With the advent of lockdown and its aftermath, as a way of adjusting to the ‘new normal’, many of us have taken to walking daily for exercise and a breath of fresh air. We are very fortunate to live in Marlow, a small town, with easy access to the countryside, just a few minutes walk from the centre. There is such a varied landscape in our small region offering diverse habitats such as chalk grassland, meadows, woodland and of course the river. Walking instead of driving gives us the chance to use our senses, to observe and appreciate wildlife that we rarely get from the seat of a car. The reduction in noise, disruption and pollution from the decreased volume of traffic means that many wildlife species are living more undisturbed lives and becoming easier to spot by the casual walker.
Observing wildlife can be a very rewarding and relaxing experience and is a great opportunity to learn something new, or even take it up as a new hobby. Walking different routes each day not only provides variety but also the opportunity to see different species in their individual native environments. For instance, walking by the river, birds such great crested grebes, cormorants and kingfishers can be seen. These birds generally do not stray far from their natural habitat so are unlikely to be encountered in other environments. On another day, a walk across a field lined with hedgerows will provide the opportunity to see birds such as skylarks and yellowhammers. A walk through a woodland may lead to a chance encounter with a herd of one of our local species of deer or perhaps a fox. On the other hand walking the same route regularly will also provide some interesting aspects of animal and insect behaviour. Some species are territorial such as the robin, so the same individual bird may be seen in the same location on each walk. Even some butterflies are territorial. An example is the Comma and the same individual may be seen patrolling its territory in a woodland glade chasing off rivals and other insects.
One of the best ways to learn about wildlife is to carry a pocket guide. There are many available and each one covers its own subject such as birds, flowers, trees, butterflies and moths and mammals. There are also some wildlife apps which you can download to your phone. This way of learning more about each species makes spotting them more interesting and comparing your own experience with what is written in the guidebooks. You may discover that you have seen a rare species or perhaps spotted some unusual behaviour. A set of binoculars is also useful - even a small pair can be helpful in identifying birds or animals. Taking photographs is also very valuable, so that any animal or insect that cannot be recognised at the time can be identified later back at home.
Part of the magic of observing wildlife is that you never know when you will see something really special. It could be round the next corner waiting for you!