Ditch­ing com­puter games and hours of TV for fresh air and na­ture can only ben­e­fit our young­sters

Bird Watching (UK) - - Beginners - WORDS: LEE MAR­LOW

I’VE BEEN DO­ING it for years now; ca­jol­ing him, en­cour­ag­ing him, leav­ing bird books open at the pages of re­splen­dent-look­ing Spar­rowhawks, hope­lessly try­ing to get my 13-year-old son Lu­cas in­ter­ested in birds. I say years, but all this didn’t start with me and him. It started two gen­er­a­tions be­fore, with my grandad and my dad, then my dad with me. A love of birds has been passed down our male line like jowls and pre­ma­turely grey hair.

My grandad had a scar on his right hand, from the base of his thumb across to his third fin­ger. “You know how I got that?” he used to tell me. A Lit­tle Owl at Bradgate Park. He’d put his hand in a hole in an old oak tree in Le­ices­ter­shire’s 340-hectare coun­try park, as a 14-year-old birds’ egg col­lec­tor, and the feisty fe­male Lit­tle Owl let him know pre­cisely what she thought of that. It scarred him, phys­i­cally, for life. But not emo­tion­ally. It didn’t de­ter him. He passed that love of birds on to my dad. And then my dad, to me. My dad used to walk to work along an old rail­way line, big Hawthorn trees on one side, an over­grown bank on the other. You should go and have a look down there, he told me one day. “I saw a Robin nip­ping in and out of that bank, and then, a few yards down, a cou­ple of Yel­lowham­mers build­ing a nest.” So I went, that night, af­ter school. And there they were, sim­i­lar nests in sim­i­lar lo­ca­tions; tucked in be­hind tufts of over­grown grass, a Robin’s nest – a per­fect cup of moss and horse hair – with five yel­low feath­ered chicks, and then, a few yards fur­ther down, a Yel­lowham­mer’s nest, with eggs which looked like they’d been painted by a mad drunk. Bird­watch­ing with your chil­dren is a great way of spend­ing qual­ity time to­gether, no mat­ter what you see Lee’s grandad had a scar on his hand from Lit­tle Owl!


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