The collecting bug reached its climax as we turned from primary school kids into teenagers, I threw away my impressive tree bark collection and its “Scots Pine” label but kept the tin box and its sawdust lining for my…
…birds egg collection.
There, I’ve said it, I’m not sure that I should have but there we are, its strictly illegal now, it was sort of illegal then, “sort of” in the sense that it was “sort of” illegal to drink alcohol and drive your car but no-one seemed to bother too much about that either.
The one mitigation about collecting birds eggs as a ten year old is that it teaches you an awful lot about the natural world and about birds in particular, where they nest, when they nest, what their eggs look like, what their claws feel like when they’ve just cut two grooves into your scalp and there you are hanging thirty feet off the ground holding on to a barn wall with one hand while trying to swat a barn owl off with the other…
Yes, that was one of the Ackroyd brothers but you probably guessed it would be one of them anyway.
It teaches you which is the dumbest bird in natural history – the Lapwing. I’d never seen a lapwing before, never knew that we had flocks of them living in the locality, not until one of our gang noticed hundreds of them in a ploughed field one day, a field that we walked past nearly every day – he noticed the lapwings, it was the right time of the year and so we diverted our walk across the ploughed field.
Lapwings nest on the ground, I say “nest” because they hardly bother, its almost like they are inviting foxes, badgers, rats and young boys with nothing better to do on their days off school, to help themselves to their eggs. A nest to a lapwing is a hollow in the ground hence the reason why they love recently ploughed fields, a recently ploughed field is like a new housing development to a flock of lapwings, “ooh look,” they coo as they fly above the field, “its all laid out in nice terraced rows and everything, I think we’ll have the hollow near that fence…” walking across that field you couldn’t help but help yourself to a lapwings egg, they were laid on the ground all over the field, hundreds of them.
But we “egg’ed” to a moral code, you only took one egg each and never left a nest empty – which was a pretty pointless moral code actually as the bird would always abandon the nest after you’d nabbed some of the eggs but it made us feel better about our hobby and of course you could go back the next day and declare the nest “abandoned” and help yourself then.
It also taught you which bird makes the most beautiful nest in creation – the Coal Tit, whoever spotted the nest that day had eyes like a hawk, a small completely ovoid shape constructed of tiny intertwined twigs with a little hole as an entry/exit and lined with soft downy feathers, the coal tit nest had a dozen or so eggs in it, tiny, shiny, white and brown speckled, we had one each and made off, I’m sure the bird didn’t notice.
It taught us stupidity, step forward the Ackroyd brothers for who else would volunteer to sit astride a li-lo in his swimming trunks one cold April morning and row himself across a lake to an island on which we had convinced him was nesting several Canada Geese. Steven Ackroyd got halfway across before we noticed that the rubber bung on the li-lo had come out and was deflating faster than he could turn it around and row back, how we laughed as he fell off and had to swim back, it was worth not adding “Canada Goose” to the collection, I think the Canada Geese on the island were laughing all afternoon too.
It was the other Ackroyd brother, Stuart, who volunteered to climb up a hawthorn tree in pursuit of a Magpie’s nest, the fact that the tree was in full view of a farmhouse not twenty yards away didn’t seem to phase him as we all crawled on our chests across a field and he explained his most excellent plan that he would toss the eggs down to us if we would hold out his quilted anorak to catch them in, the eggs wouldn’t break, he promised us they wouldn’t because his anorak was quilted and he’d toss the eggs carefully to us.
The first one broke inside his anorak of course, we caught the second one but then it rolled down the sleeve and broke on the ground, and then someone came out of the farmhouse, Stuart Ackroyd panicked, got impaled in the hawthorn tree and in his struggle to free himself fell out of the tree and on top of us where we almost caught him in his own quilted anorak, but not quite and he broke his collar bone upon landing – a common occurrence for him, don’t worry too much about him, he broke his collar bone on a monthly basis.
PS, the Barn Owl nest lead to another really weird collecting hobby – collecting Barn Owl shit. Underneath the nest site is where the owls deposited their oval pellets of crap and inside each one would be the bones of whatever they’d eaten, and sweetcorn. I imagine that the owls would be sitting around at a friends house chatting over a cup of coffee and the friend would complain about the build up of crap outside their nest to which our owl would look puzzled and declare that they never had such a problem because whenever they took a shit soome small boys would come and cart it all off for them.