Even Sparrows... Bird watchers

The wonders of Creation - report about the Alnmouth retreat 28-31October 2022

Posted: 17.11.22 in Latest bird news category

The terms ‘Christian retreat’ and ‘bird watching’ are not two that you normally find associated together. Nevertheless, we found ourselves at Kings Cross station one Friday morning in October embarking on a Christian bird watching retreat based at Nether Grange in Alnmouth on the Northumberland coast. After a three-and-a-half-hour journey we arrived at Alnmouth station and were grateful to find our taxi which took us the hotel where we were to meet up with Mark Winter from Even Sparrows our leader for the weekend and the other members of our group.

Even Sparrows takes its name from the teachings of Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke record how he explained to his followers that God even loves sparrows, little birds considered so insignificant that they were being sold in the local markets for a pittance. Yet Jesus noted that every sparrow is of worth to God and therefore we (who as people made in His image are worth much more to Him), should trust and believe in God’s love for us all.

Since 2004 the founder, Mark Winter, has been running weekend retreats mostly in Northumberland. Even Sparrows has 3 aims:

  1. To encourage people to appreciate birds and other wildlife as created and God-given.
  2. To help people enjoy watching birds
  3. To promote Christian understanding of our natural environment and our responsibility to care for it.

Our group consisted of 10 people, Christians from across the country who shared an interest in delighting in God's creation and a passion for bird watching. Introductions over, we walked down to the beach to look at the birds gathering at the mouth of the River Aln. The village of Alnmouth is situated on a peninsula, bounded on one side by the North Sea and on the other by the River Aln, which joins the sea just south of the village. On the approaching high tide, a large number of different wading bird species could be seen gathered on the mud flats at the river mouth.

Returning to the hotel, we had our first retreat session, which consisted of a quiz about references to birds in the Bible. We were all surprised there were quite so many of them and at the number of different species mentioned. Dinner followed and we ended the day with night prayer.

Saturday dawned, overcast and drizzly. Undeterred, following morning prayer and breakfast, we ventured out retracing our steps to the river mouth and then following the river along the other side of the peninsula. Again, we had a good variety of birds, including a flock of Whooper Swans flying in from the sea, presumably newly arrived from their breeding grounds in the Arctic. Mid-morning most of the group retired for a comfort break leaving Peter on the beach alone. It was then that a swift decided to make an appearance, flying north along the beach. A Common Swift would be a very unusual sighting at this time of year but there had been several reports of Pallid Swifts being seen in eastern England. This species breeds in the Mediterranean and winters in Africa and is rarely seen in the UK. In the overcast and wet conditions, it was impossible to determine which of these two species the bird was. The bird continued its flight north and was nowhere to be seen by the time the rest of the group returned. Thankfully about 15 minutes later Nicole spotted the same, or another, swift flying over the village, but once again, the conditions prevented us getting a specific identification.

Returning to the hotel, we had midday prayer and lunch, before setting off on another walk this time along the coast north of the village. That evening’s retreat session was focused on Ravens in the Bible and their meaning and significance and after dinner the day ended with night prayer.

Sunday was a bright and sunny day. After morning prayer and breakfast, we you set off to Druridge Bay, south of Alnmouth. Here we birdwatched on the coast and on a large inland lake, adding more species to our ever-expanding list. With the much better weather, we had lunch and midday prayer alfresco, which was a different experience. Hearing that three Pallid Swifts had been seen over the church in nearby Warkworth, we made our way there and were well rewarded with excellent views of these unexpected visitors. We finished the afternoon with a walk along the river, hoping to add Kingfisher to our list, but were unsuccessful.

Returning to Alnmouth we joined the brothers at the Anglican Franciscan Friary for afternoon tea and then evening prayer in their wonderful chapel which overlooks the North Sea. Back at the hotel, our evening session was about Jesus’ teaching around birds. Dinner followed and before we concluded with night prayer, we had a wrap up session totalling the birds we had seen during the retreat, and this came to over 80 species.

On Monday morning, we had morning prayer before breakfast and then it was time to say goodbye to members of the group as they departed for their homes before we too made our way back to the station for the journey back to London.

This was a unique and wonderful retreat combining the hobby that we both love and the chance to experience God’s wonderful creation, and study relevant scripture. We both agreed that we would love to do this again in the future if the opportunity arose.

Details of Even Sparrows Retreats can be found at http://www.evensparrows.co.uk


By Nicole Burgum (St Andrew the Apostle, Catford) and Peter Charles (Eltham and Mottingham Deanery)

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