I GET a bit twitchy in spring.
So does my partner Garry.
It's that time of year when our hearts start to flutter and our thoughts turn to love...
... of birds.
The twitching thing started a few years back on a camping holiday in the Carnarvon Ranges when, sick of hearing each other say, "Wonder what that bird is," we bought a book.
Since then - to the sideways looks and sniggers of our children - no trip has been complete without ticking off at least one hitherto-never-seen bird, by our eyes at least.
Oh, the joy of ticking off a fairy gerygone outside Atherton or a turquoise parrot on the Goulburn River. Ah, the sheer ecstasy in spotting a grey-headed honeyeater in Outback Queensland or a white-backed magpie in the Snowy Mountains.
The simple act of opening our Slater and Slater bird guide is enough to send us into raptors- er, raptures.
On our most recent holiday a week or two back, we visited Garry's daughter Amy in her new home south of Innisfail before heading west on a holiday we hoped would be a bird-iful trip.
Amy and her family had just moved into their new home on an old sugar cane farm beside the South Johnstone River which, she told us, was crawling with dangerous wildlife.
"Cassowaries and crocodiles," she shuddered.
"Fantastic," I cried.
On a nudge from Garry, I mumbled, "The cassowaries, not the crocodiles".
A short time later, she said, "There's this bird that sits in the tree outside our bedroom window every day. I've been wondering what it is."
"I'll get the book," I yelled, mowing down grandchildren, family dogs and a six-week-old kitten in my rush to get Slater and Slater from the still un-packed car.
After we'd identified the tree-sitter as a rainbow honeyeater, Amy pointed out another little feathered beauty that, after a bit of excited page flicking, the Slaters told us was a black-throated finch.
Then, a chestnut-breasted mannikin. A northern yellow race figbird. A brown-backed honeyeater...
Three days later, Amy had her own book.
By day four, she knew a few birding terms. Like "a big year". A big year begins on January 1 when diehard twitchers start ticking off every bird they see. The one with the most ticks by December 31 is Birder of the Year. Many pretend they're not having a big year to put others off their game.
Amy said she wasn't having a big year.
Two days later, Garry and I were on a dirt road south of Longreach when she texted to say she'd ticked off another four birds.
"She's having a big year," I said sulkily.
I was wishing I'd kept Slater and Slater hidden under my wing when I glanced up.
"Oooh, oooh!" I screeched, pointing wildly at the road ahead.
Garry hit the brakes and we came to a grinding halt.
"What?" he cried.
"I think I saw a spinifex pigeon!" I said, peering through the bull dust enveloping the car.
"Not a flock of emus about to hit us head on?" he asked mildly.
I shook my head.
"Nor even a pair of Australian bustards that could take out the bullbar?"
"No," I said, detecting a tone.
"A pigeon." Yep, definitely a tone.
"A spinifex pigeon," I said quietly.
It turns out, bringing a fully-laden 4WD to a dead stop from 100kmh on a dusty Outback road because he thinks his passenger sees a life-threatening obstacle in his path makes Garry tetchy rather than twitchy.
I decided now wasn't the time to tell him a group of emus was a mob, not a flock.
He decided it was time to tell me to keep my random bird calls to a dull cheep.
I settled his ruffled feathers by agreeing to the new rules of the road and we set off again, leaving the spinifex pigeon chewing on our dust while I gave it a mental Slater and Slater tick - at which precise moment, Amy texted: "Stuff the big year, I'm having a freakin' big month. Hahahahaha."