I had an early curiosity and fascination with living creatures. My early experiences happened thanks to my father capturing and handling animals as a way of exposing me to animals on our trips in Northern Iran. My dad tried to teach me handling frogs, snakes and a multitude of arachnids and insects. Somewhere in between, I experienced some startling or unpleasant interactions with some animals which made me become afraid of creatures belonging to nature. The book Cradle to cradle states that the human culture of control makes nature unfamiliar and unwelcoming to individuals. And I think that is among the largest reasons for individuals naturally being detached from the environment. As a result of my fear, I became less curious and insistent about spending time in the natural world. As I later discovered, those startling or unpleasant interactions could be prevented with research and especially observation of animal behaviour and biology. Thanks to the teachings of Michael Runtz, an amazing professor and naturalist, I decided to approach nature with a fresh start. An approach involving observing from a distance with silence and heightened senses.
Nature watching has become one of my favorite hobbies and self-care methods. I strive to go on nature watching visits all seasons of the year to fully capture the weather and animal activities. And since the beginning of the global pandemic, I am even more grateful for visiting natural sites. On one winter afternoon, I was observing a designated feeding area in the greenbelt of Ottawa. The feeding station contained different types of seed for the consumption of birds. The seeds also tend to cater to mammals like squirrels and chipmunks. The primary and significant change I could observe was the influx of people, level of human noise and those effects on animal feeding. Imagine 20-30 Mourning doves and a couple of sparrows foraging seed from the ground, 10-15 Common Redpoll above on birdfeeders, a couple of Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches on the nearby trees, and Black-capped chickadees would be nearby in dozens. Imagine a real-life snow-white scenario with animals gathered to feed in quite a cooperative fashion.
Most people tend to miss this abundance of animals gathered to feed. Because most arrive in natural places with their urban noise levels and loud activities. Majority of people tend to attempt feeding by standing in the middle of the feeding area. And that automatically reduces the visit of the shy birds which are ground feeders and feeder feeders like the doves and redpolls. From that distance, hand feeding will only attract the habituated Black-capped chickadees, while scaring off the rest of the birds and interrupting their feeding. Now imagine the number of times this interruption takes place in a given day and how that might affect the feeding, behaviour and survival of some of these species. And in boarder terms, imagine what effects the noise from our transportation has on natural sites and their animal inhabitants.
The COVID-19 times created an interest and influx of people in protected natural sites and parks. And there are different kinds of interest in the use of visiting natural protected areas. The nature watching approach employs a gentle mindset with quiet steps and words, and sharpening the senses for the natural activities. I would like to think there are far more nature watchers. I would confidently think individuals like to visit the natural world and be able to observe the cluster of animals without injecting themselves in an abrasive way. The balance between conservation and recreational activities is a fragile one. If I were to give advice regarding how to observe and interact with more living creatures, I would simply say to practice a calm, patient and still demeanor. You will be pleasantly surprised with the unexpected bird activity and interactions.