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Bill Oddie: The bird-watching broadcaster talks pompous drummers and blasted leaf-blowers


You can waste a lot of time looking for a specific bird While some bird-watchers have a bird-watching bucket list, I don't, as the most memorable and enjoyable days out can't be predicted. I'll never forget one day in New York in early May, standing at the top of the Empire State Building. I spotted what at first looked like moths, but became a flock of migrating birds, travelling past me, at the same height as I was.

Collecting things is standard schoolboy behaviour Some do stamps or cards, and I started collected bird eggs after I kicked a ball under a hedge by my house in Rochdale, and found the nest of a dunnock bird there. I gently removed the dunnock and spotted these pale-blue eggs underneath and took one. By the time I was nine I'd convinced my dad to buy me my first pair of binoculars.

I got sidetracked by comedy Bird-watching got put on hold when I joined the Footlights at Cambridge University, working with John Cleese and [comic actor and subsequent Goodies member] Tim Brooke-Taylor. We toured in America in the 1960s, doing parodies of songs. Cleese was obviously the star of the show. Though it was pointed out by him – bitterly, perhaps – that I was the one who got the rave reviews.

I remember when the BBC spent its money on programmes rather than bosses In those heady days of The Goodies [in the 1970s], the BBC had better budgets and we had the use of our own in-house studio and a band with real musicians, which was great.

My first time on 'top of the pops' felt surreal It was for a song we'd done as The Goodies called "The Inbetweenies", which got to number seven in the charts, in 1974. Of course it was obvious to us that it was a joke, though I felt sorry for other bands taking it all seriously, and there were some shockingly pompous musicians on there – particularly the drummers.

I was worried the natural-history world wouldn't take me seriously I thought producers would think, "Isn't he just one of those comedy people doing wildlife?" Fortunately, there were enough people in the birding world who knew me, which was how [BBC2 wildlife documentary] Birding with Bill Oddie came about.

I was shocked when my friends called me intimidating The manic side of bipolar nature [with which Oddie was diagnosed in 2009] can manifest itself as aggression and arrogance. On filming trips, I'd say to the crew, "Just do it like that!" When my workmates pointed it out, I realised, looking back, that I must have done it more than I realised – and I certainly regret it. People just think you're a bad-tempered bugger, rather than realising there's some chemical thing going on.

I hate leaf-blowers Even when leaves aren't falling off trees, people do it. This morning there was a bloody blower going up and down a stretch of pavement in front of a garden and it sounds like a bloody motorbike. I was thinking, "Argh! Why are you blowing leaves from one side to another?"

Ticks are second only to mosquitoes as carriers of nasty diseases I came home from a trip away once and my wife noticed a tick in a tuft of hair under my arm. It was a little creature, like a minuscule beetle and it terrified me as I'd just been reading an article about Lyme disease, which is caused by ticks.

Bill Oddie, 72, is a bird-watcher, TV presenter and wildlife expert. He is partnering with pet-treatment company FrontLine to highlight the risk from ticks and fleas (uk.frontline.com)