40 years, White-arses and a Gos

40 years
On April 12th 1976 - 40 years ago to the very day - my 17-year old self first set foot on Dungeness and entered No. 11 RNSS, better known as Dungeness Bird Observatory. This is what I thought at the time...

My first impression of Dungeness is not a favourable one. It appears an open waste of shingle, strewn with ramshackle dwellings and set against the vast nuclear power station that has squeezed perspective to such an extent that it appears two-dimensional, as if it were merely an enormous theatrical backdrop. Peering from the car making its way along the single road towards the peninsula’s point, I’m wondering what on earth I have let myself in for. I am about to join a four-day bird-watching course being held at Dungeness Bird Observatory.

The focal point of our passage along to the peninsula’s snout is always the power station, dwarfing the two lighthouses that as recently as 1960 had been the tallest buildings for miles around. My attention then turns towards the shacks, half in wonder as to who could possibly live in them, the other half searching frantically in their small gardens for any movement that will betray the presence of a rare migrant bird – after all, Dungeness is famous for rare migrant birds. In my naivety I somehow expect that there will always be one about. I pass the new, smartly liveried lighthouse on my left and am soon upon the older, decommissioned version, which looks far more like what a lighthouse should do. It is squatter, fatter and looks as if it has stood firm and seen off many a storm.  I can imagine heavily bearded men in cable sweaters manning the light during times of peril at sea. The new one smacks of not needing people at all – which in some respects it doesn’t. Terribly efficient no doubt but terribly bland all the same.

At the old light the road violently kinks and sends us on our way along the perimeter fence of the Power Station. We virtually cower from the monstrous buildings, not just one vast station but two, with a plethora of outbuildings, pipes, huts and industrial bric-a-brac spilling like innards from their sides. As we approach the cottages, which house the bird observatory, we note that they have seemingly been barricaded from the threat of nuclear fall-out with a high-sided moat. The road breaches this earth mound as if it were a lowered drawbridge. Entering the inner sanctum of the mound, there is, before me, the not unattractive end cottage, 11 Royal Naval Service Signal Station, Dungeness, Kent – otherwise known as Dungeness Bird Observatory. 

I didn't know it at the time, but I had just started an infatuation that has lasted a life time.

With hardly any fuss at all, the ND&B Wheatear challenge has been percolating in the background. Nobody has so far made a mad dash for glory, and none of last year's excesses have been replicated. But I do detect a little bit of fidgeting in the ranks. One or two bloggers have started to slowly, but surely, add Wheatear images to their posts. There are still another 18 days left for uploading...

A Gos
This morning at Canons Farm, Geoff Barter and I had a huge female Goshawk go through northwards, quite low. We soon lost it behind trees. My second record for the site.


You must have stacks of diaries!
Gavin Haig said…
Not bad prose for a 17 year-old, Steve! '...as recently as 1960...' dates it a bit!
Steve Gale said…
Oh yes Simon, and I kept them all.
Steve Gale said…
Precocious? Moi?

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