While jogging in the park, have you ever spotted people holding binoculars and looking up in the sky? Or those flipping through a pocket-sized booklet that says ‘Collins Bird Guide’ on the cover? They are birdwatchers, with the love for birds and curiosity to explore nature. As one of them, I go out to different places to observe birds in their most natural and undisturbed environment. Birdwatching is getting increasingly popular and is an absolutely fun and exciting outdoor activity.

However, when being a birdwatcher clashes with being a full-time undergraduate student, you often struggle to find time to simply dash into the wild and see new bird species. But this May, I was lucky enough to go on a weekend trip to Pembrokeshire, organised by the Fellwanderers, the IC hiking society. As a birdwatcher who hasn’t been in the fields for quite a while, I decided to travel with a bunch of mountain fanatics and search for one of my favourite birds – the gannet.

Unfortunately, it was raining the whole morning on the first day of hiking, and there were no signs of any birds. I felt a bit dampened as I slowly put the binoculars back into my bag and continued climbing. Around noon, we approached an open pebble beach. By that time, the rain had stopped and the clouds had started to clear. I joined others in observing clams on rocks that were constantly breathing out foam. A few birds flew off, wailing above the sea, so I took out my binoculars for a closer look. “Not exciting”, I murmured to myself, “just some seagulls”.

Ridiculously photogenic gannet pair // Flickr

As I moved my binoculars across the sea, a dark and swift figure suddenly caught my attention – the wings were longer and narrower, with dark markings at the tips. It was gliding low over the sea and suddenly plunged into the water. A few seconds later, it emerged at a different spot. My heart started to pound as I could see its distinctive beak – lo and behold, it was a gannet! And in real life it looked a lot larger than I expected! The excitement was doubled as I discovered there were three more gannets hovering further in the distance. In spite of the strong wind, they were cruising in the air with such amazing balance and stability. They lingered for a while, then flew further and eventually disappeared over the far horizon.

We left the pebble beach and ascended to the top of a hill. The view was wider, and I noticed a crow-like bird gliding along the cliff. I pulled out my camera and quickly took a few shots. The bright red beak gave away its species – it was a chough. I found that particularly surprising since I didn’t expect to see a chough on the coast. In the next few fours, I also added a few new species to my list – siskin, buzzard, and red kite.

This trip made me realize that sometimes we forget how incredible wildlife is, especially after living in huge cities for a long time. But if we start paying more attention to living creatures around us, we can begin to appreciate the beauty and diversity of nature. With this new perspective in mind, travelling can turn into a different and amazing wildlife adventure. So keep your mind open and never stop exploring!