A local couple has opened up about how their personal passion for feathered friends ended up taking flight as a birdwatching, walking and wellness community.
From being in nature to encouraging people to look after their environment, Alison and Neil Singleton say there are many wellbeing benefits to birding.
The pair have been sharing their knowledge of birds for over a decade through Birding Tours Jersey.
Originally from the UK, Neil has been in the island since the spring of 1977. His passion for birding started during his childhood thanks to his father.
“At an early age, my father gave me a pair of binoculars and bird identification book,” he explained. “We would walk a regular ‘patch’ near our home identifying birds by song and sight.”
Pictured: Alli and Neil on a recent walk.
Meanwhile, Alli, who was born and educated in Jersey, says she has had a passion “for all aspects of wildlife from an early age”.
“My parents were both gardeners and I was brought up to learn about and respect all aspects of wildlife,” she said.
Both have nurtured their passion through their adult life. Alli, a keen botanist and birder, now contributes regularly to both the Société Jersiaise Botany and Ornithology groups. During the summer, she also surveys for the Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group.
Neil says he only spent “rare moments of free time bird watching” during his 31-year career in the local hospitality industry.
But, since joining the Société Jersiaise Ornithological Group and with the help of many “very knowledgeable local birders”, he has been able to build up “a sound knowledge of birdlife in the island”.
Pictured: Neil launched “Birding Tours – Jersey” in 2013 to “introduce the wonders of Jersey wildlife to every level of the community”.
In addition to sharing their knowledge with each other - Neil has learnt many of the plants and insects from his wife – the pair has been sharing it with the whole island.
Neil launched Birding Tours in 2013, firstly as a hobby, to “introduce the wonders of Jersey wildlife to every level of the community”.
“I started Birding Tours Jersey by leading bespoke bird watching tours for both tourists and locals - small groups of two to four people and also family groups,” he said.
Alli added: “I joined in 2014 when we added Dawn Chorus and Puffin Watch events and then developed our popular Wildlife and Wellness walks, which cover all aspects of wildlife and encourage people to connect with nature.”
Now they offer bird-watching tours for small groups as well as Wildlife and Wellness Walks on a monthly basis through the year, along with various walks for the National Trust Spring, Love Nature and Autumn Walking festivals.
At certain times of year, they also offer Dawn Chorus for people to enjoy the “magical orchestra of birdsong at daybreak” and Puffin Watch events to raise awareness of the local specimens.
Pictured: No birding experience is required to join the walks.
“We mostly lead these walks together to best utilize our individual areas of expertise” Alli said. “Neil has the bird watching knowledge and I am a keen botanist and butterfly enthusiast.”
No birding skills are required to join Neill and Alli’s walks, novices, experts and all in between are welcome and the pair have designed them to be “social strolls with stops” during which participants get to spend time identifying birds, trees, wildflowers, insects and all things nature on route.
Planning the walks involves checking tide times, the weather forecast and the route for any significant stopping points.
“We keep our walking groups to a minimum of 20 people,” Alli said. “The group tends to split naturally into two where Neil will be upfront leading the ‘bird watchers’ and I will be looking at the hedgerows discovering the wildflowers and insects.”
For the couple, there are many benefits to the walks they provide, not only for the participants but for the local environment.
“We encourage everyone to appreciate the incredible sights and sounds of the great outdoors,” they explained.
“Our walks not only include bird identification, but also wildflowers, butterflies, mammals and reptiles. We encourage people to hug a tree, taste wild garlic and above all appreciate the natural environment around them.
“At all events we prepare nature notes and visual aids to enhance the whole experience. There is great value in just being outdoors for the sake of being outdoors and let nature come to you.
“Our belief is, if someone leaves our event with a smile on their face, and some knowledge about what they have seen, they are more likely to look after their environment in years to come.”
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