Thursday 28 August 2008

Great British Eccentrics

Reading Tom McKinney's recent post I met this bloke the other day... prompted me to reminisce about some of the nutters we used to enjoy observing on Scilly every October. I wish I had photos of these people to illustrate them, but I haven't, and it would be unfair to identify them anyway. You may recognise some of these characters, or even have had different names for them. Or you may be a normal person who just gets on quietly with their birding and doesn't feel the need to deflect attention away from their own inadequacies by mocking the afflicted...

The Oven-ready Wanker. So named (by Stephen Dean) as he had several Pheasant tail feathers sticking out of his hat, which was a deerstalker type thing, so pretty silly to start with.

Sid the Sexless. The daughter (we think) of the Oven-ready Wanker. Actually this is already getting a bit dodgy, as I think she may have had some sort of syndrome. Perhaps I'd better stop now before I get more complaints. No, fuck it I'll carry on.

Running Man. Stephen Dean memorably described him as a 'scene leech'. This guy didn't appear to know anything at all about birds, or even own a pair of binoculars, but apparently went to Scilly every year simply to enjoy being part of the scene. He always wore a camouflage jacket and trousers, and used to run everywhere, usually carrying a shopping bag.

Crawford Crayon. Crawford is (now) quite a well-known birder, who lives in Suffolk, but in the early 90s he was the original 'Creeb' ('place names explained': a jumped up little twat who follows L.G.R. Sole around on Scilly in the vain hope of gaining some cred). The name came from his striking similarity to a one-off character in Viz.

Ronnie Corbett. Oh dear - another one who probably had a syndrome. Probably best not to say too much more about him, except that Rob, Richard and I once saw him on Shetland, appearing out of the mist coming down the road from Sumburgh Head. When we realised who it was ("is that... it can't be... fuck, it is!!!), we collapsed in helpless laughter as he went past. He must have thought we were strange.

The Man from Del Monte. No idea why we called him that. Perhaps he said yes a lot.

The Walking Cock originally had bright purple hair, hence the name. I think he was the same kid lister who later became 'Lap Dog' as he used to follow those two blonde girls around all the time with his tongue hanging out. Remember them? One of them was called Victoria, I think; their parents had a labrador. Not 'had' as in 'gave birth to', obviously. I presume they just acquired it in the normal way.

Mr Porridge. Again, I can't remember why he was called that, but I seem to recall he had a very lumpy face.

Desperate Deborah aka Handjob. Another quite well-known birder. We called her Desperate Deborah as she always seemed to be in a blind panic whenever anything turned up. Dave Hall christened her 'Handjob' from the distinctive 'wanking' motion she made with her right hand while walking at high speed to the next good bird.

I'm sure there were more than that, but that's all I can remember at the moment. Ah - I miss Scilly sometimes.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Happy Little Whimbrel Day!

As has been previously noted on this blog, I've never been much of a twitcher. Consequently, I don't have many real blockers on my list. By far the longest-standing one (and the only one I have from the 80s) is the Norfolk Little Whimbrel, and it was 23 years ago today that I saw it. Not a particularly noteworthy anniversary (like 25 years would be, or 50), but I can't think of anything else to write about at the moment.

As I remember, Jeff Higgott and I heard about it the day before from someone at Swithland Reservoir, who in turn had heard something about it on the radio, but couldn't remember whether they'd said Little Whimbrel or Eskimo Curlew! The former seemed more likely, and this was confirmed when Jeff rang Nancy's Cafe from the phone box in Swithland village. The birder who answered the phone at Nancy's said something like, "I think it's still here, but I've no idea where it is now, and we're all too pissed to care!"

Although this was a bit vague, we decided to go anyway and early the following morning we arrived at Cley, not having any idea exactly where the bird was. This was a common occurrence in the days before instant bird news, and you just had to use a bit of initiative. The obvious place to start was the Coastguards car park, where there would at least be some birders around to ask. There were, but not surprisingly at 4 o'clock in the morning they were all asleep in the 'beach hotel'. Unfortunately the one I chose to wake up turned out to be Belgian, but using a combination of broken English and sign language (my Flemish not being too good) we gathered that it had last been seen at Salthouse, so that was where we went.

Luckily the bird was still there, in the fields near the duck pond, although I can't say I can really remember it as such. My notebook tells me that we watched it for about an hour, but my mental image is of Dave Cottridge's photo, a copy of which I still have in an old album somewhere.

