Well, it’s been a while… I hope you’ve all been keeping out of trouble.
Sadly, I have to start this entry with a report of the passing away of my beloved Sat-Nav. For the past couple of years its presence in my life had meant that I hadn’t had to try to guide myself through car journeys by using a map. After directing me just past Gatwick, it died… Its jaunty Australian brogue silenced forever. Repeated thumping of the on/off switch had no effect. It rarely does in this sort of situation.
I didn’t have time to mourn, however, as I was busy coming up with brand new swear words to fling at the now deceased lump of techno-crap stuck to the windscreen in front of me, whilst trying to work out where I needed to turn at the next roundabout. How’s that for a novel multi-task? The shitty Sat-Naff had let me down and I didn’t really know where the hell I was going.
My plan had been to use a rare weekday off work to whisk myself away on a bird-fuelled day on the south coast. I was aiming for Widewater Lagoon (situated almost halfway between Brighton and Worthing), but, as I hadn’t looked at a map for about two years, I wasn’t sure how to get there without an Australian-voiced automaton helping me on my way with his relaxed ‘turn left here, mate’ and his ‘you bloody dingo, I said third exit’, all delivered in traditional Aussie quizzical fashion.
By the time I got my bearings, headed south and arrived at the seafront, Storm Henry had whipped himself into a right frenzy. The usually placid waters of the Lagoon were, to put it mildly, a bit choppy. Standing upright was a challenge.
There wasn’t much to see out on the water, although a solitary male Goosander and a pair of Red-Breasted Mergansers made the trip worthwhile.
I spoke to a very helpful chap who pointed me in the direction of Shoreham Fort, just up the road, where I would be able to see ‘three Purple Sandpipers and a Turnstone’. He also told me where to park to avoid paying for the privilege. I, however, figured that I would happily pay the 50p charge to support the local economy and, at a potential of 12.5p per bird, was a bit of a bargain.
After a period of about half an hour trying to not get blown into sea, I managed to spot three Purple Sandpipers and a Turnstone – Had I met the Nostradamus of the bird world at Widewater Lagoon? Had he also predicted I would avoid getting blown into the sea?
Seeing as I was nearby, I decided to pop to the WWT reserve at Arundel and had a wander around. The highlight of the visit (aside for the inevitable cake at the café) was an unusually confiding Water Rail hanging around with the pet birds in one of the enclosures.
Whilst enjoying a cup of tea and cake in the café, I thought I’d check my bird-stalking app – yes, in spite of promises to the contrary, I still haven’t cancelled my subscription – to see if there were any birds of note in the vicinity. As it happened, a juvenile Glaucous Gull had been reported less than eight miles away. I’d never seen one of those before, so, in the spirit of adventure, I inhaled the rest of my Belgian bun and ran to the car.
The chase was on…
I arrived at Goring-by-Sea and parked my car at the side of the road near where my grandma used to live, many years ago, when I was a child – just for old time’s sake. Things have changed quite significantly since my last visit… I now possessed the skills to park a car and, for that matter, owned a car, plus back in those days, she was still alive.
As Storm Henry continued to blow a hoolie, I headed for Goring Gap, as indirectly requested by my bird app. I wandered along the promenade and then through a copse of trees (getting ever closer to the blue ‘this is where you need to be’ dot on the map), expecting to find a small patch of grassland containing the gull I was looking for.
Unfortunately, as I exited the wooded area, I was greeted by the sight of acres of grassland and thousands of gulls. My task was made even more impossible by the sad fact that I didn’t really know what a Glaucous Gull looked like.
I had vague recollections of visiting Goring Gap when I was very much younger and, going against the notion that things seemed bigger when you were a child than in actual reality, the area of greenery was significantly more massive than I had remembered it. I had no recollections of a Glaucous Gull from my youth – mainly because I had only learned their existence about thirty minutes previously.
It was clear that I had forgotten how tricky this chasing after birds malarkey was.
I speedily formulated a plan to scour the area with my binoculars and wander in the direction of any gull that looked slightly out of the ordinary. If you were there with me and knew anything about gull identification, it is at this point that you would have taken me to one side and politely slapped me in the face for being stupid. As I should have remembered that gull identification is a bit of a minefield, I would have thanked you for your time and promptly waded into the Channel in the direction of Le Havre, never to be seen again. The world would quickly become a better place and you would not currently be reading this.
Obviously, you weren’t there to advise me of the ineptitude of idea, so I dashed around the Gap like a gull in a china shop after unusual-looking birds.
On no less than three occasions, I thought I’d found the gull I was looking for. Each time I was much mistaken.
It was at this point – in fading light – I decided to do the sensible thing and look up some Glaucous Gull pictures on my phone. My all-too-tardy internet search confirmed I had been excitedly trying to take photos of non-Glaucous Gulls in a hurricane, so I admitted defeat and headed back to the car.
I decided to drive home via the road that bisects the Gap and the beach and noticed a gathering of gulls around a flooded area in the field. I pulled over and, remarkably, in the centre of the gaggle was the Glaucous Gull. It was significantly larger and looked very different than all the Black-Headed Gulls around it. I was able to watch it for a couple of minutes before all the birds took to the sky and disappeared.
The finding of the Gull I was searching for just as it was getting dark was the stuff of dreams. It was the bird-watching equivalent of David Platt’s last-kick-of-the-game goal for England against Belgium in the 1990 football World Cup OR the equal of James Bond managing to detach himself from a conveyor belt pulling his delicate areas towards a circular saw blade just as it had started cutting into the crotch of his exquisitely-tailored suit trousers…
Or maybe not.