Monday, 10 February 2020

Storm 'something or other'

Well, how was Storm Ciara for you?

The scores on the doors here at Banstead was of two wrecked fence panels, two loosened fence posts and water incursion along a side-alcove. It could have been worse - have you seen the footage of a side of an hotel collapsing into a river in Yorkshire? Or the many homes and businesses that have been flooded for the second, third, even fourth time in the past few years? Who's idea was it to build on flood plains?

Anyway, when weather events such as these come along, us birders think not of dislodged roof tiles and smashed fence panels but of storm driven rarities, mass seabird spectaculars and exhausted auks sheltering on inland duck ponds. And, of course, such avian hopes hardly ever materialise. Those that did seawatch yesterday report of nothing happening and us inland birders got excited if we saw a bird - any bird - out and about braving the winds. The time of year doesn't help either, had it been September or October then we could have all expected at least a Black-and-white Warbler in our back gardens. So, in lieu of nothing happening in the here and now, let me take you back to the 'storm-of-storms' when they weren't given a name and we didn't obsess about them...

15th October 1987. I was at home watching the late evening news on the television. I was aware of it being quite breezy outside. When the weather forecast came on, fronted by the institution that was Michael Fish, he explained that the rumour of a hurricane, set to arrive that very night, was wide of the mark. The weather chart that he stood in front of did, however, show some tightly packed isobars - it looked quite menacing to me. I went to bed about midnight, aware that the wind had got up and was getting stronger. My sleep was constantly broken by the howling maelstrom outside and by noises coming from our loft space. In the end I got up and opened the loft hatch to see bits of debris being blown about as some of the loft lining had been torn. Back to bed, there was work in the morning.

When I looked out of the window at first light it was as if there had been a bombing raid overnight. Almost every garden had fencing strewn across it, walls had collapsed, roof tiles were scattered up and down driveways. Our tree-lined road was now exhibiting a few gaps where mature cherry trees had fallen across pavements, roads and, in a few unfortunate cases, onto cars. There was no way of driving safely into work, and the trains weren't running, so I walked the five miles. It was surreal, with main roads that would normally be traffic choked being virtually empty. As I walked through Belmont, a row of five fully mature oak trees were lying across the road, one after the other, fallen giants still clothed in leaf.

I didn't give the birding much thought. I spent the day in the office and then walked home. It was only then that news started to filter out. I took a call from Gary Messenbird who excitedly told me about the day that he'd spent at Beddington SF. I listened in silence, partly out of incredulity and partly kicking myself for not having the foresight to bunk off work. He had recorded an unprecedented 15 Little Gulls and, more sensationally, an adult Sabine's Gull. Somebody had also seen a Bonxie flying over nearby Croydon. I had dutifully walked into work and spent the day looking at a number of empty desks, where my colleagues had failed to get in. Bollocks...

16th October 1987 has gone down in meteorological history for many reasons. The damage it wrought across the south-east of England, particularly the number of trees felled, was almost biblical. The number of Sabine's Gulls dumped across London was, and still is, unprecedented. I was there. I just didn't see any of it.

12 comments:

bob smith said...

Yes Steve I remember it well. I was teaching in the morning but able to drive over to Queen Mother Reservoir and Staines Reservoir where there weres several Sabines gull, 2Bonxie, Pomarine Skua,Leach's Petrel and Grey Phalarope-amazing!

Best Wishes
Bob

Gavin Haig said...

The night it hit, I drove from my home in Northolt to Penzance. It was wet and very windy, but nothing like what hit the southeast. The next morning I landed on Scilly and stayed for ten days. When the bird news from London got through I felt sick. Some London birders immediately left Scilly. Not me. When I got back there was one Sabine's still in W London. Yessssss!

Ric said...

Yes, I got that Sabine's Gav. Thanks for taking me along to West Thurrock.

On the night of that storm, I was in student digs one row in from Southsea beach. I swear the building was swaying.

To this day I regret not getting out the camera, buying two dozen plus rolls of film and spending the following day recording the carnage. Instead I went to lectures.

I know it was misery for many, but not many used cameras then.

On top of that, the attendance of lectures proved a total waste of effort.

Gibster said...

I was living in North Cheam in '87, Steve. My mom was getting married in Sutton the next day, she swore it was a sign from god! Pure carnage, we too had to walk the route, far too many trees down to make driving an option. Downed, flailing overhead phonelines caught my step-dad-to-be around the neck when he went out to check the damage in the pre-dawn light. Could have been a great day for we kids, but sadly he survived being throttled alive, haha. Was a great couple of years for saproxylic species though!

Gavin Haig said...

That West Thurrock Sab's was a later bird Ric. The post-'87 storm bird was an adult just N of the A4 near Datchet, and also on fields adjacent to Queen Mother Res. A lifer, and massive relief.

Steve Gale said...

Thank you all for sharing these ‘great storm’ memories,I’ve enjoyed reading them. There did seem to be less fuss made back then...

Derek Faulkner said...

Guess I'll be considered a saddo in that I was too busy being traumatised by the damage and the after effects caused by the storm to think about rare birds. I never went into work but spent the day collecting broken glass spread across my lawn from my shattered greenhouse and taking down what was left of the fences.

Ric said...

Not at all Derek. If you have nothing to lose. A storm like that is but a source of entertainment.



Dave Boyle said...

I woke up in the middle of the night, thought it was a bit windy so I got up & shut my window. I was doing day release at the London College of Furniture then, so I walked to the tube station the next morning only to find the tubes weren't running - I was supposed to go in to work if I couldn't get to college but I waited until the afternoon then went up to Queen Mary Reservoir & saw a load of Sabine's Gulls & a couple of Grey Phalaropes. Next day me & a non-birding mate toured as many reservoirs as we could - I can't remember exactly how many we saw but must have been pushing 30 Sabine's Gulls, plus several Grey Phalaropes & a couple of Leach's Stormies

Steve Gale said...

No Taikos then Dave?....

Dave Boyle said...

Ha! No - don't think we'd survive the storm that brought them to Staines! Interestingly, maybe, it was another 3 weeks after the big storm until the first burrows were found

Stewart said...

October 87 was a damp squib up North...