Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A quiet winter

Part 15 October - December 1976

Beddington SF continued to be my birding destination of choice. The hot summer had become nothing but a pleasant memory but the summer migrants were still hanging on, some of them very late indeed, with both Reed Warbler and Whinchat (October 31st) and two Ring Ouzel (November 7th). The changeable weather slowly morphed into that of a typical winter, with the dull and drizzly mornings coming out on top of a the few cold and crisp ones that came along. The birdlife at the farm took on a steady and familiar guise, with Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe and Water Pipit ever present and helping to enliven the otherwise mundane visits. But regardless of the quietness of the ornithological landscape I still retrieved my bicycle from the shed before it got light and cycled to Beddington full of hope. Each visit was a dawn to dusk vigil, a mixture of cold hands, wet clothes, wellington boots, dead burdock heads sticking to jeans, the leaping of dykes, splashing through flooded fields, the emptying of thermos flasks and the companionship of others who chose to spend their time in a similar manner. There was a non-avian soundtrack to a Sunday visit, a mixture of church bells, shouting footballers, neighing horses and motor bikes - the latter courtesy of trespassing lads who practiced their Evil Knievel manoeuvres on the earth banks of the settling beds. On some days we also heard the sirens of the ambulances that came to retrieve them.

I was accepted as a trainee ringer, and joined Ken Parsley and Mike Netherwood as a member of the BSF ringing group. We would normally set up single panel mist nets in the dried out sludge lagoons that were covered in dead vegetation, mainly Fat-hen. This is where most of the passerines were attracted to and we were able to trap Tree Sparrows, Greenfinches, Skylarks and Linnets with some success. Another area that we targeted was the screenings - a place where farm workers dumped the material that had been sieved from the pre-treated sewage. It was a ripe mixture of mainly undigested matter, a concoction that was not only highly sought after by the birds but also many Brown Rats. We would flush tens of them as we walked through the nearby vegetation, something that I found repulsive.

My 18th birthday fell on 20th December and I was delighted when my parents gave me a pair of Carl Zeiss Jena 10x50 binoculars as a gift. I have rarely felt so proud as when I took them to the sewage farm for their first outing. They also accompanied me for the last birding trip of the year, on New Year's Eve, to Amberley Wild Brooks (where I saw my first White-fronted Goose), Chichester Gravel Pits, Pagham Harbour and Selsey Bill. Through their lenses they helped me to observe Avocet, Water Rail, Red-breasted Merganser, Smew, and Slavonian Grebe. They were to help me see much, much more in the coming years.