Like many people in Melbourne, I’m hanging out for that daily allowance of outdoor exercise while we stay home and do our bit to flatten the curve.
I’m in a lucky position with a job I can do from home and the Yarra River a stone’s throw away from my front door. But after almost six months of exploring the local paths, streets and trials, I feel like I’ve pretty much covered them all. Nothing new to see here.
As for many people, my walks, runs and bike rides around the local area have been vital for maintaining my mental and physical health. So how on earth do I make the 160th walk during my lunchtime break seem new and exciting? Here’s a few things I’ve tried…
1. Noticing the little changes
Some days, I feel like I know every stone on the local paths around my home. There are no surprises around the corner or unexpected things to stumble across. But nothing in nature is ever static. Noticing little changes in an area you know so well can make it feel new and exciting again.
Now we’re coming out of the cooler months, the thing I’m most enjoying paying attention to is all the flowers coming out. Whether this be the native wattles, which are out in full glory at the moment and were aptly celebrated on September 1st for National Wattle Day, or the various native and exotic blooms in neighbours gardens (I’m quite partial to the smell of jasmine, which is still pretty lovely through the mask).
2. Trying to be a better birder
I’m a pretty woeful birder (particularly embarrassing for a trained zoologist). When I see or hear a new bird it will just be added to the jumble in my brain, where useful information gets tangled up like a string of Christmas lights and I can never seem to straighten it out again.
For all those in a similar boat to me, lockdown has been an easy entry point into the world of birding. You can start small, as there’s probably less than 10 species around your house that will make up 90% of your bird sightings. If you can remember those, and keep up the practice of identifying them, it will start to stick. For me, some of the regulars are Rainbow Lorikeets, Wattlebirds, Red-rumped Parrots and Noisy Miners. Once you’ve taken this first step, it then becomes pretty satisfying to notice the birds you do know, and then to add a couple more species to your list every now and then when you catch a glimpse.
There’s a lot of great resources out there for bird identification. Some good ones are Ausbirds and Birdlife Australia, and there’s also a range of apps you can use, including some great free ones like iNaturalist. Or you could take the plunge and purchase a field guide. For folks in Melbourne, check out this excellent free e-book on easy-to-find bird species around Melbourne.
3. Not being afraid to venture out whatever the weather
When you’re cooped up at home it can be pretty hard to summon the motivation to go for a walk when it’s miserable outside. From my surveys of foot traffic on bad weather days (i.e. completely unscientific guesstimates of how many people I pass compared to when it’s lovely and sunny), it seems some people give the walk a miss when it’s raining.
But I’m here to tell you to dig out that raincoat, pull on your gumboots and get out there (as long as it’s safe to do so). Those paths you think you know change so much with the weather. Enjoy the way the plants smell when they’re wet, notice the impressive cloud formations from an oncoming downpour, and try not to get your socks wet.
Watching how much the Yarra changes after we get a big rain event has brought diversity and interest to my walks, and a couple of times it’s even brought the walk to a halt when the river has flooded the path!
4. Getting out as much as possible
This might seem counterintuitive. Logic would suggest the more you walk those local loops, the more you’ll come to know them and (eventually) get sick of them. What I’ve found, however, is that the sheer amount of time I’m spending walking around my neighbourhood means I’m encountering things I’d never expect.
Recently, I was walking along the Yarra River where it runs under the Eastern Freeway. Approaching the freeway, I heard the sound of saxophone drifting through the trees. It became clearer and clearer, until a solo musician was revealed, taking advantage of the acoustics under the bridge. We paused to listen and gave him a round of applause from the across the river. You have to be a bit lucky, but the more time you spend pounding the pavement, the more chance of coming across something to brighten your day.
I’d love to hear any more ideas you might have for keeping those lockdown walks interesting, please feel free to leave them in the comments! Keep up the good work, Melbourne, and stay safe.
Banner image courtesy of Ella Kelly