1. 5. 6.

Bird Watching (UK) - - Beginners -

You just can’t force young peo­ple to be in­ter­ested in birds! If birds don’t grab your teenagers, per­haps gore will, such as this Spar­rowhawk kill. I took to sit­ting out­side ev­ery night, just me and my beer, watch­ing them fly from the fence, onto the clothes’ line and into the fir tree to their nest. When I fi­nally found their nest – and what a nest it was – I got my boy on my shoul­ders and showed him. Look at that, I whis­pered, ex­cited. Look at how she’s made it. It’s a work of art, son. Look how she’s lined it with flow­ers. “Yeah, Dad”, he said. And that was that. And that’s how it’s been. Un­til last sum­mer. Sud­denly there was progress. A col­li­sion of sep­a­rate events changed things and this is what I re­alised: He’s not in­ter­ested in birds. He’s 13. But he’s in­ter­ested in gore. In blood and death. So a few weeks ago, when sur­pris­ing death vis­ited us in the shape of a hun­gry fe­male Spar­rowhawk, his in­ter­est was piqued. We might have seen a no­tice­able drop in Star­lings, House Spar­rows, Yel­lowham­mers et al in our area but we seem to have more pi­geons than Trafal­gar Square, and as a re­sult, the vil­lage Spar­rowhawk is a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor. “Look at this,” my wife shouted one af­ter­noon. A fe­male Spar­rowhawk had swooped down on a fat Wood­pi­geon on our pa­tio. Typ­i­cally, my boy was so ex­cited by the prom­ise of bloody death that he rushed to the win­dow too quickly and the hawk, mo­men­tar­ily spooked, flew off. We left the dead pi­geon there, hop­ing she’d come back. She didn’t. 2. On one of our walks, we stum­bled upon a Jay rip­ping open a Wren’s nest. He’d seen a Jay be­fore – but not this close, and not this fe­ro­cious. It was a sight to be­hold. “What’s it do­ing, Dad?” Well, it’s look­ing for food. It will eat bird chicks. It will take them back and feed its chicks other birds’ chicks. “Urgh”, he said. But he was in­ter­ested. 3. But not as in­ter­ested as he was when the Spring­watch Stoat man­aged to squeeze into the hole of the Green Wood­pecker’s nest, pulling out its grim look­ing chicks, one by one. 4. Boys are com­pet­i­tive about ev­ery­thing – so we started mak­ing it into a game – who could see the rarest bird, the big­gest bird, the dead­li­est bird, etc. The Jay – not ex­actly rare in our parts, but shy – was a 70/100. He spot­ted it first. He got the points. My best that day was a fe­male Bullfinch. 60/100. He won. He al­ways likes that. In an old quarry, not far from where we live, a pair of Pere­grines have started to nest. He knows about the Pere­grine. It was on the kids’ TV show Deadly 60, a round-up of the most deadly an­i­mals in the world, and they’d learned about it at school. So, we’d sit pa­tiently and wait for the Pere­grine to show. We didn’t see it first time out, which I knew would be bad news. But we went again. And again. And although he griped about it, even­tu­ally, we saw it. A sleek, slate-grey bird, ris­ing on the wind, soar­ing high above the quarry, away and then tuck­ing in its wings to swoop on some un­sus­pect­ing prey. “Did you know, dad, that when it flies like that it trav­els at nearly 200 mph,” he told me, and I smiled. “I didn’t know that. How do you know that?” “Be­cause it said so in the Deadly 60.” Right. We should come up here again, I said. OK, he said. And we have. He plays cricket ev­ery week­end on the edge of an old wood. There are Buz­zards nearby. They ap­pear ev­ery time he plays, these ma­jes­tic birds of prey with huge brown and white wings. “Are they Golden Ea­gles?” he asked. When we got home, we got the bird book down. They still look a bit like ea­gles, he said. When he was field­ing one Sun­day morn­ing, I heard him tell a friend: “Look at the Buz­zards, they’re a bit like ea­gles.” I was qui­etly pleased about that. Maybe, fi­nally, it’s sink­ing in, I hope it is.

LIKE FA­THER... Pere­grine

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