Saturday, June 05, 2010

ZEN and the art of birding: part 1

Aberrant a-bə-rənt, adjective. Deviating from the usual or natural type: atypical.

Well that would certainly fit,” mused Dave. He munched his ham and cheese sandwich as he sat among the Marram grass on top of the dunes . That splash of blue on the breast of the Robin he’d seen earlier by the driftwood fence would definitely make it fall into the category of ‘aberrant’. He scribbled in his notebook, “Aberrant Robin”. Dave was quite pleased. He had actually made a proper observation. He did wonder why though - why blue? “I mean, where would such blue come from?” he thought. He could understand how a Robin could have red bits in odd places, after all, red was part of its natural palette so to speak... but blue? Very odd. Maybe it was a cross? What could a Robin mate with... other than with another Robin though? Did they ever mate with Blue Tits?! He tried to resist the urge... Doh! RobTit. BloBin. He was hopeless. What about Swallow? House Martin? Kingfisher? Surely not! Didn’t Swallows and House Martins mate on the wing anyway? Or was that Swifts? And as for Kingfisher...Dave couldn’t really picture it somehow. Besides IF some perverted Robin DID put down his Banjo and have a dalliance with one of his blue cousins, the blue would be on its head, or back, and not its breast... wouldn’t it? All very puzzling.

Dave poured a coffee from his new orange flask. He’d broken the last one. Well, the last three actually. He was always driving off with them on the roof of the car much to his wife’s annoyance. The coffee wasn’t very hot and had that ‘flasky’ taste. “Kono kohi wa atsukunai desu, he muttered to himself. Mr Yamaguchi would have been proud..What’s ‘flasky' in Japanese he wondered??? Flasky wa, nihongo de nan desu ka? Dave smiled and slurped his coffee. His thoughts strayed momentarily (and almost blistfully) to noodles. It’s polite in Japan to slurp one’s noodles and Dave made a point of doing just that whenever he ate them; Udon preferably, but sometimes Soba just had to do. Meh!

Could have been a trick of the light maybe... the blue? He was back to thinking about the Robin. The sun was certainly very bright and he’d come across that heat-haze effect before. Come to think of it, the patch of blue on the bird’s breast did seem almost iridescent. It HAD to be a trick of the light. A fly landed in his cup. Dave picked it out and blew on it to dry it off. Hmmmmm. It suddenly dawned on him. The blue may not have been part of the bird’s natural plumage at all! One of the fly’s legs had come off and was now floating in his coffee. Dave flicked the still soggy owner off his finger and removed the offending limb from his cup - bloody sandflies! Some sort of dye or paint perhaps? He was like a dog with a bone when he had something on his mind. A disappointed dog at this point too as his special, 'aberrant' Robin was looking more and more like a rather ordinary if slightly accident prone one. Who the hell would leave blue paint on a beach dammit?! Meh!

A seagull hovered briefly offshore before plunging into the shallows to emerge with a fish. Dave took out his notebook again and began to write. “Seagull...” correction (he rubbed out seagull)... “Black-headed Gull. Fishing”. It looked almost white in the bright sunlight. “Almost in summer plumage”, he continued – talking out loud to himself in his ‘Griff Rhys Jones’ birding voice as he wrote. “Black hasn’t completely covered its head... just the top”. He used to like narrating his thoughts in those days, before Mr Yamaguchi had shown him ‘The Way’. He’d even come up with a bit of a 'catch phrase' as a result. “Hello there... now what are you then?” Or maybe he'd picked it up from somewhere. He'd forgotten. It came in handy though for distant seabirds, skulking little brown birds and small unidentified waders partially hidden in larger flocks of other waders. No need for it now though, Black-headed Gulls weren’t exactly difficult to identify, although Dave wasn’t sure he’d heard that insistent ‘Kirriik’ call before...

Dave wiped the lenses of his binoculars with the bottom of his ‘Birders Do It In Little Stints’ T-shirt. A ‘comedy’ t-shirt if ever there was one, Dave had thought when he’s come up with the idea. Red letters on plain white cotton, it had only cost him a few quid at that printing place in town. He heard distant voices and looked back along the beach. Four people were winding their way along the path by the driftwood fence. He watched them briefly through his binoculars. Note to self, he thought – must get these checked! He could get the left eye in focus or the right eye, but not both. They were new, so probably covered under the warranty. Despite the ever-present blurriness in one eyepiece however, he could nonetheless see that the motley crew who were clomping through the sand were bird watchers too. Quite serious ones from the look of it as they were all carrying tripods, with spotting scopes attached. One was ahead of the rest. He stopped by the driftwood fence and then waved to the others. They’d found his Robin. The others came trotting up to him and set up their tripods. "Why don’t they just use their binoculars - damned elitists?" Dave scowled. Pah! Ah well, would serve them right if they got blue paint on the damn things! Two swifts screeched overhead. Dave swilled the last dregs of coffee around in the metal cup that doubled as the lid to his shiney new flask, tipped the watery sludge out onto the sand and watched it soak away. Time to go...

