Seeing an Auspicious 13 Birds before breakfast: a Baker’s Dozen, on any day in any place, wherever you may be!

A morning discipline of observation, contemplation and/or meditation if only for an hour or two – without any electronic stimulation of our brain – has become increasingly rare in the debilitated digital environment of our times.

But don’t despair! Why not watch some Birds? Warning: eBirders perhaps you should look away now!

Today, out of the sitting room window of our flat. This has become my preferred vantage point. Taken on a Calima day, when dust clouds obscure the sun over Tarifa

You see there’s one digital detox discipline which I’ve found to be very helpful, greatly improving my state of mind.

It’s an easy discipline. It simply requires that you commit to a close observation, contemplation and meditation upon Nature. So sit relatively still and carefully watch your birds. Surely that’s easy?

The King’s Wall at Ottenby, Oland, Sweden. In the peak visible migration period of September-October it takes only a few minutes to get to 13 species for your list. In mid winter maybe an hour or even more.

For several decades I have found such behaviour to be highly beneficial to my state of mind. Birdwatching Each Morning. To better reconnect with Nature. Sedentary Birding, Zero carbon birding! You name it, it ticks all of the feel-good boxes. This last month, as a result of an operation on January 24 I have been a locked-down birdwatcher. Observing birds each morning, from one of the two wooden rocking chairs, at the front window of our flat.

I hope most folk bothering to read this far might recognise why I find it best to undertake this activity first thing in the morning.

Even in May it might take you half an hour here at Wanlockhead

Morning is when the birds are hungry and before the bulk of human business takes-off. Before the mind of this one man, and my kin (each of our respective time zones) have strayed outside and run amok.

Might I be so bold as to I suggest you try it? Whenever you are able you too might like to try this too. A bird-lovers morning discipline.

Get up of a morning, as early as is convenient, preferably before, or as soon after, dawn as you can. You prepare a hot or cold drink for yourself, but don’t forget your loved ones. More than likely they are still abed. Such mundane actions, in an important sense wake you up and break-your-fast. When you stimulate your psycho-physical self, coaxing being into action.

Next, and most important, you should find yourself a suitable and comfortable position. A seat with as good a view as you can find. If possible make sure a little notebook and pencil, or pen, are close at hand. Try not to be looking East, into the glare of the hopefully rising sun!

It is also very useful, obviously, if you have some sort of decent optical equipment, a pair of binoculars, in order for you to better see and identify “your birds”.

This is a discipline of contemplation and meditation. Undertaken, ideally from your window seat at home. However if your “home-jungle residence” is too sterile, chock full of concrete-and-cement, then practice at a suitable spot in your nearest local patch. Wherever that may be. The spot should be close, easily accessible, preferably on foot. Don’t use a car! This place becomes your morning perch, your bird seat.

Isla de Tarifa looking toward the coast of Morocco. In late winter (February) it could take over an hour. During the passage migration periods only ten minutes or so.

I have found for a few decades that such a discipline, that makes wild birds your focus, gradually introduces you to “the fully auspicious”. Online you can search the history of this word from : Avis spicare. Observation that takes you deeper to a realisation that our commitment to biodiversity really should begin (and end, hopefully!) at home:

Sitting quietly,

Alert and upright.

Watching the world (especially the birds) go by.

All you have to do is to keep a sharp look-out with eyes (hopefully ears as well), and record in your notebook each of the early bird species that you can recognise by sight. Or by sound if your sight is sadly compromised. Just as they appear before you.

Even if you cannot satisfactorily recognise them, try to quickly note down some details of the unfamiliar ones. You can work-out later what they are. Are they in fact different species. Are they a different shape? Or is it solely a difference in feather plumage owing to their sex or age?

Attention will introduce to the importance of observing and recognising a bird’s structural morphology as well as its colours. Always bear in mind that in the moment, as with humans, it is individuals with whom we are involved!

The aim of accumulating a list – “A Baker’s Dozen of 13” – is to encourage you to continue your discipline, preferably or hopefully without any serious interruption, until you reach a ‘target’ of 13 species. I have found this to be a “happy number” the baker’s dozen. Getting to 13 from your window can really make you think!