Two in three years in the 80s, and none since. Will there ever be another one?

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Know-nothing Twat

There's a certain kind of birder I really hate. It's not the 'noveau twitcher' or the young, slang-spouting upstart who's a much better rarity finder than me. No, the type who gets me really seething, hopping, spitting, swearing mad is the sort of supercilious, dismissive, know-all-but-know-nothing old git I had the misfortune to encounter at Rutland Water yesterday. As it happens I've met this particular moron on several previous occasions, which is probably why I snapped and had a go at him this time when he 'dissed' one of my records.

Anyway, to start at the beginning...

There were three Black Terns in the South Arm yesterday morning. Not an earth-shattering record by any means, but there haven't been many yet this autumn, and it was certainly worth putting the record in the sightings book at Egleton, which, being a helpful sort of person, I did. There were a couple of other birders at the counter, and I casually mentioned the Black Terns to the younger of the two.

I then went upstairs to the viewing gallery, and after a few minutes the two of them also came upstairs and sat down next to me. The older guy (who has an irritatingly posh, arrogant sort of voice) kicked off with: "Oh, there's a plover - not sure if it's Ringed or Little Ringed." This was followed by some fatuous remark about how Rutland Water doesn't get large numbers of Pintails any more (it does, but not in early August!).

Now, I should make it clear at this point that I'm not having a go at him simply because he can't identify birds, or because he doesn't know what he's talking about. Not being able to identify birds is not a crime, even when you've been birding for a very long time, as I know this bloke has. Some people just don't have the mental capacity to be good birders, and that's not their fault. What is a heinous, unforgiveable, cardinal sin in my book is knowing jack-shit-nothing about birds, but thinking that you're some sort of fucking expert (which he does) and (and this is the important bit) never believing anything that anyone else tells you they've seen!!

So, after a few more minutes, fuckwit leans over to his mate (knowing full well that I'm sitting next to him) and says in a loud 'stage whisper': "So, what do you think of those Black Terns then - wishful thinking?"

What I should have said at this point (whilst remaining completely calm) was something along the lines of: "No, they weren't 'wishful thinking', they were moulting adult Black Terns. Black Tern is a fairly common autumn migrant at Rutland Water, and a perfectly straightforward species to identify. Don't assume that everyone is as incompetent as you are, and if I knew as little about birds as you clearly do, I'd keep my mouth shut."

Unfortunately I'm completely unable to keep calm in these situations; I go straight into quivering with incoherent rage mode and lose it completely. I can't remember exactly what I said to him, but it ended with me calling him a silly old twat and storming out of the Visitor Centre.

If anyone recognises my description of this turd and has similar encounters with him, please don't let him get away with it. He needs to be told, repeatedly if necessary, that he can't just go round disbelieving other people's birds all the time, and that not everyone knows as little as he does. The problem with people like him is that it makes good birders less likely to speak to other people and tell them what they've seen. I may come across on this blog as an misanthropic cunt, but in reality I do try to be friendly and helpful to others, and to let them know what I've seen. But when you get a reaction like that it makes you wonder whether it's worth speaking to anyone unless you know them. If I ever see this cretin again, I will tell him NOTHING. Even if I've just found a first for Britain, he can fuck off as far as I'm concerned because he and his ilk don't deserve to be told what's about.

And now it's back to topless darts at Roehampton...

Thursday 7 August 2008


I looked at the Surfbirds photo pages today for the first time in a while, and was immediately reminded why I don't often look at them. On the confusingly named 'Britain & Ireland Scarce Birds Rarity Photos Page' were the following not-in-any-sense-scarce-or-rare birds: Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit (FOUR photos!), Garganey and Green Sandpiper. OK, Garganey's perhaps marginal, but the rest are quite definitely common birds. The remaining places on the first page were taken by two nice shots of a Balearic Shearwater, and a record shot of a Cory's. Fair enough - both are scarce birds in Britain.

Of course, not everyone clutters up the scarce birds page with piss-common stuff; most people use the Britain & Europe Common Birds Gallery, and there are some excellent photos on it. However, you have to wonder about the guy who put the comment "really, really, really, really good patch find" next to a shot of a Common Sandpiper. Was he just being very, very, very, very sarcastic, or does he desperately need to find a new patch?