Anyway where was I, oh yes -
Why wake up? To me birding isn't a hobby or something taken up to fill in early retirement and to spend cash on now the kids and mortgage have gone.
Its something I have done for ever, but maybe not in the form we 'birders' would recognise today.
Aged 6 or 7 I liked books with pictures of birds or animals in. I didn't have any interest in cars or trains or football. Those things were all made by man, so by default, everything that it was possible to know, was already known. If you get the drift. Not that I knew that as a wee bairn, but I did seem to have some empathy for creatures other than my species.
I was given the first edition of Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow in 1972 aged 8. In this year my mother died so maybe that forced me to get stuck in, to blank things out, but I read that guide like kids would read Janet and John. Cover to cover. I could name the lot, and even recognised bits of text to show what bird was what, but I didnt know that people actually went out specifically to look for birds. Bird watching.
I remember my first Goldfinch on a fence, my first Blue and Great Tits, known from the book, on a neighbours peanuts. My first Dunnock sneaked into view on our lawn when I was gazing through a rain spattered window. I could go on. They all came to life like seeing a famous person in the flesh for the first time, or like a footballer other lads idolised from the telly.
My dad was the local park keeper and had to take me to work with him during the school holidays and on summer nights so I prowled around catching butterflies, frogs, hedgehogs and even finding nests in the hedges ( no eggs were taken, dad would have killed me).
Aged about 10 or 11, dad took me to see a bloke he knew from the local working mens club. His name was Geordie. He was a retired coal miner with an allotment filled with strange wire mesh covered greenhouses. Imagine taking a young lad and dumping him in a secluded hut with an old fella these days! The reason for it was that Geordie, bred cage birds. Not just canaries or budgies, oh no, this was the hard up north east, budgies seemed a bit too tropical, Geordie was a British bird breeder who specialised in finches.
He was a bird catcher.
That first day 'down the garden' was a revelation. Dad kind of paraded me around several aviaries and sheds getting Geordie to test my id skills...'Whats that' he would say pointing high up to a shape in some gorse tied to the mesh of the well covered aviary. 'Siskin!' 'Male' ( or what ever) was the cry, and one after another I got them all right. There were Goldfinches and Bullfinches, Greenfiches and Siskins, Redpolls and Linnets many singing their heads off in their large secluded 'bioshpheres'.
Now I'm not getting into the debate of the legalities and rights and wrongs of this, but in 1974 no one was really bothered.
I went to see Geordie every Saturday and Sunday morning at first light where, during the late autumn and winter we would try and catch specific birds such as female Bullfinch or Greenfinches to breed from. When he had a target everything else was left to its business, so needless to say we never caught much. The few hapless individuals that were caught, where taken in a 'greenhouse' aviary with the door open and a string tied to it leading back to the shed. Male 'call birds' were hung in small cages inside to sing and chatter to attract their own kind. If we were lucky and one went in, the string would be pulled and the door closed. No Bird Lime here, it was frowned upon, it would damage the feathers and feet of the birds.It was cruel.
During the summer Geordie and me would go out collecting wild food for his breeders, plants such as Fat Hen, Chickweed, Persicaria, Docks, Thistles and bunches of groundsel, things like larch branches, broom and gorse as nesting cover were all brought back. He would show me nests of Redpoll, and even Willow Warblers and Whitethroats, There were tales of Red Squirrels and Bats ( bats down the pit!?). Before I was 12 I could pick out a flying Redpoll half a mile away on call, and Bramblings likewise.
This was my learning ground for about 5 years, not Bird Forum.
Another real mentor of mine, I hope wont mind me saying, is still in the side column on the right, under the blog Abbey Meadows. Nigel lived near relatives of mine in another village several miles away. When I was about 9, Nigel was two or three years older. I used to stay over at the relations, and go to seek Nige at about 5.30 or 6 am when we would set off wandering the lanes and bridlepaths looking for wildlife. In those days Nigel had been on real bird watching trips to the coast seeing Merlin and Arctic Skua, just fantasy birds for me. I was over the moon to see Goldcrests and Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings were widespread in Northumberland then. Nigel told me what various wild flowers were ( I still struggle with those) and he is still hunting them out now, 40 years later.
So thats HOW it all started, but WHY?
You know, I dont really know. I just know that when I am outside feeling the wind on my face and hearing my first Swallow overhead or jostling for my first Belted Kingfisher, or hearing the Tuk Tuk Tuk of a cock Pheasant waiting under my feeders in the garden, looking at the first Speedwell flowers in spring, or seeing a fleeting Stoat dash across the road, this just seems right.
All problems are put in a different room even just for few minutes...It helps me breathe...
As for those that can just pack it all in because they dipped a Scarlet Tanager in Cornwall? Thats the real 'why'? Its all their loss...
Thanks for your patience. Especially if you have read some of this babble before...