Wildlife Watching During Lockdown

Like everybody around the World, I have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic in the past few months. For around 10 weeks Scotland (the country where I live) has been in lockdown. This has meant we could only go out for food, medicines, to care for someone, and for exercise at a place we could walk or cycle to. Yesterday, the 29 May, Scotland lifted some of the lockdown restrictions – which meant I could take a short drive (within 5 miles of home) and walk somewhere new. This entry will look at how I coped through those 10 weeks, how wildlife helped me, and what it felt like to be able to go somewhere new yesterday. 

Blossom © Catherine Leatherland

As the disease spread through Scotland, I became unwell. At this point, we had not gone into lockdown, but the advice was to self isolate if you had Coronavirus symptoms. So, I spent about 17 days (because that’s how long it took me to feel completely well) self isolating. I do not know if I had Covid 19 or not as there was no testing – but I don’t normally get ill, and I would suspect it was, given that it was at the height of the high transmission rate in Scotland and I had the mild symptoms associated with the disease.

During those 17 days, the World turned upside down. The UK went into lockdown, making it a reality that I wouldn’t see my English family and friends for a long time. Our office closed and everyone who could, was asked to work from home. In the next few weeks many people would be furloughed. Our roles changed. For me – my life had gone from being busy, happy, full of people, purpose, adventures, and laughter with family and friends to sitting on my own all day every day in a flat. 

Regular readers of the diary will know I do a lot of wildlife watching, and make regular trips to favourite places. Sadly, I couldn’t do that during lockdown. I live in the middle of a city – so the only thing for it was to find some parks. I used google maps, and took tips from friends. I found a local park which I could walk to in 20 minutes. Initially, when we had an hour long restriction on exercise, this was still a bit far…so I tried to walk quickly! I also re-discovered a site which overlooks the Firth of Forth – this was a lifeline because I could see the sea! (Well, a big part of the river Forth as it nears the sea). Finally, I found a cycle path – this was quite funny because it is literally behind the main road; I just didn’t know it was there before! 

In addition to these three green places, I tried to focus on birdwatching from my window. I have had a lot of fun watching the Lesser black backed gulls and given them little characters. They seemed to be loving the new quiet roads, and were strutting around like they owned the place! I also took solace from watching the beautiful colours of sunset (and the sunrise – once). I can’t see it fully from my windows, but I can see the colours. I watched the stars and the moon, and the patterns of the clouds in the sky. I listened to the sound of the wind and of course of birdsong – which again was mostly gulls! 

On my walks I became even more mindful than I ordinarily am. I loved the colours, and the sounds – the birdsong was incredible. I was going to the same places day after day, so I literally watched spring happen. How often do we get the chance to do that in our busy lives? I saw the wild garlic, the crows gathering material to make nests, the blossom come and then go, the bluebells emerge, the flowers of trees begin to bloom, and eventually the chicks begin to appear – I saw it all when I possibly wouldn’t normally notice. 

As time went on I was finding the mental and emotional challenge of the whole crisis very difficult. I was getting bored and lonely – I was missing the freedom of choosing a place to go, and going. I realised there was a park behind one of the local supermarkets. So I switched to doing my shopping there. After I had done a shop (or before) I would go around the small park near the shop. Crucially, this park has a pond – so I was able to see all the waterbirds I love so much. I saw swans, ducks, gulls, coots, a heron and even ducklings! Just seeing water is therapeutic in itself. 

At this point, England started to lift some lockdown restrictions but Scotland remained in lockdown. This created a bizarre mix of feelings – I was jealous, sad, disappointed, confused, worried (because I think it was too soon to do this in England), and frustrated. It also heightened my feelings of boredom and loneliness.  I couldn’t change the situation; but I could change how I was approaching it. I continued to focus on nature, and on me. I tried to read more, watch some films, do some drawing, phone people more and I’ll admit, I’ve done a lot of online shopping! I also tried to remember that this is not permanent – that all the things I miss seeing and doing, I will see and do again. That, is key. 

A week ago, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced how Scotland would start to come out of lockdown. As long as things continued to improve, the first restrictions would be eased on 29 May. I immediately knew what I was going to do, and it was great to be able to look forward to doing it! 

When the day came, I took some time off work. I drove my car for 15 mins, a distance of about 4 miles, near to where my office is. Firstly  – it was nice to be in the car long enough to listen to the radio! It was such a sunny day, and I had a sense of summer freedom that I used to get when going on holiday. I parked and took a walk along a river that I used to go to regularly. I can only describe the feelings I felt as elation and joy. To see that the World was still there,  that people were still happy, that wildlife was still there, that the sun was still shining – I could feel the anxiety of the past 10 weeks easing. To top it all off I saw more different types of ducklings and cygnets in one short walk than I’ve seen in a few years! 

The past 10 weeks has been one of the most difficult times of my life – aside from the things I’ve described, I’ve had personal events which have been made worse by the necessary restrictions of the crisis. Nature, friends, and family have got me through it and I will be forever grateful to them all and mindful not to return to old habits when we go back to some kind of normal. 

Here are a selection of photos from my time in lockdown:

Lesser black backed gull © Catherine Leatherland


Magpie © Catherine Leatherland
Daffodils © Catherine Leatherland
Mute swan © Catherine Leatherland
Sunny river © Catherine Leatherland
Goosander ducklings © Catherine Leatherland