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A week in the life of Alicia Hayden (Autumn special)

Currently I am in my final year studying Biological Sciences at Oxford University, so escaping into the outdoors in autumn is a brilliant way to find some calm amongst the busy days.

First thing in the morning, I usually head out to the college gardens with my camera, and this week I came across a family of long-tailed tits flitting amongst the autumnal trees. They have a very distinctive whistling “whisp” call, and there are always lots of them, so quite easy to spot! They’re also one of my favourite garden birds, so it was a really lovely start to my day!

After doing some work, I head out on a longer walk. I particularly enjoy walking to the outskirts of Oxford, passing down a cycle lane where I filmed a juvenile wood mouse a couple of weeks ago (, towards some trees which are home to a few hundred starlings in the evenings! Standing underneath the trees next to a busy road and with many houses around, the noise of the starlings transports me to a tropical rainforest, where the whistles, clicks, and chirps would not be out of place. It’s magical watching them all fly around and call to each other, and it doesn’t feel like I’m living in a city!

Back in my room while I’m working on an essay, I can hear the green woodpecker making its “laughing” call in the gardens. Our college has beautiful gardens, with a diversity of habitats, and often the green woodpecker can be found feeding on ants as it searches the lawn just outside my window!

On another day, after working on my illustrated wildlife poetry book Rain before Rainbows ( for a while, I venture out for another walk with my camera – this time to the local wetlands. Port Meadow is home to hundreds of geese in winter, which roost there overnight, so heading out just before it gets dark is amazing, as this is when all the geese start to make their way in for the night. I’ve been enjoying making quite some short films at Port Meadow recently, including one on waterfowl (, and I spend a good hour watching the birds and cattle there, before heading back to college under the light of the moon.

Back at college, after dinner I often hear foxes or tawny owls calling in the park and the gardens. Female tawny owls make a “ke-wick” sound, followed by the characteristic “hoo-hoo” of the male, and it’s really lovely to be able to hear them in Oxford, as well as when I’m at home in North Yorkshire. The urban foxes are a real treat, as they’re the only foxes I’ve ever seen, so it’s always great to see them around college in the evenings!

Listening to bird song and immersing myself in nature in the gardens or around the city helps me relax and makes me feel more connected to nature. I love experiencing the changes that autumn brings – it’s amazing what you can find even in an urban environment if you take the time to notice.

Alicia Hayden, AFON Yorkshire Regional Rep


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