GOB 20 – Reasons to be grumpy, part one…
This article appeared in Bird Art & Photography
I have lost count lately, of the number of times I’ve lain in bed looking out at the weather and wondering if I can be bothered to bird. I’ve no idea what the problem is, as, whenever I do stir my stumps, I thoroughly enjoy it. It doesn’t matter what I see, or where I go, whether for year ticks, rarities or just to marvel at the wonders of feathered flight. I just relax and enjoy it all. But glued to my pit, with one half-open eye, I vacillate and oscillate; internally debating whether to dress and go, shower and work, or just doze and dream away the day.
Today I managed to force the one eye open long enough to see wind bowing the lilac and rain running down the window pane… just the day for a spot of sea-watching. In less time than it takes to tell, I had turned over and shut the eye again. However, the call of the wild, or my over-full bladder forced my eye open once more. Still economising on vision, my one eye navigated to the bathroom then kitchen where I brewed some coffee. Then, like Alice sliding down the rabbit hole, I found myself pouring coffee into my travel cup and pulling scope from cupboard. I left in the thin T-shirt and heavy overcoat needed for that time of year and this sort of birding.
As I drove past the kiss-me-quick shops and bucket-and-spade beach of my hometown I could see that the mist was thick over the water. Had I decided to ‘go for it’ on an impossible day? Increasingly I find my sixth sense is on the blink. The days I turn over and slumber turn out to be glory days missed, whereas those where stumps are stirred turn out to be becalmed and birdless. No wonder I find it hard to get motivated when the gods of birding rain on my parade, and the bird of paradise is out of sight, lodged firmly up a nostril!
Never one to let good sense triumph over stubbornness, I proceeded in a westerly direction to my favourite watch point. Not only is it a high view over the place where the English Channel turns a corner into the North Sea, but also because it requires a trek of just 10 yards from the car. A tired Victorian shelter has been brightly refurbished in seaside blue. Granted there are times when I have to elbow old lacy ladies out of the way, or stare maniacally at a late day-tripper until they scuttle away in fear, but usually its as lonely as a skunk with halitosis. There is a corner where one can sit out of the wind with the scope aimed at the best ocean view.
And that folks is where the ‘reasons to be grumpy’ started. I was on time, with the wind set right for a decent seabird passage, but could see barely 50 feet of exposed water before the curtain of thick mist. Ferries were sounding foghorns and sailboarders were bashing into breakwaters. Even the gulls were huddled drab and drizzly on the beach.
I tried to be optimistic whenever a Cormorant crossed a gap in the mist. Once a lost looking Arctic Skua wandered down the tide line. It was so close to me that I pushed away the scope and fumbled for my bins, only to find that I’d left them in the car.
Part two, reasons to be cheerful…
I had decided that I would throw the towel in at 09.00. But at 08.55 the mist suddenly cleared, I could see the massed turbines of the windfarm, but the blades were not spinning; typically the bird-bringing wind had dropped. But, no! By nine o’clock the wind was stiff again and the waves were being sheared by scatterings of skuas!
It suddenly all went horribly right!
It turned completely apple-shaped; a patch so purple it practically proclaimed itself the pontiff!
At first it was the turn of the Arctic Skuas that harried Common Terns and ganged up on Sandwich Terns until they dropped sand eels for the skuas to vacuum up. Shearing west like dog-fighting world war two pilots they lifted my spirits instantly.
The next hour disappeared into smiles and out-loud exultations made to no audience at all. Pomarine Skuas joined the battle flashing their white bellies and sporting sharp black caps. Then an unexpectedly early Long-tailed Skua so close I could clearly see its tiny landing lights on the leading edge of the wing. Finally the wing flashes of Bonxies, Great Skuas that came right to the strand, scattering the waders and out-bullying the gulls. Lazily they dipped and soared closer and closer until, my breath held, I could almost reach out and snatch them from the sky!
That’s the trouble with birding! Just when you think you have perfected your scowl and turned down the corners of your mouth until they point due south, the damn things go and turn the sun on in your soul!