When, as a boy of eight or nine, I began to watch birds with some seriousness, I kept lists. The RSPB sold little grey notebooks with lists of British species, and I kept a life list of all the birds I had ever seen, and a list of birds seen in our suburban garden, and a list of birds seen each year. I’d taken out a subscription to a monthly magazine called Animals, and in one edition, I think in 1968, a thrilling article by the ornithologist John Gooders described how he’d seen two hundred species of birds in Britain in a single calendar year. I never got anywhere close. There were so many more birds that I hadn’t seen than I had. I often tried to turn common birds into uncommon birds. Those house sparrows that haunted the privet hedge by the road: surely one of them was a tree sparrow?
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