Monday, 8 August 2011

Alco-Seawatchers Anonymous

Could you drink heavily from 1pm in the afternoon all the way through to 3am the next day, have about an hours sleep, and then go sea-watching? Personally (if I hadn't died at some point during the night), even assuming that someone was propping me up, and that staring at choppy waves didn't finish me off, I doubt very much if I would be able to identify a single bird.

Barking, 5am. A rather chipper Bradders and I are looking forward to a day birding in Kent, starting at Dungeness for a seawatch. We have both exercised caution and restraint in our booze intake the previous evening. The car is fragrant and clean-smelling. A light comes on in a nearby hallway, and a dark shape shuffles out. It staggers toward the car, fumbles with the boot momentarily, and then opens the door and essentially falls into the car. It is bright red, hairy, and stinks of raw alcohol. It is Hawky, and he has had, by his own admission, "a big night".

We get going, the car now smelling like a vat of gin. An alcoholic fug permeates the interior. I am trying not to breathe, but I feel myself getting tipsy. Bradders is concerned about getting breathalyzed, and slows down. Gradually we learn that a few beers were had indoors, and when that supply ran out, a pub was sought. The pub sounds like heavy going, and was soon replaced by a curry house. The word "Cobra" is mentioned. Curry intake concluded, a new pub was found, and when that closed, more booze was procured and drinking recommenced at home. As the pick-up time approached, he sensibly stopped drinking, and had a short kip so as to be refreshed and ready for an early seawatch. Sixty minutes later we arrived outside, and remarkably he is awake and ready with all his stuff. His scope looks a little suspect, a stay-on case with a bottle of Smirnoff inside, but we let it pass.

At Dungeness, Hawky confesses to not feeling totally wonderful, but says he will give it a go. We pull up, and I take a grateful breath of cold, clear air. Amazed he can even speak, let alone move, we head for the beach. It is clearly a struggle getting up the shingle bank, but he makes it. We set up, and before I have even focussed on the area of sea below the horizon he is calling birds. I'm not sure how he does it, but do it he does. Perhaps he has four livers?

It is a strong westerly, and there are gazillions of Terns going past, and every now and again a Skua, including an adult pale-phase Pomarine. No spoons, I thought it was an Arctic at first before the boys put me right. I've seen more Cattle Egrets than I have Poms, so a real treat. Then the Jalfrezi from last night begins to make itself known. Strong southerlies... Bradders and I, sensing what was to come, had carefully made sure to sit upwind. The juvenile Glaucous Gull, present for weeks near the fishing boats, was not so lucky, and it was never seen again. After one particularly resplendent release, the Dunge warden threatens to throw us out of the seawatching hide, and we realise that our time is up. Still, good while it lasted.

Outside, Hawky is looking decidedly worse for wear. We have a quick scout around for the Glauc, but it has been vapourised; we cannot even find any feathers. Nevermind, we say, the cafe will be open in about half an hour. A couple of ruuny fried eggs and a deep-fried sausage will sort you right out. A delicate shade of green momentarily overcomes the bright red. He is apparently not hungry. Knowing that there is no hangover a fried breakfast cannot cure, I place myself in the queue ahead of him and order two. Hawky disappears, in the American parlance, for a rest. I've almost finished my breakfast by the time he reappears. Sitting down in front of the huge plate, I detect a quick shudder, but he manfully tucks in, and then proceeds to splodge my bins strap in the baked beans. Nice. Amazingly he finishes nearly all of it without further incident, and whilst I wouldn't say he looked any better particularly, things could have been a lot worse.

We had a quick look for some rare Dragonfly or other near the Long Pits, in reality an excuse for Hawky to sweat a bit more booze out before he got back in the car, as it was blowing a gale and to have found one would have been nothing short of miraculous. Other insects were pretty good though, with a Stag Beetle larvae, a Buff-tip Caterpiller, and best of all a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Paul breathed on it before we could get photos though, and we watched it cartwheel away helplessly. And that, basically, was our day. Although we carried on birding elsewhere, we didn't get much in the strong winds, and dipped everything we went for. Still, I got a couple of year-ticks, including Stonechat, which is a good measure of quite how little I've seen this year. Maybe I should drink more?

I've seen both Dark-eyed Junco AND Icterine Warbler in this Dunge garden.

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