Wednesday, 17 November 2010

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6....

I've always counted birds. Give me a flock and I will count it. Put me in a hide with a notebook and pen and I will fill the paper with numbers. I believe that I have a form of Tourette's which inflicts me by my having to put a number to everything that I see. I can't help it. It gives me as much joy to increase my record count of a species as it does to see a scarce bird. Last Sunday I set a new Jackdaw record - 1400! Better than the Short-eared Owl that circled overhead an hour before. Go on, ask me a species and I will tell you my record count. Turtle Dove? 150 (a single flock along a Suffolk hedgerow in 1976 as you ask). Common Crane? 33, on a misty, murky October afternoon in 1982 at Dungeness. You see, it's an illness. There's no cure. If I'm in a meadow surrounded by orchids I count every spike. When I look in my moth trap, I count the buggers. And it's not just birds. How many albums have I got? 520 on vinyl and 325 on CD. They are round numbers you might have noticed - I do like a round number. Maybe it's because a big flock always ends in a 0 or 5. You cannot have a flock of 7,346 Starlings - it's got to be 7,400. My Cranes are allowed to remain at 33 because they are large, flew slowly and allowed me to count them accurately. The 150 Turtle Doves could have actually numbered 147 or 153, because, truthfully, they were estimated.

Seawatching and vizmig are Nirvana for people like me. The birds pass by to be collected, to be counted, to be collated, to be committed to the database. When driving, the Common Buzzard over Clackett's Lane services on the M25 isn't just a Buzzard, it's the third Buzzard of the journey. The flock of Pied Wagtails on a playing field as I pass by aren't a flock of Pied Wagtails, they are 14 Pied Wagtails.

The irony of all this is, I hated maths at school and was crap at it. Instead of asking me such questions as "If John walks 100 yards in two minutes and his school is still 725 yards away after he has been walking for five minutes, then how long has he walked once he gets there?" it might have been better all round if the questions had been dressed up, such as "Steve has seen 55 Waxwings, 25 Bramblings and 150 Goldfinches in 30 seconds. If the visible migration carries on at this rate, what is his total after five minutes?"


  1. In all seriousness Steve, much more of the current National Curriculum should include examples from the Natural World as it might just spark an interest. A percentage of kids will see a name and be curious, investigate and we know what journey they can go on from there.

  2. Hi Steve, don't you also find that if you do try and count accurately and then add up your accurate counts they always become a total ending in 5 or 0? Looking like you estimated the numbers anyway, bugger!

  3. Never mind the numbers, where did you see that Short-eared Owl!