Saturday 28 February 2015

Down memory lane

Dungeness - cold, cloudy, drizzle, sw 4 - 0845hrs - With the wind in a favourable direction we headed for the fishing boats this morning, and although we were late to the party, still managed to see a few more seabirds than of late. During a one hour watch from the fishing boats a steady westward passage of Black-headed and Common Gulls provided the bulk numbers along with the ubiquitous Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes on the water. Further out a trickle of Gannets and auks came and went while at least 50 Red-throated Divers and 100 Brents passed east. Single figures of Fulmar, Common Scoter and Merganser were also noted. However, larger numbers of the aforementioned moved through before we arrived, plus a coasting 1st winter Glaucous Gull that also headed up-Channel (per PB).
Lade - Checked out the beach from the Tavern as best we could in the buffeting wind, just in case the Glauc had diverted into the bay, but it was not to be. On the pits most of the wildfowl were sheltering from the wind in and around the willow swamp which did include at least one redhead Smew.   

Birding garb and kit from yesteryear

With the weather deteriorating this afternoon I decided to set about a few unfinished tasks around the cottage, but as per usual got distracted. Rummaging through some old bird logs I came across a crumpled black and white photograph of myself and some birding cronies taken in our teenage years around 1969/70 on the East Bank at Cley. Boy oh boy were we a good looking bunch of babe magnets with our long and foppish hair and skinny frames!
At first glance it didn't appear much had changed in clothing and kit down the years, but drilling down, of course much had. Neutral coloured garb was still the order of the day but our coats were a mixture of ex army flak jackets, modish parkas (complete with faux fur around the hooded rim), or old naval duffle coats that trebled in weight when wet. I don't think Gore-tex had been invented back then, and if it had it would`ve been way too expensive for me, as all my clobber came from an army and navy surplus stall on Watford market where ten bob was the maximum price of any item.
The head gear seemed to be of the standard bobble hat, but with the bobble intact. Footwear was an assortment of bumper boots or Doc Martins and I remember my old mate Mutley Clarke being very attached to a pair of heavily stained desert boots. Jeans (Levis or Wranglers) were, naturally, flared and I was a big fan of the tank-top sweater.
The doyen of the Cley birding scene back then was Richard Richardson (RAR) who used to turn up on his Norton (sometimes with his Norfolk terrier sitting atop the petrol tank!) wearing leather jacket and jeans topped off with a black beret. He`d then saunter up the East Bank, sit down by the sluice overlooking Arnold`s marsh, light up a Capstan full strength and hold court to us young `uns who used to hang on his every word.
Which brings me on to birding kit. My bins were a crappy old pair of 10x50 Charles Frank Nipole which I bought for £9 19s 11d with my paper round money, but I thought they were brilliant. Mutley had a pair of Audubon Swifts, Kevin Downer an old pair of Barr and Strouds, while RAR sported a pair of Ross bins. Hardly anyone had a camera back then and telescopes were of the naval brass draw tube type which you propped across a leg when laying down on a seawatch, or on a mates shoulder when standing up.
It goes without saying that there were no electronic gadgets or mobiles back then, but we all carried notebooks for jotting down sightings and sketching `that rarity`. The other item of kit I favoured was a duffle bag, ideal for stowing food, fags and drink.
So, there we go, simpler times they were maybe, and if there are any teenager birders out there reading this nonsense, make the most of it, cos those halcyon days don't last for long.


  1. Great post Paul - my chosen gear was an East German army surplus jacket, flared jeans, Greenflash plimsolls, 10x50 Jenoptems and a Nickel Supra scope. I thought I was the dog's bollocks...

  2. Great memories Paul but disappointed that we never got to see the photo of you young glamour boys. My first binoculars back in the 1960's were a cheap pair of RSPB ones and I carried the Observers book of Birds for ID purposes. We worked hard at birdwatching in those days but nowadays you can become an expert overnight whith good quality scopes, bino's, field guides, pagers, dictaphones, goretex clothing, modern cars to get you there, warm hides to sit in, etc.etc.
    Nowadays I still keep it as simple as possible and still walk round with mostly a pair of bino's, the two dogs and a notebook and pen.

  3. Thanks gents. Steve, that Nickel Supra scope was a big deal back then as I recall and way ahead of its time, and as for those Greenflash pumps, well, you old trendy, you. Derek, I tried scanning in that pic but the results were too poor to post. Like you though I still carry a notebook and pencil, but thankfully the optical quality of bins has massively improved which is a real boon to maturing eye sight.