I’m Getting Suckered Into Bird Watching

April 26, 2017 by

Birds? Things with feathers that fly about? Not into watching them. It is not going to brighten my day to see a snowy egret or a greater spotted woodpecker. I enjoy the grace of flight; I will admit to taking pleasure in watching the aerobatics of a peregrine or the bouncing arcs of a green woodpecker, but should I care whether the bird I’ve just seen is a goldfinch or a gold crest? Spotted owl tastes like chicken as far as I’m concerned.

I suppose it’s the bird nutters that have poisoned my mind. You may know the type: people slung about with binoculars and field guides, wittering on about some horrible new species they have added to their life list, telling you how the song thrushes are early this year and how this is evidence of climate change. They are a bit like Yankees fans: it’s not their tail-wagging enthusiasm that is so depressing, it’s the assumption that you will be equally excited about such vacuous nonsense.

a young boy looking through binoculars to identify a bird

The kids at Darvell are into birds, my kids included. The different school classes do various things to foster interest and excitement. For example, my nine-year-old son has a list of thirty bird species that he is trying to see. In the newness of the kids’ perspective they see and take in all the wonder of life and creation that older people take for granted, and despite my inner troll, I have been enthused and amazed with him as we watch out of the window at the different birds coming to our feeder.

With my older son things were a bit more problematic. His class is going with the “prize bird” approach: the class keeps a record of which species have been spotted, and as different kids see new species they come and report them. Some of these species have been designated as “prize birds,” meaning that the first person to report a sighting gets a prize, in this case a Lion Bar.

“Dad,” my son said, “We need to go to the Hawkhurst Fish Farm, there are tons of birds there. Almost everyone else has seen a prize bird except for me.”

“Listen, son,” I said, “I am not about to drive off with you to a wretched fish farm for the sake of a Lion Bar. It’s not worth it and I don’t have time. I’m busy working or looking after our family. In any case, the birds will either not be there, or if there are any new species, they won’t be prize birds.”

“But Dad, you don’t understand! I’m the only one who hasn’t put any new birds on our list.”

The discussion continued over the course of a few days, my son increasingly fixated on the idea that there were prize birds to be seen at the fish farm, and me convinced that this was a complete waste of time.

Eventually Olivia intervened. “You’re one heck of a father,” she said, “You say you want your kids to learn initiative and drive but when they come with an idea you discourage them.” Great. Now I had to find a way to climb down gracefully. I never did get to the fish farm myself, but found a way for my son to go with a friend of ours. He came back walking on air. They had seen a mute swan, a red-crested pochard, a graylag goose, and almost run over a few pheasants on the way. He even got his Lion Bar.

The other evening I was out with three of the boys walking in the uncut grass near the lake. Looking up I saw a large bird coming up over the trees, a very fluid glide, turning and rising without appearing to change wing position at all. That thing behaves like a kite, I thought. With the low angle and the distance I could not get enough of a sight at the tail, that distinctive fork always a dead giveaway. I watched it for a while before pointing it out to the boys and asking them what it was. My oldest looked up. “Kite!” he shouted, “Red kite!” He ran off to the other side of the trees to get a better look. I kept the other two with me although they were just as excited as him. So was I. Dang. I don’t like what is happening to me. What next, baseball?


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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