Even the bad times were good

After all of the ornithological highs that I've bombarded you with regarding my time spent at Dungeness, time for a few lows... they did exist!

Dungeness Jan-Dec 1986
This year has been something of a non-event at Dungeness both ornithologically and socially. I’ve put the time in but little has been on offer – hardly any rarities (with the exception of a Collared Pratincole in June), few falls and it’s hard to look back with any satisfaction over the last 12 months. It’s had its moments – a January day when a teeming mass of gulls on the patch included two Glaucous and an immaculate Iceland; two spring male Ortolan Buntings; confiding autumnal Red-backed Shrike and Wryneck; and a vocal flyover Snow Bunting that somehow captured my imagination and elevated its status beyond its true worth on a sedate November morning, but…there has been a sense of doing things by numbers this year. For example, visiting the pits in January with a role-call of wintering species to ‘tick-off’ the year list (as I have done each year for the past God knows how many). Sea-watching in April and May at the same spot, over the same hours with the same people telling the same jokes, again as in previous years – and most probably watching the very same scoter fly eastwards yet again over the very same sea. Getting to the end of May to look back over the spring with a sense of disappointment, but with the belief that the autumn will be better. Likewise, getting to the end of October, looking back over the autumn with a sense of disappointment but with the belief that next spring will be better… can you see a pattern developing? We have conversed by numbers, drunk by numbers and been disillusioned by numbers. Is Dungeness’s number up? Like an addict I can’t give up, I need its fix.

Dungeness January 1987
It’s New Years day and the lessons of last year were not taken in. We are sheltering from the rain in a car parked alongside the road that bisects ARC and the RSPB staring southwards over the reserve. Our damp clothes are starting to steam as a combination of body heat and a virtually ineffective car heater finally starts to take effect. We stare through misted optics at the same species that I saw here barely hours ago. It’s another day of reliving what I did last week, even if last week was last year. The difference between the Smew that we are watching now and several days ago is that this one means that I’ve now seen one in 1987. The need to rush around today for the year list has so far been done with little humour, each new species being scrawled into a damp notebook to be consigned to the status of ‘Not needing to be seen again during the next 12 months’. Why do I continue to do this? We start the engine in our hide-on-wheels and drive around to Brett’s Marina. On the way, a covey of Grey Partridges huddle in the middle of a vast open field. We stop to take a look (another pointless year tick) and I cannot help but see myself in them – miserable in the rain, waiting for something better.

There, not pretty or inspiring, but an honest account of how I was feeling at the time. We are now reaching the period of my 'Dungeness days' when a blanket of disillusionment decided to wrap itself around me. I did escape from its enveloping attention, but it did take some time. More angst to come...


Factor said…
Nothing like a bit of angst to read. You will never see me doing that. Interested to read your first piece here. Even with Dungeness as your local patch you found it all a bit soul-destroying in the end. Imagine walking around Holmethorpe every day for a year? As much as I really like the place for the occasional walk, that would drive anyone mad. How David kept it up for so long at Canons is amazing.

In the end, variety truly is the spice of life. I'm really enjoying this, by the way. It is educational!
Steve Gale said…
Neil, my problem with Dungeness back then was in my approach to birding and the manner in which I carried it out. There's enough material for a psychiatrist's seminar with this subject!

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