Cannon Hill Park, looking west, over Ardrossan, Ayrshire in Scotland – on a “good migration day” it could take as little as five minutes to reach 13 from this seat

You should continue being mindful for as long as it takes. Return to your concentration. To the Bakers task task in hand. Carefully you observe the livingness around you. At least until you reach that goal of 13 species of bird recorded.

Calima day, the ‘secondary’ view, out of the back of our flat. Clearly it would take a lot longer to get to a ‘Baker’s’ from out the back!

It is likely that for a lot of “bird people” this will happen at their window. By looking out of their abode into the world, through their garden or their yard. However to reiterate, if for whatever reason you’re home cannot provide you with such luxury, being able to observe 13 species, within the time as you have, please adapt the “locational methodology”, as outlined, in whatever way you think appropriate.

The rooftop of our cottage at Las Habas near Tahivilla. This was a good spot to undertake the morning bird count when we lived there in 2003-2005

If your life is in the slightest way nomadic (as mine is) then you may well find that you can happily apply this Baker’s Dozen Birds (BDB-13) procedure to many mornings, wherever you are, in your travelling life. Try it. Wherever you find yourself.

KIA Lodge beside Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania, an excellent place for nature-lovers; if you lived here you could see 13 bird species in less than five minutes if a morning

Sadly these days 13 species of bird may be an unattainable target for many of us. Living in ecologically depleted situations. But in truth that’s the ulterior purpose of the exercise. To make you ponder deeply. Why is my target list of 13 species unattainable? Even if I have all day. What is biodiversity anyway?

As an example here is my list from this morning in Tarifa town : on Valentines Day 2023 AD.

Calle Mar Rojo, Tarifa, Southern Andalucia, Spain. At 36 degrees North.

I start a few minutes before dawn, peering out of the window, out of our third floor flat, looking into the artificial apricot murk of the first light of an EU urban morning. An easterly wind is still blowing strongly (Levante day 15?). The sky is overcast. There’s a Calima brewing – a sky filled with Saharan dust.


a male House Sparrow (first of many) flies from a cranny in our great red wall onto the leafless Oriental Plane across the street.

a Yellow-legged Gull (first of many) on patrol sweeps past at eye level down the street

scanning the ocean beach, 800 metres distant, I spy three Black-headed Gulls flying southeast along the white and frothy tideline

the first Collared Dove (of many) is heard and seen in the wee park opposite

there’s a Cattle Egret (first of five) on the close-cropped lawn of the park

seven Spotless Starlings (up to one hundred in total) arrive in the pollarded plane tree to join the five sparrows in the bare twigs of its lollipop crown

a darkling first year Lesser Black-backed Gull (one of only one) flies south along the shore

an adult Gannet drifts south about a kilometre distant (a few most mornings)

a Sandwich Tern is foraging over the surf ( a few this morning)

two Crag Martins, (the only ones today), leaving their distant roost in another block of flats, struggle north on the buffeting wind

a black as black adult Greater Cormorant (one only) easily flies north west with hardly a flap, the wind is behind it

six Feral Rock Pigeons (up to fifty) arrive to the park’s early feeding place, a heap of bread crumbs scattered at the gate, from their home in the crumbling ruins in the Isla de Tarifa (1.5 km)

an Alba Wagtail, (one out of two this morning) likely a White flies north, bounced high by the gusts of wind and … 0940 and …

“Ya está!

It’s twenty to nine, so exactly an hour has elapsed. An hour since first light. An enjoyable and fulfilling, thought-provoking (and cares-assuaging) hour it was too. Time has so well elapsed.

Remember too that, allowing for differences in latitude (determining day length and influencing warmth) and moisture (which further modifies all aspects of the growing seasons) the healthier your home habitat is then the more birds (or whatever) you shall see. That’s bird species, and/or (more especially at isolated locations/occasions), numbers of a few species.

And finally, if you ever have the misfortune to go, try to explain something, of a simple bird watching procedure such as this, to the digital gnomes of Davos. Those folks who are wont to tell us that they are on it! Busy planning our sustainable future.

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