Watch out – a bad birdspotter about

IF there is such a species as a bad birdwatcher, then I’m it.

Incapable of recognising much more than the commonest bird, the would-be winner of the wooden spoon in a spotting contest.

Always too late with the binoculars (bins, apparently) and, in my haste, staring comically through the wrong end when that bird has flown.

I am as far from being a twitcher as the coalition is from solving our economic woes.

Unlike our feathered friends, I am fairly easy to spot. In the hides, I am the one with the second hand Usborne Junior Spotter’s Guide to Birds and that eternally puzzled look as I flick from page to page, convinced the bird which just upped sticks must be something rare to our shores because I can’t find a picture of it.

I have no shame in producing my little paperback from my rucksack as I try to tell the difference between a whimbrel and a curlew.

It was written back in 1978 by the then national organiser of the Young Ornithologists’ Club, Peter Holden, with illustrations by Trevor Boyer.

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I have never daubed my crayons on the “colour in the birds” page or attempted to make the bird table – mine would never look like the picture shown anyway – but the bird drawings are excellent and extremely helpful.

My reason for carrying the book is that it is slim and lightweight, quick to use for an amateur, and I can always follow up my research in weightier and more detailed tomes at home.

Being a better birdwatcher is my aim.

Despite my frustration at my ineptness, there is something very therapeutic and peaceful about sitting in the hides at Trimley Marshes, enjoying the antics of birds totally unaware of the spy in their midst and trying to identify them.

Last week I watched three pairs of greylag geese, each with four fluffy young ambling about with their stubby sticky-out wings.

There were lapwing wonderfully swooping and diving as if they were playfully re-staging a war-time dogfight (I later learned this display in the air is common in the breeding season), a huge heron took off, shellduck basked in the sun, and oystercatchers knee-deep in water searched the lagoon bed for food.

I can tell a skylark high above the fields by its song and identify the love-dance of two kestrels soaring in the thermals. My heart thrills to the sight of an avocet, and I know a female chaffinch when it brazenly sits in a bush and sings, and can tell the difference between blue, great and long-tailed tits.

My birdwatching is improving, but there’s so much more to learn – and a long way to go before I can carry the title of birdwatcher.