No planes and spring in the air, now's the time to start birdwatching

These beauties aren’t just for the bird-brained! With no planes, clear skies, and spring in the air, there is no better time to become a twitcher

No planes, clear skies, spring weather: There’s no better time to become a birder, with Mail cartoonist Paul Thomas’s guide.

As Spring hits its stride, our parks, gardens and wild spaces are alive with birds of every kind — from chiffchaff and blackcap to goldfinch and bullfinch.

If you’re lucky, you may glimpse a wheatear or even a ring ouzel.

Right now, up and down Britain, we have the chance to spot everything from an early swallow to a golden oriole as they touch down for a few hours after the long journey from Africa on their infrequent visits to this country.

Daily Mail cartoonist Paul Thomas thinks now is the perfect time to get into bird watching because there are fewer planes in the sky and people have more time on their hands

The male bullfinch is unmistakable with his bright pinkish-red breast and cheeks, grey back, black cap and tail, and bright white rump

The bee-eater fearlessly pluck bees and other flying insects out of the air with their strong, downward curved beak, smack the victim’s head on a branch to stun it, rub its rump on a surface to remove the stinger and flush out the toxins, and chow down

The stonechat is a little smaller than a robin and has a big head and short tail. It can frequently be seen sitting on the top of gorse bushes, flicking its wings and making a call like two small stones being hit together

But this year, the extraordinary conditions of lockdown offer even greater opportunities.

First, our skies are almost empty of planes, while pollution is at its lowest levels for decades.

So why not take advantage of the silence, cleaner air and better visibility to look for birds? All you need are sharp eyes and patience. Binoculars and a field guide, or one of the many excellent phone apps now available, are useful, too. You don’t need to travel anywhere to be a birder — just look out of the window.

Birdwatching — which is what you’ll be doing — is very different from twitching.

The green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain. It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill

The firecrest (pictured) vies with the goldcrest for the title of the UK’s smallest bird. Compared to the goldcrest, the firecrest is brighter and ‘cleaner’ looking, with a green back, white belly, bronze ‘collar’ and a black and white eye-stripe

The Dartford warbler’s population crashed to a few pairs in the 1960s but has since gradually recovered, increasing in both numbers and range

Most birders have a ‘patch’, their own area, which they visit regularly all year.

Twitchers are slightly wild-eyed and will race off at the drop of a lens cap, armed with telescopes and telephoto lenses, to see a rare bird that someone else saw first.

Birdwatchers just wait for birds to come to them — in their back garden, on a roof terrace or, for example, out on the Kent marshes, which is where I did my birding before lockdown.

I’ve been observing and drawing birds for 35 years, since I was 12. But in lockdown, my birding has been confined to the back garden and Wormwood Scrubs.

The whinchat is a small perching bird. It hops or runs on the ground and often perches on top of low bushes

The golden oriole is a blackbird-sized the male with an unmistakable bright yellow body and black wings

The Scrubs is my patch: a stretch of surprisingly wild scrubland in the shadow of the prison in West London, which I walk or cycle to from home as my daily exercise.

I always go at dawn. Skies once full of planes and vapour trails are even quieter then, except for the sound of golden birdsong.

I love to see the meadow pipit performing its song-flight over the grassland by the prison’s walls. They have been there for a long time, the closest meadow pipits to Central London.

Chiffchaff, blackcap and chronically wheezing greenfinch are everywhere.

Short-eared owls are medium sized owls with mottled brown bodies, pale under-wings and yellow eyes. They are commonly seen hunting during the day

Slightly smaller and slimmer than a blackbird – male ring ouzels are particularly distinctive with their black plumage with a pale wing panel and striking white breast band

Although they are the most colourful members of the crow family, jays are actually quite difficult to see. They are shy woodland birds, rarely moving far from cover

A charm of goldfinch are flushed out by the flash of a swooping sparrowhawk as they feed on the teasels. A solitary kestrel hangs in the air.

In past years I have seen short-eared owls, stonechat, whinchat and even a hobby — a fleet-winged summer-visiting falcon.

In my own back garden, I am seeing more birds than ever.

As I write, a pair of coal tits are busily raiding my feeders. And I haven’t given up hope of spotting another diminutive firecrest, the more exotic cousin of Britain’s smallest bird, the goldcrest. My garden was graced by one in 2015!

The only thing stopping you from seeing your own goldcrest in this strange springtime is forgetting to look. So stop what you’re doing and look up and out.

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