A member of a Bradford birdwatching group who began a ‘lockdown bird list’ last year has recorded 79 species in the three-mile radius around her home.

Now Chris Gill, who belongs to Airedale & Bradford branch of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is encouraging people to find pleasure during lockdown by recording different birds they spot.

Chris Gill decided in March to note down every bird she saw and to date has recorded 79 species including the sand martin, little grebe, peregrine falcon and reed bunting.

“From the very first day of lockdown I was determined to hang on to as much of my own personal normality as possible. So in pursuit of this goal I decided to walk every day for at least two hours and to list every bird I saw.

“From this emerged my ‘lockdown bird list’. The rules were simple. I had to walk from home and I had to see (or hear) the bird myself.

“The bird list has exceeded my most optimistic predictions. The biggest shock was the sand martins - I am used to seeing them at Bolton Abbey but did not expect to see them nesting in the stone walls on the side of the canal in Shipley, 50 yards from the main road.

The peregrines made several appearances on the mill chimney in Saltaire and could be seen very well from our allotment.”

Chris walked within a three-mile radius of her home in Shipley.

“Northcliffe, Heaton Woods, Hirst Wood, St. Ives, Denso Marston, Baildon Moor, Tong Park Dam, Shipley Glen, Chellow Dene, the River Aire and the Leeds/Liverpool canal were all within my magic circle,” she explains.

“I quickly discovered that there is a wealth of footpaths to explore so I can link the routes in a myriad different ways.”

She has walked every day since the first lockdown began and seen birds including swifts, swallows and goshawk.

“I have derived enormous pleasure from seeing birds I didn't know were in the area. Seeing the canalside sand martins, the little grebe in the Aire and the mandarins at Denso Marston were all surprises.

“Conversely, I also immensely enjoyed seeing and hearing the birds we expect to be here - the warblers returning to Northcliffe, the waders on Baildon Moor and the swifts circling near my home in the evenings. Hearing the cuckoo and seeing skylark and meadow pipit was such a joy, somehow made even more special by the fact that I walked there.

“Another memorable sight was a huge flock of swifts, martins and swallows circling above the Dowley Gap sewage treatment plant when I was walking by myself early in May.”

Chris usually walks alone, but twice a week her husband accompanies her, and some of the most memorable walks have been with friend and fellow RSPB group member Margot Rowan, who has taken many stunning photographs of the birds they have seen.

“I remember very clearly a walk with Margot, in stunning evening light, when we heard and then saw a reed bunting from a footpath just off Glen Road.

They often spotted kingfishers and some sightings, such as the little egret, were fleeting.

“Some days, walking by the river we saw at least one kingfisher. A lot of people we met last summer said they had seen their first kingfisher. They are magnificent birds – seeing one really lifts your spirits.”

For pleasure and relaxation Chris recommends her hobby, whether out and about, in your own garden or simply looking out of the window.

“I feel pretty fit after all that walking and it has increased my knowledge of the area tenfold. More importantly I also feel much more connected with the local birdlife and feel blessed that I live in such a bird rich area.”

She adds: “I have got better at identifying birdsong and hear lots of blackcaps singing. I might not always see them. I have heard but not seen a cuckoo, and I heard a tawny owl on the moor.

“It gives me such a lot of pleasure. There is a lot of information online and people you can talk to about it.”

Binoculars are useful says Gill, but not vital. “You can see a lot without them.”

Airedale & Bradford RSPB group leader Paul Barrett says: “One of the positives to come out of the lockdowns, is that people have rediscovered nature in their backyard. I have heard from a number of people who have seen wildlife that they never experienced before. Many of them have signed up to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Birdwatch scheme. BTO has run the year-round scheme since 1985, with thousands of people contributing their sightings every week.

“And we mustn't forget the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place between 29 and 31 January 2021.

“In 'normal' times we would have local free guided walks from autumn through to spring."

The group usually meets monthly at the Kirkate Centre in Shipley but is holding a series of talks by Zoom. Anyone is welcome.

*The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Big Garden Birdwatch takes place between January 29 and 31. Billed as the world’s largest wildlife survey

‘Join thousands of people taking part to see the drama unfold on your doorstep’, its website says. ‘We might not be able to get together with loved ones at the moment, but you can make plans with friends and family to take part from the comfort of your own homes.’

The scheme involves people noting the birds that visit their gardens and reporting back to the RSPB. Many people take photographs and share the images on social media.

*To find out how take part in the birdwatch visit bto.org; rspb.org.uk

*For more information on Airedale & Bradford group visit abrspb@blueyonder.co.uk or the group’s Facebook page.