So another Christmas Day has slipped through the fingers of time, leaving a trail of torn wrapping paper, empty glasses and left-overs in the fridge. Did you go birding? No, me neither, although once-upon-a-time, pre-wife and children, I would have done...
It occurred to me yesterday that it was 40 years to the day since I found Dungeness’s first Ring-necked Duck, a smart drake, on ARC. I was staying at the bird observatory having escaped the (what I then considered to be) suffocating ritual of a family Christmas. I was not alone that Xmas Day in 1979 - the warden Nick Riddiford was in residence with his partner Elizabeth (who cooked us lunch), London-based birder Barry Banson (who had kindly given me a lift down) was there, as was Australian birder Dave Eades, who was on a world tour. We all did the Christmas thing with observant gravitas but it took second place to the birding. If I remember rightly we did a bit of ringing, a sea watch, conducted a census of the recording area and then all drove round to the ARC pit in the afternoon, where I had my Nearctic duck success. We were also happy to observe a small skein of White-fronted Geese fly over.
Two years later I was back at DBO, again with Barry, Nick and Liz (the latter two having returned from Fair Isle.) For our 1981 Christmas Dinner however, we had swapped the spartan bird observatory for the far more salubrious surroundings of near-neighbours and friends Martin and Jane Male. The evenings entertainment came courtesy of Nick’s slide-show, full of wonderful birds from his first season as Fair Isle warden. The birds had been excellent that Christmas Day at Dungeness as well, as hard winter weather had forced many onto the shingle from the frozen hinterland - hundreds of thrushes, finches and larks, Jack Snipe, Woodcock and a flock of three Woodlarks.
Apart from these Dungeness visits, the Christmas Day birding of my youth would have meant a few hours at Beddington SF, squeezed in between the present opening and lunch being served. These visits were usually a normal diet of Green Sandpipers, Water Pipits and Jack Snipe, but the day somehow had a golden edge to it, the light appeared brighter, my hope more buoyant. Maybe I had more Christmas Spirit in me than I realised.
I wouldn’t dream of spending Christmas Day birding now. Family comes first. Having said that, us birders are never ‘not birding’. If I glance out of the window I’m aware of what is going on. A Sparrowhawk ‘might’ have nipped through yesterday and I ‘might’ also have heard a Blachcap calling from the garden. But the binoculars and scope were kept well hidden. We do try and get a good walk in each Boxing Day, when ‘Steve the Birder’ comes out of hiding a little, but it isn’t until New Year’s Day that he is fully unleashed.