Pint of Fosters please.” The sun had really given him a thirst. He picked up a menu from the bar and pursed his lips as he scanned down the small laminated bill of fare. “Scampi. I’ll have Scampi”, he thought. Dave always had Scampi! Scampi, and a pint of Fosters. It was part of his... ‘tradition’; a spot of bird watching on a Sunday morning, a beer and some shrimp. Dave ordered his food, picked up his pint and took a seat at one of the small tables near the window. He took the yellow notebook from his rucksack and flicked through the last few pages. 25th May 2000. Hot and Sunny. In search of... anything new. He’d been visiting some new sites today and always started his bird watching notes with the date, the weather and ‘In search of...’ - another one of his ‘traditions’.

The beach where he’d encountered the gulls fishing earlier was the last of three sites he‘d visited that morning. The first had been a small patch of coastal marsh, with muddy pools where he’d seen a few Dunlin, a dark looking Redshank and six Ringed Plover. Dave had noted how five of these had been feeding together – running, stopping and pecking in typical plover fashion, whilst the sixth had been on its own. It was, he’d noted, slightly slimmer than the others and ‘looked quite yellowy’ around its eye. Perhaps it was a young bird? He made a note at the bottom of the page to look it up when he got home. Next he’d gone to Martin Mere, a local Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust reserve famous for its wintering wildfowl – particularly swans. He’d joined the WWT entirely to gain access to this haven and had been please today to have seen a Marsh Harrier there... even if it was rather distant and looked to him like a Buzzard. Thankfully the chap in the hide with him knew his stuff. Trouble was, Dave wasn’t really any the wiser about WHY it was a juvenile Marsh Harrier and not an adult Buzzard and he really couldn’t claim to have seen any of the features that the man had alluded to in any case – which didn’t help. Dave sipped his beer and looked down at his new binoculars. He was beginning to wonder if the £30 he’d spent on them really was money well spent. Mind you, they should be OK, he thought. They seemed big enough (if a little heavy) and his dad had used a similar pair at Aintree for years with no complaints.

Thanks”. Dave’s scampi had arrived. He peeled the corners off the three little plastic pot of tartare sauce and poured their contents onto his plate. “Alright?” Dave looked up. Three men had plonked their pints down on the table next to his. The tallest one smiled and nodded. “That you sat out on the point earlier?, he asked. “Yes”, Dave replied. The man had noticed Dave’s binoculars. “He, he!!!” The fourth member of the group (‘a Big Bugger’ Dave later recorded in his diary) had joined his friends. “Nice bird Frankie lad!” he bellowed amiably as he squeezed between the two tables, rocking Dave’s glass, “Sorry mate”. The big man planted himself on the bench with his back to the window. “Svecica-ca-ca”, he roared. His mates laughed. Dave smiled. In his head a little thought bubble had appeared with a bikini-clad Ulrika Jonsson in it. The four clinked glasses. The smallest bloke, sitting opposite Dave, caught his eye. “You get the Bluethroat mate?” Dave looked blank. “Along the path? You must have walked right by it”, he added helpfully. Dave stuffed a forkful of scampi into his mouth and nodded by way of affirmation. Not an aberrant Robin then... oops! Dave surreptitiously scribbled spekkycar on the corner of his napkin and slipped it into his pocket. “You see much else?” he asked the man. “Nah, a few terns. Spotshank and LRP down the road at that little pool. Very quiet. We’re up for the shrike. You had it today?” the small man replied dipping a chunky chip in some brown sauce.

No, mate”, Dave lied, “just killing time whilst the missus visits her sister”. He knew what was coming next. He’d not even heard about A shrike, let alone THE shrike so the last thing he needed was to be grilled about it. Dave knew there were two species of shrike, Red-backed and Great Grey-backed, but he had no idea which sort the four were after and he didn’t want to make a total tit of himself by engaging in a conversation that was clearly way above his head. Least said soonest mended...he thought...

1 comment:

  1. luv to jizz all over ulrika's funbags