One hour. One sparrow, three blackbirds, two robins, one fieldfare, six starlings – and a blue tit in a holly tree. On the first day of the Big Garden Bird Watch that’s what my true love gave to me.
As with star gazing, steam engines, trams and civil engineering, bird watching turns me geeky. I knew I was embracing my inner geekiness when I bought binoculars good enough for bird watching and star gazing, and picked up some goggles from B&Q so I could stick my head out of trains and not get an eyeful of smut, as in particles of soot.
Ever been asked what your secret adult film star name would be?
Mine would be Snetsinger. Never heard of her? The formidable Phoebe was one of the world’s most prolific bird spotters. She died when her tour minibus overturned in Madagascar.
She was asleep, the only passenger killed. I’m not saying it’s the way she would have wanted to go but she started bird watching with, as she put it, a “death sentence.”
Eighteen years on, cancer in remission, she had observed 80 per cent of the world’s known bird types, recording 8,300 out of 10,000 known species, and added five more, including a rare shrike-like bird, in her final days.
Now there’s a role model.
I could always do what Alan Davies and Ruth Miller of Llandudno did, and sell my house to go a-birding for a year. They observed 4,327 species.
Given that the only Madagascar I’m likely to see is the film, my back garden is the next best place. It teems with bird life thanks to the tweety smorgasbord set out on bespoke bird tables built to our own design by a local carpenter, and feeders full of suet, peanuts and fatballs.
The twisted hazel’s the haven of the smaller birds although starlings mount a smash and grab raid on feeders, while blackbirds go for the apples and sultanas, a treat which honours the late Jean Mortensen, footballer Stan’s widow, who had blackbirds literally rapping on patio windows if she ran behind schedule with the sultanas.
I’m not as keen on dried mealworms. They look like Bombay Mix, but I’m tempted to add salt to some and try and trick my brother next time he’s had a skinful to get him back for the laxative choc prank years ago. But they are the next best thing since sliced bread, indeed far better, and healthier, for our birdies.
But where are they on this fine official garden bird watch day? It’s usually like Hitchcock’s Birds out there but I’m 59 minutes into the RSPB alloted watch hour – and have a pathetic tally of 19 – and have probably counted one robin twice.
Then I spot two other eyes gazing implacably back.
Green, owl-like. It’s a moggie on its very own bird watch.
Scram! The cat flees. Birds descend. My hour’s up.
I’ll never beat Snetsinger...