Watch the birdie!
"It's getting ludicrous" my wife told me. She was referring to my garden. She meant it as a criticism. I took it as a compliment.
I am not sure that "ludicrous" is the appropriate word, but I admit my garden is not conventional. It's not meant to be. It isn't big - about half a tennis court. I have divided it into clearly demarcated areas, some of them inspired by my international travels.
For example, there is the "magic tree" - actually a lilac - festooned with the kind of shiny, glittery, swivelling things you can buy at a 'New Age' shop, augmented with strips of coloured paper and a few fake insects. Roadside trees in India are often decorated thus.
Then there's the "Inca Ruins", created from a few crusty old house bricks, fragments of clay pottery, and one of those plaques with a smiley sun's face on it, which looks Inca, even if it isn't.
There is also a thriving thicket of tropical jungle with ferns, palm trees, bits of bamboo and a couple of Buddhas. This I have called "Viet Nam", even though I have never been there.
Plus, I have excavated five small ponds, divided by equally small rockeries, which look almost natural. Something that can't be said of "Gnome Corner", the home of an ever increasing colony of at least 100 gnomes, some pleasingly jolly, but most of them undeniably tasteless. The whole effect is - what is the word? Imaginative? Quirky? Unusual? Oh, ok, ludicrous.
But what about the wildlife? To be honest, at first glance, one could be forgiven for assuming that my garden has been specially designed to deter birds.
For a start, it is not exactly quiet. When a breeze blows,windmills whirr and wind chimes of all sizes tinkle and clang, like an under-rehearsed Balinese Gamelan orchestra.
Then there are the plastic predators. Lots of them. Many gardens have one. Usually a fake heron, posing by the pond to deter real herons from gobbling the goldfish. Have you noticed that it doesn't work? For a very good reason. If a flying heron looks down and sees what appears to be another heron crouched immobile over the water, it assumes there are fish to be caught, and is most likely to join its chum, real or plastic. Wildfowlers use the same technique to lure ducks. They put out decoys. The fact is that fake birds are if anything likely to attract others of the same species, not scare them away. I have 3 herons and 2 egrets in my garden. I have only ever had one real heron. But then I haven't got any fish.
I also have several of those model hawks and owls that are meant to frighten birds away from airports and valuable crops. So do they clear my garden too? I conducted an experiment. I put a very realistic plastic peregrine falcon on my shed roof. This is a bird that is feared by many others, especially pigeons, which are staple peregrine diet.
I retired to the back room and lurked by the open door with my camcorder. Within 10 minutes, I had a video of 2 or 3 wood pigeons pottering around the peregrine as if it were one of their own. It was almost as if they knew perfectly well it was a fake.
To confirm my conviction that birds are not daft, my garden is now guarded by the peregrine, a kestrel, an eagle owl and no fewer than five little owls. I have pictures of all of them with great tits, blue tits or robins perched on their heads! I even once - in the cause of science - put out a totally realistic cat (not a stuffed real one). It was barely a minute before that too had a couple of wrens hopping on its back, and a young rat gnawing at its tail!
Then there are my mirrors. The generally touted advice is that you shouldn't put a mirror in a garden because birds will attack their own reflection, thinking it's a rival, and they could hurt themselves by pecking at the glass. I have indeed witnessed that kind of behaviour, but only by dunnocks (hedge sparrows), and though there was a fair amount of fluttering, pecking and poking I am pretty sure there was no beak breaking or head bruising. I even solicited a second opinion by placing a mirror on the bird table. It got no reaction at all, although I reckon one particularly vain robin had a bit of a primp.
Anyway, my noisy, garish, model-infested, ludicrous garden has five large mirrors and a number of little ones, suspended on fences, nestling in rockeries and wedged into bushes. Thus, the many psychedelic bird scaring features are reflected and multiplied as if in a giant kaleidescope.
And yet, I have 58 different species on my garden list. Admittedly, this is over 20 years, and a fair proportion of them were flying or circling overhead, including 8 birds of prey: kestrel, sparrowhawk, hobby, red kite, buzzard, honey buzzard, osprey and (real) peregrine.
Most birdwatchers count flyovers on their garden lists - species seen in, over, or from your garden - except the RSPB. The rules for the annual Big Garden Birdwatch clearly state: "please record the highest number of bird species seen in your garden (not flying over)."
Sounds a bit mean doesn't it? Well no: it's all in the interest of facts, figures and fun. Anyway, it doesn't mean you can't look at anything that flies over!
The Big Garden Birdwatch takes place this weekend. It is easy to take part. All you need is a garden or a park. Further information - including identification help - is available on the RSPB website. By taking part you will be contributing to a unique cross-Britain database which reveals the state and status of the species that choose to enjoy - and may indeed depend on - the food and shelter that we provide in our gardens. Please join in.
Oh yes, one word of caution: if you do have mirrors in your garden, make sure you don't count every bird twice!
Watch clips of Bill Oddie's Top Ten Birds
Visit the BBC's Nature UK website