• Sim Elliott

Nature, volition, luck & well-being: 3 bird trips, 8 rare or hard-to-spot birds. 01-08.02.22

Engagement in nature is a significant driver of my well-being.


But luck is a huge component of what you see.


There is knowledge that can help you see more: knowing your local patch(es) (e.g. knowing what fauna are likely to be resident/migrating , and where and when you may see that fauna in your patch(es)); knowing where to find out information on where animals have been sighted recently (e.g. sightings sites/apps; ornithological/enptmolical/botanical society recent sightings sites).


There are some personality traits or states that are useful too: openness to experience, perseverance and patience (going to new places; keeping on going to known sites where you expect birds to turn up; a preparedness to hang around or a long time at a site where a sighting has been reported).


Gaining knowledge, and developing openness to experience, perseverance and patience are partly volitional: you can choose to develop these things


(but the degree to which we can gain knowledge and develop personality states is,

in part, determined by luck:

we have no control over our genetic inheritance or early life experiences, which, in part, determine our abilities and our personality;

genetic inheritance and early life experience are greatly effected

by the socio-economic opportunities that we are afforded;

although we can transcend our past experience).


But whatever your knowledge and personality, whether you see an animal or not on a nature trip always entails luck, i.e. things over which you have no or little control: the weather; local population trends; particular birds' behaviours etc.


I like seeing rare resident or migrant birds or hard-to-spot birds (although seeing rare vagrants which are out of their typical range, and are thus unlikely to survive, brings me no pleasure).


But whether I do see a rare bird is down mostly to luck, so I am also very happy to see ordinary, everyday birds.


Everyday birds are part of the rich ecologies of local landscapes. The behaviours of everyday birds are often fascinating; one moment you may see a behaviour from an everyday bird that you have never been seen before.



To experience heightened well being through nature contact I think it is useful to cultivate:


- regular engagement with nature


- experiencing nature with focussed attention (mindfully)


- knowledge about what the nature that we see, through referring to references sources (books, journals, on-line information etc), without putting ourselves under any pressure to get qualifications or to know everything


- acknowledgment that we will never know all the things we want to know or see everything we want to see


- appreciation and gratitude for all the animals, plants and landscape we do see, however common or rare they are


- opportunities to savour past positive experiences of visiting landscapes and seeing birds, insects and wild plants (which is one of the main reasons I write these blog posts)


- developing openness to new experiences e.g. trying out new nature sites as well as revisiting favourite locations


- engaging with nature in ways that are congruent to our pro-ecological values (e.g. trying to reduce carbon consumption, and minimising disruption to wild sites and species).


Value-congruence is an important component of well-being;

but living in ways congruent to ideal values is also determined by circumstance and luck;

for example, some people, e.g. those with disabilities or older people,

may need to use more carbon to visit nature, by going car or taxi,

but that can be offset by others who are able to

use public transport, cycling and walking.


- increasing others' knowledge of nature, and how to access nature through pro-ecological ways (which is another main reasons I write these blog posts)


Sources: Galen Strawson, Luck Swallows Everything, 1998; an edited version is reproduced here: Luck Swallows Everything | Naturalism.org ; Shane J. Lopez and C.R. Snyder, The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (2 ed.), 2009.


The photographs below (mostly record shots not great photos) celebrate my recent luck. I am very grateful that luck enabled me to see these birds.


Tuesday 1st to Tuesday 8th February I went on three birding trips: RSPB Pagham Harbour (01/02/22), the Arun Valley and Arundel (05/02/22) and Iford Brooks and Cuckmere Haven (08/02/22) and I saw eight very rare, or typically hard-to-spot birds, including three life list new additions. I travelled to all these destinations by public transport.

Glossy Ibis (Pagham Harbour). Train to Chichester; then bus from Chichester to RSPB Pagham


Bewick's Swans (Burpham, Arun Valley). Train to Arundel; then walk to Burpham


Cattle Egret (Arundel)


Water Rail (WWT Arundel). Train to Arundel


Tundra Bean Goose (Iford Brooks, Ouse Valley). Bus to Lewes, then bus to Iford


Russian White-Fronted Geese (Iford Brooks, Ouse Valley).


Pink-Footed Geese (Iford Brooks, Ouse Valley).


Short-Eared Owl (Cuckmere Haven). Bus to Exceat


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