joyful calls of birds. It is all part of one’s mindful experience which many have heard referred to as smelling the roses.

 Being alone with myself and God in the forest is therapy and healing for me, restoring and revitalizing my spirit and body. Birding is healthy and assists longevity. Check out my page on the benefits of birding. 

God says  “Be quiet [and still, so you can tune into to my presence] and know [experience the reality and wonder] of me, your God.” Extracted from Psalm 46:10.

Finally, having weekly (or weekend) mindful experiences while walking in the bush or parks, whether birding or just appreciating the sights, sounds and smells, is that it gives us pleasant, soothing and peaceful memories to take into our busy stressful week to meditate, reflect and think upon in moments when we we need to time out for a few seconds to quickly regain peace of mind and soul.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. . .then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8

 Check out my book ‘What Birds Teach Us’ for more healthy life skills taught through the peculiar characteristics of our Australian birds. Please note: there is no religious content or reference to God in this book, which is used as a counselling tool to teach life skills.   You can purchase it here online on my BirdBook page.

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W. A. Hewson (Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy).

‘To introduce people to our unique Australian birds,

So we can learn from them how to live a healthy and happy life.’

NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed  by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.

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