Friday, 23 November 2018

The great Midrips boulder fall!

Back in 2011 I posted the following while discussing the injuries that I had befallen in the quest of birds...

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.

This brought a smile to my face as, since then, my most dramatic fall of all has occurred which I am yet to share with you.

In May of 2017 a pair of Black-winged Stilts were found by Martin C at The Midrips and Wicks in East Sussex (just shy of the Kent border). This area is often off limits as it is part of an army firing range, but on this particular day they were not lobbing shells into the shingle. The best way of access is by driving to the edge of Camber, parking in a large lay-by and climbing up onto a shingle and earth wall that acts as a sea defence and pathway. This wall leads you to the Midrips and Wicks pits, BUT, due to the presence of the military it is blocked off by a high gate, be-decked with copious amounts of barbed wire. However, as there is a public right of way at non-firing times, access is granted by taking a flight of wooden stairs down to the beach from where a short walk along the shingle can be made before climbing back up the earth wall and onto the footpath, circumnavigating the gate. When we arrived the tide was fully in - there was no beach to walk down on to - so we were faced with having to find another way around the high gate. On the seaward side had been placed a pile of large boulders that leant up against the gate and fell away into the sea, with a low barbed wire fence alongside. We chose to jump across this obstacle course... you can probably see where this is leading.

We all made it across (a merry band from Dungeness) and saw the stilts very well indeed. Our return was without incident until we reached the boulder field. I strapped my scope and tripod onto the back of my rucksack and started to tiptoe across them. The weight on my back shifted, and, as I took my next step, lost balance. I knew I was going to fall and for a sickening split second found myself surveying the ground on which I was about to meet - large uneven boulders with deep gaps between them.

SMACK!

I landed first on my bare knees (I was wearing shorts), then my elbows (I was holding my binoculars close to my chest to protect them), then felt a sharp pain in my right arm. I had half fallen into the barbed wire fence, with all of my weight on the skewered arm. The weight on my back stopped me from getting up so I was pinned as fast as an insect in a museum. I couldn't move despite frantic struggling and the barbs on the fencing were just getting deeper into my skin and tearing at it. As much as I tried to take the weight off of my trapped arm the way I had fallen meant that gravity was deciding otherwise. Yes, it hurt.

Fortunately my companions came to the rescue. Martin C was first by my side, taking my rucksack and scope off my back and extracting my arm from the fence. I was helped up and guided across the remaining boulders. Miraculously nothing was broken. My knees and arms were a collection of cuts and bruises which were treated by Owen L and Gill H when back at the cars. I was little shaken but thankful that my injuries were superficial - my leg could have gone into one of the gaps and any forward fall would have spelt a broken leg at best. My face and eyes were but inches from the barbed wire and were spared. My binoculars and scope unscathed.

That evening, back at home, I felt as if I'd gone a round with Anthony Joshua, but by the following morning I had only the impressive bruises and cuts to show for my ordeal. A tetanus jab later and all was over. Last week was the first time that I had returned to those boulders, and believe me, when I crossed them I virtually crawled...

4 comments:

Chris Janman said...

Sorry Steve, i couldn't help but laugh at your misfortune, reminds me of my first visit to Amberley Wild Brooks, many years ago. Taking a wrong tack a half mile ago, i found myself cut off by a deep ditch; weighing it up carefully and being fairly young and athletic(sic), i decided a long fast run up and a giant leap would see me safely to the other side. I didn't make it by about four feet. Up to the waist in mud and water , birding was halted with a long soggy walk back to the car, and driving home in my underpants, we've all been there !

Steve Gale said...

Chris, I'm sure that we could write a book on such misfortunes across the birding community. My ditch leaping, however, has been pretty good though...

dmcjournal said...

I guess that most of us will smile while reading this, not because we're happy it happened to you but because it shows us that we are not the only one that suffers these mishaps.
My own include tripping while getting out of a rowing boat and landing in the water and also falling on rocks managing to bend fingers in a way that nature never intended.
Unless we never get out of bed these things are going to happen and as unpleasant as they are at the time they make for entertaining stories later as you have shown.

Steve Gale said...

You have the added complication of camera damage in such scenarios!