In a break from recent tradition, this weekend was spent not birding, but in the company of some old friends (and some new ones) at a luxurious country house in the top bit of Gloucestershire. I took bins and camera, more as a deterrent to anything good turning up than in hope that it would. During the festivities (a 40th birthday party for the lovely Anji), the birthday girl outed me as a bit of a twitcher. I feared that scorn would follow, especially from the football-loving, red-blooded males present, but politeness intervened on my behalf and instead there was a short Q&A about birdwatching.
After some straightforward ones we progressed to 'How do you know the birds are going to be there?' At this point, emboldened by drink and the fact that the initial reaction had been one of surprise rather than derision, I brandished my RBA 'Xstream' pager - perhaps unwisely, as I then had to explain how it works: we phone in news at our own expense so that our hero Dick Filby can sell it back to us for a profit, which he can spend travelling the world seeing birds we can only dream of. Which, when put like that, does make us sound like mugs. That said, the quizzical glances between couples which I noticed at this point may have had more to do with the smart-phone generation just not getting the idea that anyone would be seen dead carrying a pager in 2012.
Warming to my theme and with a captive audience, I relived some memorable twitches, foolishly revealing in front of my wife some of the dark arts employed to make them possible. I think they were bemused by my recent day trip to Yorkshire to see a Roller, and hopefully amused by my tale of staying sober at a wedding in Buckinghamshire so that I could twitch a Scops Owl in the middle of the night in Oxfordshire after the other guests had gone to bed worse for wear ('No, no, you have a drink, love, I'll drive tonight...'). They were possibly disgusted (I even disgusted myself) by my apparently generous offer to drive to Dorset from Kent to fetch my mother-in-law shortly after the birth of my first son, which was really a ruse to get out of the house for the first time in three weeks and tick a Least Sandpiper at Tring en route.
I was spared any unimaginative jokes about tits (smart crowd, this), though peckers proved irresistible, and who among us is above a Chough gag? There were nods of recognition for my argument that birding had been very good for me, not least as it had for many years kept me out of the pub and other forms of trouble, and contributed to my physical and mental well-being. And the general consensus was, I think, that I was a bit odd, but not hopelessly so: several of the mums said 'well, I think it's nice he has a hobby' - touching, even if said as if I was (i) 8 years old (ii) not actually in the same room.
It was such an enjoyable weekend that I did ponder for a moment whether I could still be happy if I couldn't go birding for whatever reason. But only for a moment. I also questioned my priorities when I caught myself moaning on the way to Gloucestershire about how far it was. The house was quite near Chipping Norton, which I visited 3 times last winter to get a decent photo of a Rufous Turtle Dove: funny how I could grumble about travelling that far to renew old relationships with members of my own species, but not bat an eyelid at going the same distance to see a complete stranger from another. It's not like I share a lanaguage, culture, history, a love of ale and a limitless appetite for birthday cake with Rufous Turtle Dove, is it?
Of course, all this anthropocentric musing comes easy knowing that I didn't really miss any good birds this weekend during my brush with normality, as the pager 'mega-alert' stayed mercifully silent. Had a Snowy Egret turned up at Lodmoor this post would now be full of photos of it and a confession about how I had to feign illness to con the entire family into leaving a happening party early to get there. (Only joking Anj. I don't need Snowy Egret).
10 months ago