Twitch was the name of the class hamster (now long gone to his – or her – eternal reward) when I was in the infants, way back in the very early seventies (19, not 18). I clearly remember being the small child who came up with the name (which was then chosen from a short-list by a first-past-the-post vote) – however, many years and quite a few intoxicants have passed me by since then, so my memory may not be an entirely reliable record of events.
However, in this case I am creating (or-recreating) a verb from the noun used to describe a bird-watcher of the more obsessive variety. I’m not obsessive (well, not in this area) about watching our feathered friends – but do rather enjoy it as they can be rather entertaining. I’ve also never really out-grown my role as a very minor brave serving under Big Chief I -Spy, and so still become over-excited when I spy a species new to me – though I no longer keep a record of the points. A quick web search indicates the books are still going and are now published by tyre-giant Michelin – most famous for their I-Spy book of restaurants. A sign of the times is the fact the once lowly house sparrow is worth 15 points – far more than would have obtained in my youth. The books also seem much glossier than I remember.
Last week I spotted a barn owl – though it was just before elevenses and nowhere near a farm building, so I do wonder if it counts as it failed to deliver on either half of its name. Which reminds me of the question of the sound made by an unobserved tree falling in a forest – though, despite the nonsense you may have heard on QI, this does make a sound. Sound is a periodic disturbance in the pressure or density of a fluid produced by a vibrating object. As a result, a falling tree will only be silent if it falls in a vacuum – in contrast, falling on a vacuum will be noisy and could well break Henry.
In Wales, I saw my first goosander – which is a gloriously silly name, but apparently limited to the old world, in the US they use the perhaps more descriptive but certainly more boring appellation ‘common merganser’. I also spotted – and was almost hit – by my first sand martin as it swooped over the Afon Mawddach after its insect prey (I should perhaps make clear that I was not in the Afon Mawddach – my boots are waterproof, but I wasn’t stress-testing them – but was standing on a bridge over it).
Finally, in this orgy of bird-spotting I saw my first corn bunting – so much nicer than the modern plastic variety – in the same field that I had earlier seen the related yellowhammer. Surely a presenting gig with Kate Humble can only be days away…