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Trying to get my sons to sit quietly for any length of time is challenging enough. But the thought of trying to get them to do so with their eyes shut – well, let’s just say I did wonder…

But I’m always up for a challenge. And Looking for Dragons has been invited by Mumsnet to launch the blog-tour (see bottom) for a book about how to get to grips with birdsong Birdwatching with your eyes closed. So I had to find a way to hook the boys into trying out the suggestions from author Simon Barnes (he’s kindly written a guest post, below).

Birdsong, he writes, is ‘a little bit of everyday magic, open to you and your family.’ Well, that’s me sold. But how to get the boys’ attention? I flicked through the book, past ‘great tit’, ‘woodpecker’, ‘willow warbler’ and a chapter intriguingly entitled ‘Silence,’ which I ignored because I couldn’t be bothered to look up what that word means.

Then I got to p254. House martin.

‘House martins,’ I announced, ‘Make farting noises.’

Result. They couldn’t wait to download the podcast, and we listened to the first few birds (robin, wren, dunnock).

Birdwatching with your Eyes Closed by Simon Barnes (mp3)

Then we went out into our local woodland to have a go…

So we did eventually nail a wren. And the boys will certainly be able to identify a robin from its song when we do eventually hear one, perhaps even a dunnock.

But the one they can’t wait to hear is, of course, the farting house martin.


Here is Simon Barnes’ guest post:

The weeks either side of Christmas are the worst for birdsong – which makes them the best for learning birdsong. Which is precisely why my book’s out right now. Take a stroll, on your own or en famille, to the nearest park, or even into the garden, and you can begin. It really is as easy as that.

Chances are, you’ll hear one bird singing. And I can tell you what that bird is. Listen: it’s a thin, sweet song, a song many people find a little sad, as if a sad song were best for winter. It’s the only birdsound you will hear that has any complexity, any melody, anything that we’d call music.

It’s a robin. I’m not guessing: that’s what it is. Robins are the only birds that hold winter feeding territories and defend them with song. So if you go out among thee trees and the bushes in winter, chances are you’ll not only hear your robin, you’ll be able to identify it as a robin.

And you’ve cracked it. All at once, you have learned how to watch birds with your eyes closed. You don’t need to see your robin: you can savour the soft, sweet notes of his presence. You will feel a small sense of privilege: and with it, a small sense of achievement, as if you had pulled the robin like a rabbit from a hat. It’s a little bit of everyday magic, and it’s open to you and to all the family.

Blog tour: the podcast will appear on: 

Monday 28 November
Looking for Dragons
Writer Tamsin Constable on families and nature.

Tuesday 29 November
The Well Read Naturalist
Natural history books blog.

Wednesday 30 November
DoveGreyReader Scribbles
A blog by a Devon-based book-lover and birder blogger.

Thursday 1 December
Mark Avery was the RSPB’s conservation director for 13 years.

Friday 2 December
‘GrrlScientist’ writes The Guardian’s Punctuated Equilibrium science blog.

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