Monday, 10 January 2011

When birders get injured

Twice this winter I've fallen flat on my backside whilst walking the streets looking for Waxwings. Both times ice was the culprit. No doubt the combination of looking up and not down resulted in my not noticing a virtual ice-rink that was set before me.

My record at falling over when birding stretches back many years, and some of them were spectacular. In Malaysia I completed a full somersault on a treacherous jungle trail at Taman Negara. I lay on the muddy floor winded, optics yards away, convinced I had broken an arm. Fortunately I hadn't (which is just as well, as shortly afterwards a Hooded Pitta appeared). At Dungeness, I fell in a six-foot deep ditch while night-time wader ringing; ran into a metal post at thigh height ripping my jeans (but luckily not my scrotum); got tangled up with a wire hawser that spun me over to land on my neck. My falls at Pagham Harbour generally involved thick, gloopy mud that sucked my boots in and unbalanced me.

Water almost undid me when I swam after a flock of moulting Canada Geese, to try and coral them into being caught for ringing. I almost drowned.

Car travel has its obvious perils, as I found out when birding in Kent, our driver taking a corner too quickly that resulted in a collision outside a pub. Shaken, we waited in the hostelry for the emergency services to arrive, our penance being to have to listen to a ropey folk club singer. On another occasion a Pheasant flew through the windscreen of a car in which I was the front seat passenger, the game bird colliding with my head. The Pheasant died, by the way. And no, we didn't eat it.

When I used to ring I've been mauled by a Sparrowhawk, savaged by gulls and had Swifts scratch me raw with their surprisingly sharp claws. A Grey Heron lunged at my face. A Blackbird crapped directly into my open mouth.

You see, us birders need to be hard. We run the gauntlet with this hobby of ours. Next time somebody suggests that it is a past time for the sensitive, tell them to think again!


Graham James said...

After reading that post, Steve, I think I'll take up stamp collecting instead!

Stewart said...

HE HE HE, I have been viciously taloned by a Tawny Owl when all four talons on one foot pierced every part of my hand, I've been spewed on by Storm Petrels and that smell lasts for ages, its a good job they're tiny, I've been savaged by Shags, snatched by Sparrowhawks, bitten by Kestrels and Blue Tits, dont get me started. Once when I was a kid I found an injured Rook in a field. I picked it up to take home, its back up over and head facing away from me. It bent its neck backwards and grabbed my top lip!I couldnt get it off!

Steve Gale said...

Graham: be careful though - you can get chapped lips licking the stamp hinges!

Stewart: ringers in particular get done by the birds. Have you ever handled a Swift? They really are painful!

Stewart said...

Never caught Swift Steve, but a day with Puffins take some beating. Hand down the burrow up to your lughole then wait until one latches on the the soft skin between your fingers then pull it out while swearing constantly. Relief when it lets go is short lived, until it lacerates your wrist with its digging claws. 50 burrows later and you end up looking like a self harming serial killer...and whenever they're on telly people say 'aren't they cute!'

Alastair said...

I was in that car too, driven by a now very well known moth-er I recall, his dad's car. We slammed into the back of a parked vehicle outside a chippy and the owner came out and asked if we always stopped like that or did we sometimes use brakes. We were rescued by a birder whose subsequent stunts included out-running the feds on the Rye - Dungeness road and producing a Kiwi Fruit on demand on Bardsey. He simply bent the broken bits of car back into shape by hand after we'd escaped the rather bad tempered folkies.

I once had a Storm Petrel puke into my open mouth when I was taking it out of the top shelf of a mist net, nice ....

Steve Gale said...

Yes Alastair, you were there! Dave Okines was the strong man and Sean Clancy the driver!!