Puffins and Peregrines on prescription

Lockdown has not been kind to my brain. Inescapable, constant pressure and stress built up, allowing my anxiety to stealthily creep up and open the door for depression.

I was on edge all the time – stressed out and agitated by anything and everything; feeling battered and overwhelmed; absent-minded and forgetful.

I’ve had to take time off work, increase the dose of my medication, and have counselling. All of these have helped, but if you’re a regular Dippyman reader, you’ll know that walking in nature is one of the things I try to do more of when I need to recharge and recuperate.

My doctor and counsellor have encouraged me to treat my time out enjoying wildlife as if it’s on prescription. It’s an essential part of my ‘tool kit’ for managing my mental health.

Distancing and dodging

Thinking back to when the lockdown restrictions were tighter, I can remember losing heart with my daily walks, and on hindsight that was a clear signal that I was on a downward spiral.

At first, I was glad to get out of the house for a change of scenery, but I grew weary of the same routes, day after day. There were some highlights – watching migrant birds returning for the summer, for example – but I started to find the walks stressful. Having to dodge people for social distancing meant I was permanently on edge. The very thing that should be helping me was having the opposite effect.

My time off work coincided with some of the restrictions lifting, meaning I could visit different places, enjoy different vistas, and see different wildlife. Most of the time I’ve stayed fairly close to home, and I’ve been lucky that some pretty special birds have turned up within a half-hour drive – a Red-footed Falcon and Rose Coloured Starling, for example.

Summer in seabird city

It’s also been peak time for activity at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire’s seabird city, which I’ve been to twice in the past month. The first time was before the visitor centre and toilets were open, and it was a blustery day. I was fortunate to time my visit between two downpours, and hardly saw another person. It was a different story the second time – it was sunny, the facilities had reopened, and the reserve was the busiest I’ve ever seen it.

I could easily have been disheartened or anxious about trying to avoid the crows, but – and perhaps this is a sign I’m making progress – I took a break, had something to eat, and started again. I had my camera with me, and managed to get some decent shots of Puffins.

I then set off on a clifftop walk towards Speeton, hoping to see a Hen Harrier that had been seen hunting in the fields on this stretch of the coast.

I didn’t manage to see it, but I found other things to enjoy – not least the views.

Walking further than I’d ever intended, I turned back towards Bempton. Two birds in particular put a smile on my face:

  1. A Sandwich Tern flew past – my first of the year, and bird number 150 for my year list.
  2. I came face to face with a Peregrine perched on a post.

It was easily the best view I’ve ever had of one of these stunning raptors. It kindly stayed on the post while I took some pictures, then it was gone, dashing along the cliff face in search of prey.

It was one of those moments when nature can stop you in your tracks and brighten your spirits. My walk along the coast perfectly encapsulated how nature helps my mental health:

  • a sense of adventure, discovery and exploration
  • exercise and fresh air
  • a kind of mindfulness – the sights, sounds and smells help me get absorbed in the present moment, rather than dwelling and ruminating on less helpful things.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of Bempton’s spectacular seabirds.

Above – a Razorbill showing off its yellow gape. Below: Gannets galore.

2 Comments on “Puffins and Peregrines on prescription”

  1. erikleo says:

    Bempton Cliffs is a great place. I went to Blanchland (grouse moorland) a few weeks ago and saw golden plover, curlew, skylarks, stone chats, lapwing etc and heard a cuckoo; my first this summer!

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