Over the last few years, you may have noticed an increase in birdwatching groups, often aimed at a younger, more inclusive crowd. This mindful activity that in recent years has become of dwindling interest, has been adopted by those looking to embrace the outdoor in a new capacity - by listening, watching and admiring birds from different environments.
Special Bird Service is a group of Canadian/UK nature lovers who wanted to embrace their interest in birds by sharing and building their knowledge with others, with diversity at it’s heart. They call it ‘community-building initiatives for the BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ and marginalised communities’ and they do this by birdwatching. We first met Trenton, the founder of SBS at First Camp. We immediately noticed how his love of birding and Snow Peak's mission fit hand-in-hand. Birding fits perfectly with camping. It is an activity that can be enjoyed from the campfield whilst sat in your chair with your morning coffee as easily as it can be done whilst on a day hike from a campsite. Birding is about your connection to nature and fully immersing yourself by completely seeing and listening to what is around you - this mirrors Snow Peak's mission of restoring humanity's connection to nature.
We invited Trenton to join the Snow Peak team for a guided walk in our ‘back garden’ in St James’s park, to talk more about his mission and listen to the birds. After which I got the chance to have a sit down and ask him some questions.
What got you into Birding?
I got in to birding during the pandemic, I was missing that connection to the outdoors. It was an easy way to get outside, with a very low barrier to entry and can be done with little to no gear. I was already a big hiker and walker, birding just added an extra layer to that for me. It really helped me ground myself and feel present with so much stress, and chaos going on in the world. My mother always said that I had 'contrarian syndrome' so it would make sense that I was drawn to an activity that wouldn't traditionally be popular with people of my age, demographic or background. Christian Cooper (the Harvard graduate and Marvel comic editor, who had a false police report filed on him while birding in Central Park) also inspired me to get out and to further understand it's okay to be yourself, authentically and without apologies.
How can birding help with everyday stress?
I think in terms of the outdoors in general, we know the positive impact it can have on our own mental health. It is a stress-reducing space, for a lot of us it was our only means of escape from the monotony of our computers, zoom meetings and being indoors during the pandemic. Birding is a very grounding practice, in order to notice our feathered friends, you have to utilise all of your senses. It is a means of healthy escape, you have to be fully focused, you can't be thinking too much about other things that are going on in your life. If you combine birding with a hike, a walk or 15 mindful minutes in your backyard, you are adding an extra layer to an activity you are already enjoying. Deepening our connections to the land and its inhabitants around us.
What birds could people expect to see in London?
That's a very broad question! There's probably in excess of 300 species of birds recorded in London, depending on the time of year. It really depends on the habitat. St James's Park, for example, where we were today had water features, with trees around the outside and small bushes along the edges - this is already three different habitats or environments for differing types of birds. Alongside this there are also non-native species in London like the Rose-Ringed Parakeets, Black-Crowned Night Herons or Black Swans. Meadow areas attract sparrows, finches, and various types of tits. Woodlands are where you can find woodpeckers, warblers, and such, whereas over open farmland you can see birds of prey circling high above looking for food. It all really depends on the type of habitat you're in, and these birds can often be found transiting between habitats, food or water sources so that is a hard question to give a definitive answer for, try using the Cornell University's Merlin app on your phone to sound or photo ID the birds you see around London. Obviously, you'd do well not to see masses of pigeons and doves!
What is your favourite birding spot and location?
Owls are always a special spot because of how stealthy and silent they are. I have seen a couple of Barn, Barred, Great Grey, Great Horned and Tawny Owls. Kingfishers are a personal favourite as well, I have only spotted them a handful of times so each experience is a treat. Hummingbirds are incredible also, they're so incredibly fast and small - always having to be on the move to different food sources to sustain themselves - which makes them a tough spot so it is always rewarding to see one. Trinidad and St Lucia made for some great birding, in Trinidad a Barn Owl flew directly overhead when we were in a pool, the lights from the pool lit it up completely so it was the best spot of one in flight that I've been able to make in the wild. In St Lucia, I got the chance to see an Antillean Crested Hummingbird, it has this crazy looking hairdo in the style of a mohawk so that was really interesting to notice.
What does getting outdoors mean to you?
It is an easy way to break up the routine of everyday life. It can be the easily-accessible, stress-reducer or refresher you need. Being outdoors is also a really easy way to meet new people who share the same interests and hobbies as you. It is also really important that we get out into nature and make sure we are stewarding the ecological biodiversity we have left, for the next generation so they can get out and enjoy it as we have.
Do you have a favourite Snow Peak product?
My favourite Snow Peak product is going to have to be the Takibi Fire and Grill! To be able to cook near enough anything and be able to pack it away and store it so neatly is really great. Being out on a tough hike and knowing that we have that set up back at basecamp really helps you keep going. I'm also a big fan of the Takibi Vest. It's super utilitarian with a pocket for just about anything! I wear it round the fire and also whilst I'm birding. It is really comfy, as well as being rugged with endless uses, which is a huge bonus.
Trenton's Instagram handle is @mahoganymaharaja and he founded the Special Bird Service who's handle is @specialbirdservice. The Special Bird Service has a mission of removing barriers for marginalised communities to safely access the outdoors, inspiring community-building, and advocating for mental health, all through bird watching.
Sign up to one of their walks here LINK.
Photo credits: Beatrice Bowdon, Charlie Price and Trenton Schulz-Franco