GOB 38 – Play Less Misty for Me
I well remember my first ever Great Egret in high summer many years ago. I know it was high summer as we walked along the shore of a large lake with sun-ripened wheat in the surrounding fields; and I know it was long ago as every fifty meters all the way the reeling of grasshopper warblers serenaded us. The high heat triggered a thunderstorm and we were drenched for our efforts. I do not recall every being so wet before or since. Back in the car the windows steamed up as I replaced a soggy shirt with a scratchy and rather musty jacket.
I have faced directly into a force eight gale blowing from the northeast in midwinter, while watching the waves crashing against cliffs throwing spray thirty feet into the air (and a goodly amount into my freezing face). But that was rewarded by a skua going one way and auks streaming by the other. Such a scene can only be truly appreciated by a birder and such a sentence only appreciated if you are into palindromes and palimpsests.
I have steamed in a Central American jungle in pursuit of antbirds, only pausing to wring the sweat from my shirt and I have baked under an African sun waiting for the fitter birders to return from their scaling of a Kalahari sandhill in search of a Dune Lark
Many is the time I have felt the wind penetrate my bones despite four layers of thermal wear as I scoped gravel pits for Smew and I have felt my very fundament freeze to the seat of a hide while waiting for a winter Bittern to sneak out of hiding from a reedbed.
I have even waded knee-deep along a flooded path to get to a waterlogged viewing ramp, while the penetrating drizzle sent icy fingers down my spine.
But what I have most certainly NOT done is watch birds in the fog!
2012 was my second worst year list since I began birding. Weather, incapacity and indolence all played a part in my dismal performance. So I awaited the dawn of 2013 with determination to make this a better year. In my best ever year I managed 99 species on day one! In my acceptable listing years I know I have to get 100 species in the first month or my increasing capacity for pessimism will make me falter. I know too, that waiting for winter specialties to turn up at the end of the year is often a fruitless exercise. If I haven’t got winter swans and geese, Snow Buntings and Smew under my belt before February arrives they will stubbornly arrive late the following winter and I will dip out entirely for another year.
Thus it was that Hawkeye and I were out locally on the first of Jan ticking up sixty-five species within a five-mile radius. On the third of the month we cranked this up to eighty-nine species by a visit to Dungeness. Moreover, ‘Dunge’ sported no less than seven Great White Egrets that day and, at one time, when the venerated one spotted a Bittern land I managed to get four heron species into the scope at once!
The fourth was spent a mile from the house successfully searching the beach rocks for Purple Sandpiper with some bonuses in the shape of divers and ducks. So we were happily sporting a nice ninety-five when we set off yesterday for Sheppey in the sure and certain knowledge that we would add at least the five needed to get the ‘ton’ up!
Of course mice, men and me should know better than to lay such plans and rely on such sureties.
We set off in the gloom as dawn broke and revealed mist; fog so thick you could knit a chunky jumper with it. We bravely got to the edge of town and barely dared to swing around the roundabout on the dual carriageway, as it was impossible to see across both lanes! We were back home after only an hour as we had stupidly slipped down to the shore in the hope that something would be visible there.
So the mystical Isle Sheppey awaits me still, holding tight to its Rough-legged Buzzard, Avocets and the other necessary birds like the possible four owl species. My next shot is going to be the ninth – so my birding fingers are firmly crossed for gales, snow, sun or storm, anything but the mists of Avalon!
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