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GETTING TWITCHY

30-01-2007

Lynn Hawthorne joins in a great Britishevent -and ends up giving it the bird.

I've just taken part in the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch.

I'm no twitcher, but I was introduced to bird watching as a child and can vividly remember the domestic furore one Christmas Day when my father fed the turkey carcass to a pair of kestrels alighting in our back garden, thus scuppering my mother's plans for Boxing Day lunch.

It was an eventful festive season, but it taught me that wildlife is precious and a little bit of sacrifice can be beneficial in the long run.

Having been a bit stressed of late, I thought I'd treat myself to the luxury of sitting on my backside staring out of a window for an hour. I thought it would be therapeutic, but not a bit of it.

I did all the right things: filled up the bird feeder, kept in my tom cat (who was most cheesed off and kept appearing at the window huffing and puffing!) and got my quick-reference identification guide ready. I had my watch to hand and settled down…and that's when the stress started.

It suddenly all got very technical. I've never quite made it to the RSPB reserve at Great Barr, even though I've intended to, partly because I didn't want to show my ignorance.

How do you tell a young starling and a young blackbird apart? Do you count the amount of TIMES a bird visits your garden or the amount of BIRDS? What if it's the same bird twice or more? Is that messing up the results? I live in a terrace with a narrow strip of a garden, so do I count birds in neighbouring gardens but which I can see? And what about the seagull-type-thing soaring overhead?

I knew I'd been fairly wired of late, but getting wound up over filling in a voluntary wildlife survey is a bit OTT don't you think?

And then I started feeling guilty that my results were a bit pathetic, nothing exotic or colourful, just whizzing Blue Tits, wonderfully disobliging to the uninitiated and those a bit ropey with the old binoculars.

So I started to analyse this ridiculous drive to bump up the figures to make them look more respectable and realised, to my horror, that ten years of teaching Year 6 kids with government bludgeoning to improve results year-on-year had led me to this point. I can do nothing about it!

I can't drag the sparrows in from the street (why they prefer that side is a mystery, but they do and I'm glad they're back) and force them into the back garden just to make my figures look good! I can't suddenly magic up a chaffinch or a goldfinch if they don't inhabit the area naturally! It's not a competition; it's a conservation issue, for goodness sake!

Halfway through the hour, the activity lessened even further and my mind started to wander. I began mentally noting all the jobs in the garden that need doing and tried to work out, global warming permitting, when the right time to carry them out will be.

Then I heard sirens and, for a Rear Window-inspired minute wondered if I'd been spotted using my rather nifty Russian monocular and been reported by a neighbour for spying! Thankfully, no visit from the Boys In Blue, but I used my kit less frequently afterwards!

So what did I learn from this hour of ‘relaxation'? Well, I'm a multi-tasker. I can't sit and do just one thing at a time and I find it hard to focus my mind. Which is why I've never understood fishing, I suppose, all that hanging about for hours with a few minutes of frantic activity. Nope, I just don't get it. I

Is it a man-thing then? Is it something men are naturally better at than women, doing one task to its completion and switching off the mind? That's not as sexist as it sounds, by the way - think about it.

I also learned that, even though I thought I had the perfect garden for wildlife - trees, multi-level bushes and shrubs, undergrowth, berries, water, etc - there's still more that I can do to encourage creatures into my space.

Apparently, in Central England there were more gardens surveyed last year than in any other region, which shows we have a commitment to wildlife and its conservation and of that we should be immensely proud.

On reflection, then, I've actually learned two valuable things: I need to be occupied to relax and I need to do more outdoors. Not such a bad use of an hour on a Sunday morning after all - now the twitching has stopped!

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