Saturday, August 16, 2008

I saw the Spurn Rock Thrush in 1984

Nostalgic Froth

You know its quiet when I resort to posting nostalgic froth but I have said before, its my blog so there you go.

For reasons I won't bother with at the moment I was browsing my old notebooks. I've kept a birding notebok since June 1981, they sit in our study and are very precious to me. They contain barely legible notes, bird counts, weather notes, descriptions of suspicious characters, anything that ocurred to me at the time. The older ones also contain field sketches and the odd painting so I thought, for posterity you understand, I would reproduce the 'best' here for you.

All of the context here is British birding so, if you are not interested, look away now as they say.

To go on. I know my paintings are garbage, I have no illusions about my skills, but they are representative of the bird at the time. I also know that the feather tracts are not right and the structure and posture of most of the birds in the paintings suggests mutation but I don't care, much. I've tried to add capptions but you know how fussy blogger can be, I hope it all makes sense. Oh and there is no real sequence, just as I uploaded them.

Below. A male Surf Scoter. This bird was in St-Andrews Bay in Scotland, they play golf there too I think. It was December 23rd 1984, I was with Barry Studdulp from Bolden and some upstart from Newcastle. We had been on a three day tour of Scotland mopping up the Scottish specials, Crested Tit, Capercallie, King Eider and a Ross's Gull I think. With the King Eider I joined the 300 species in a year club in the UK, that was when it meant something.

This is a sociable Plover (not lapwing as we now have to call it!), they are pretty rare anywhere now but they used to pop up in the UK from time to time. This one was near London and got the usual hassle from the Northern Lapwings.

This is the page from my notebook which shows that I was at Spurn in East Yorkshire when this then mega showed up. I had been on Shetland and the Outer Hebrides for two weeks ticking off Black-browed Albatross, Snowy Owl and Steller's Eider. Arriving home I called Nancy's Cafe in Norfolk, the only source of bird news in those days, and they had a vague report of the Rock Thrush. I got there in two hours and found a couple of intransigent birders who ignored me. Luckily the bird popped up on a broken wall ( I think it was a wall) and made me very happy. I only thought of adding this when I saw a photo of the bird on the Spurn website, Google it, it is a good site to visit.

This Pied-billed Grebe was on a small lochan at Askernish on Benbecula off the west coast of Scotland. I made a trip with a hardcore twitcher, a nice old buffer and Steve Henson who gave me a cookie. Those who knew him then were very impressed by this. The vegetation is somewhat psychadelic, or perhaps I was tired after the long trip.

This Nutcracker was a much appreciated tick when it showed up on a Suffolk organic farm and ate all their apples. I think it died of alchoholic poisoning. Here is is depicted using an apple as a football.

Left is the dinkiest Mediterranean Gull you have ever seen. You will note I was pretty good at painting the bird droppings, very realistically coating the perch.

Below a couple of Mealy Redpolls posing for the paintbrush.

A bank holiday trip to Cley in Norfolk coincided with the arrival of a true mega, A Little Whimbrel (Curlew). The bird strolled around fields showing superbly, I don't think there has been another in the twenty years UK since.

This Lesser Grey Shrike was at Jarrow in 1984. It started its tenure as a Great Grey Shrike but closer scrutiny by knowledgeable locals corrected the ID and very nice it was too.

This Laughing Gull lived in Newcastle from its arrival as a first-winter to its presumed demise as an adult a few years later. It favoured the roof above the student Nurses quarters, a difficult place to train a scope on and not get arrested.

After a lengthy trip to dip a Pallid Swift the day before, news broke of a Desert Wheatear at Porthgwarra in Cornwall. The bird was just about as far away from Nottingham as it is possible to be in the UK but a team went south and we saw the bird very well. Had we dipped it would definitely have gone down as a lost weekend!

Now we are on familiar ground, this is a Yellowthroat, no really! It was on Scilly in the autumn of 1984 and adopted this pose to pluck the fly from the branch. At the time it was the 3rd for Britain and so a big tick for everyone.

Below a Bonaparte's Gull at Newlyn in Cornwall, this was painted about five years after all of the others, not really much better, things improved when I got a camera.

This Black-winged Stilt was in Devon in 1985 and a long awaited tick of a 'commoner' species. They have since bred a few times in the UK but they are always special to encounter.

A hot day in June saw me travel south with John Hopper to Portland Bill in Dorset for this smart Black-eared Wheatear. For a few years it was actually easier to see a Pied Wheatear in the UK than a Black-eared.

Back to Spurn and in 1986 I was birding the area while on a break from work when I looked up and the first ever Black Kite for the site flew over my head. Excitedly I ran towards a group of birders about a mile away trying to raise their attention, they thought I was crazy but joined in the fun when they got the bird. It sat on a post (in the Triangle) for 45 minutes being mobbed by Magpies before flying off. A real spurn and UK mega.

I spent a whole day in March 1985 looking for this Arctic (Hoary) Redpoll in Wells Wood, Norfolk. We eventually tracked it down with around 300 Common Redpolls but it was hard work. Strangely the painting almost resembles the bird. While looking for this bird, news came in that David Hunt, the Birdman of the Scillies, had been killed by a Tiger in India, a sad loss.

Below an Alpine Swift, a species that used to be tough to get in the UK. This one stayed three days at Cromer, Norfolk.

This bird caused another Spurn dash having been identified as a possible Oriental Cuckoo. It showed really well and, although I would not have known an Oriental Cuckoo if it had flown up my nose, I liked the look of it.

Some still think it was a good ID, pity it never sang. I think, instead of "cuckoo-cuckoo" they go "ying tang ying tang ying tang ying tang ying tang diddle I po" according to the Goons book of birds.

Below a White-throated Sparrow. This huge tick (at the time) chose to reside on a grotty footpath in Belfast Docks. Thinking back, it must have set a few military hearts beating a little faster to see groups of young men in virtual camouflage carrying tripods looking like armourlites.

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