The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch sounds simple. All you need to do is sit down, then count and record the birds in your garden for one hour. The problems start when you throw a 9-month-old baby into the mix!
In theory, this seems like the perfect thing to do with a young kid. Sonny loves the garden, loves birds, loves pointing at stuff, loves mashing the screen of my iPad, and loves sitting on my knee, so I thought I was on to a winner. He could help me spot everything that dared come near our jack russell-patrolled garden, then record it on the iPad and send the results off to those clever folk at the RSPB.
I was up early anyway to watch Federer and Nadal locking horns in the Australian Open Tennis Final, so it seemed like the perfect combination. I’d get Sonny to focus on the birds and squeal whenever one landed in the garden, while I kept a sneaky eye on the score from Melbourne.
I was well prepared. The feeders were stocked with seeds, nuts, bread and fat balls. I had my pocket guide to garden birds. The binoculars were deployed. Sonny had snacks, toys and the dog to entertain him. It was almost too easy.
First came the starlings, as always, descending en mass and hoovering up everything in sight. Sonny shook with excitement and blew a celebratory raspberry. Things were going well. Then a couple of collared doves bullied their way into the scene, one plonking himself right in the middle of the bird table and helping himself to the bread. Blue tits bobbed around, a solitary robin watched impatiently from the fence, a bunch of goldfinches poked around the silver birch trees, blackbirds came and went. It was awesome to watch.
The problem is it only really lasted five minutes. Sonny was loving every second, like he seems to love everything to do with the outdoors, but then his attention snapped. He’d spotted his Jumperoo and wanted a piece of it, so that was that. I loaded him into the baby-bouncing monstrosity, watched him transform into a thrashing mass of jumps, flailing arms and screams, then settled back down to watch the birds. But five minutes later he was bored of that too, and instead wanted to get in his play pen. Then he wanted out of that, with his eyes firmly fixed on our gigantic inflatable exercise ball. It was pretty clear my birdwatch was over before it really started.
I stayed in the same room, keeping an eye on the garden, tennis and baby all at the same time, and recorded everything I managed to spot, but I’d be lying if I said we’d delivered comprehensive results in one of the world’s most valuable wildlife surveys. I’m glad we did it though, and maybe next year we’ll manage a full 10 minutes before we break off to play PlayStation, or go for a pint, or whatever it is kids do when they’re nearly two years old. I can’t remember that far back.
The thing I love about the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is that it makes you realise how much is happening right outside your back door. I spend a lot of time in the garden, but it takes an event like this to make me realise what’s going on right under my nose. From corvids, wrens and sparrow hawks to swifts, woodpeckers and the occasional red kite circling high above, we get all sorts of visitors throughout the year. The problem is I’m usually too busy messing about doing something else to actually sit down and pay them any attention.
So thanks very much to the RSPB, and we promise to try harder next year!