Sunday, 3 January 2016

Underwater birding

I know that the people of Cumbria and Yorkshire will shake their heads at my statement, but it really has rained in Surrey this morning. Cat's and Dog's. Stair-rods. Pissing down. Driving back home from Balham at lunchtime (after visiting our eldest daughter) it was like being on the log flume ride at Thorpe Park. The gutters were running streams, puddles joined puddles to form... even bigger puddles. Spray slouched up to drench pedestrians and blind drivers. It wasn't the weather to be out birding. But once upon a time, it was...

I used to go out in such inclement conditions and not bat an eyelid. When I look back on it now it beggars belief that I could have been so keen and so stupid. But it often paid off. One very wet September afternoon in 1975, cabin fever forced me out and onto my pushbike to cycle the four miles to Beddington Sewage Farm. Drenched even after having just cycled to the bottom of my road, I strode across the settling beds of the sewage farm and was greeted by a fine selection of waders, including my first ever Spotted Redshank, that flew around calling as I lifted my rain-streaked face into the sodden sky in appreciation. I squelched back home in a beatific state, oblivious to everything being wet, clammy and cold.

A teenage day trip to Pagham, which entailed a train and bus journey from Sutton, was accompanied by constant rain - not drizzle, more a steady and modest precipitation. This continual assault upon my cheap waterproofs just underlined that the word 'cheap' placed before the word 'waterproof' rendered the latter word redundant. I sat on the beach at Church Norton thoroughly soaked. But before me a raft of 15 Slavonian Grebes were diving away just yards offshore, and in such conditions I had the whole thing to myself. I felt quite smug and vindicated that I had not heeded the weatherman's warning of an inclement day ahead.

In 1981, a September weekend at Dungeness was notable for a fall of drift migrants and copious amounts of rain. A walk around the moat in a deluge was rewarded with a Barred Warbler, but my old Zeiss Jenoptem binoculars could not handle the conditions and misted up. They were still unusable the following morning, but help was at hand as Janet Turley kindly lent me her pair. Just as well she did, as it was a day which saw the tamest Tawny Pipit that I have ever had the pleasure to know stride around the ARC sand bowl.

In recent years I've wimped out of taking on the elements, but last October made an exception when a combination of SE wind and rain suggested that 'manning up' and getting out there would be a wise move. And it was - both Dusky Warbler and Yellow-browned Warblers were chalked up by mid-morning and a glorious arrival of Black Redstarts took place. It was a day that my waterproof over-trousers will never forget - a rare outing that ended with them tearing on what must be the only strand of barbed-wire on the peninsula. They suffered for my art.

But today, looking out on the deluge, a cup of tea and the football coverage is winning hands down. No doubt there are birders out there though, getting thoroughly wet but obtaining ornithological highs because they have made the effort. Good luck to them. Now, where's the biscuits...

8 comments:

  1. Most of us can recall those soggy moments Steve, I've certainly had more than a few, even carrying out a Harrier roost count one late afternoon in a blizzard that unexpectedly blew in.
    I settled in for the afternoon watching the Test Match, envying all the Barmy Army stretched out in blazing sun in Cape Town, while I had stair rods hammering against the conservatory.

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    1. We go on about birding having changed, what about test cricket? More like 20/20 now!

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  2. I've quite enjoyed tramping about in the we weather this afternoon

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    1. Hope you had a nice fluffy towel at the end Simon.

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  3. Excellent start to 2016, Steve! It's going to take me a bit of convincing to go out in the extremes of weather we're having at the moment. I know I'd feel a bit like the old Labrador being dragged out for a walk when he'd been more than happy in front of the fire.

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    1. Stay by that metaphorical fire Neil until someone throws you a big ornithological stick to chase!!

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  4. Weather awful here in Orkney, some brave soul found Black-necked Grebe today (mega here), I might go and see it the morn, if the weather improves.

    I did venture out first thing to be honest but gave up soon after going a over t in the mud. A distant Merlin my only reward.

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    1. Hi Alastair, for an adopted Orcadian to say that the weather is awful must mean that it really is awful!

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