Friday, 30 December 2011

Adrian Chapman - a pioneering birder in the UAE

I met Adrian in May 1992. I remember the day well. I was up before dawn, birding the fields and hedgerows in the Spurn Point, Kilnsea area. The wind was in the east and it had rained overnight. These were classic conditions for finding scarce & rare migrant birds along the east coast. It was one of those days, when you just knew it was going to be good & so it proved. A succession of sought after rare birds, fell into my notebook, as the morning progressed.  

As I moved northwards, the birding got better, so I continued, past Kilnsea, to Easington village. Just as I reached the caravan park, the heavens opened once more & a terrific rain storm was upon me. Absolutely drenched, I saw the pub in the village had just opened & I thought I could dry out there, have a drink, a bite to eat & wait out the storm.

There were only two people in the bar, the barman & the guy he was talking to, who already had a pint in front of him. They both turned to me & as I swung my rucksack to the floor, rainwater slightly sprinkled the two men. My smile didn’t seem to work, the guy on the bar stool uttered something, which was not complimentary at all! I ordered my beer & took off my outercoat, leaving my binoculars in plain view, around my neck.

The guy on the bar stool, grumbled “I suppose you call yourself a birder, don’t you?” I replied that, yes, I was a keen birder, and told him my name was Steve. I offered my hand, it was ignored. He looked at me carefully before uttering “ What have you seen then?” I told him. He started to look at me with interest & a certain amount of disbelief. He then started to bark out questions, on where I had seen a certain species & how I identified a certain bird. I must have somehow passed this unofficial test, because as the minutes went by, his creased up face, took on a more friendly tone. As he drained his pint, he said ‘what are you drinking youth?” Now in 1992, I was far from being a youth, infact, I was 37 years old, but I told him my order & shortly, my new pint was placed in front of me. When ever I was with him, in the following years, he always called me youth, rarely if ever, using my given name.

As I sipped my new pint, I asked him his name. “Chapman” he barked. “Adrian Chapman”. My recently lubricated brain cells began to stir, I had heard that name before, but many years ago in the back of beyond, a flooded colliery wasteland; the nearby village, was called Fairburn. I was eleven years old & following closely, infact, sometimes too closely, upon the heels of a certain Reg Rhodes. If ever there was a son of a bitch, Reg was it. He was a tough, hardened miner, a chain smoker, one who would punch you, as soon as look at you. For some reason Reg had taken a liking to me, probably because I carried his large, & very heavy brass telescope. Reg had one saving grace, he was a bloody good birder. I was learning a lot under his tutilage & I think he quite liked me, although he never showed it. After a couple of particuarly nasty insults, I remember thinking to myself, when I am sixteen, I am going to punch this old boys lights out!

As we turned the corner and surveyed a large, newly formed lake, there were three men in front of us. Two of them were two of the biggest ruffians I had seen, they seemed to be arguing, but later on, I found out that they always talked like that to each other! Their names were Charlie Wynn and Adrian Chapman. The third man was a complete contrast to the other two. He was reserved and cultured and he was the only person who bothered to speak to me. His name was Bob Dickens. The trio of ruffians, Reg, Charlie & Adrian continued their animated conversation, oblivious to my presence. Then something quite strange happened, Bob Dickens spoke. To my complete surprise, the trio who looked as if they had just finished nicking lead off the roofs of nearby houses, stopped talking & listened. Bob, looked a toff, he wasn’t the kind of guy, who I thought would associate with these three guys! Many years later, I found out that this genteel man was in fact, the local schoolmaster and one of his old pupils, Adrian, was actually stood in front of him. Bob had had a profound influence on boy Adrian. He detected a quality in him, that wasn’t easily seen. Importantly, he instilled discipline into him and encouraged him in birds & natural history & Adrians other talent, that of making things. Adrian could do stuff, with wood, metal, infact, anything that came to hand. He told me later that he struggled at school, but if it could be tinkered with, or made, Adrian could probably do it. Years later, I found out that Adrian designed and put in place, the bird information boards for the Fairburn Ings newly declared reserve. Over the years I saw a lot of those boards on my regular visits. Reg died of lung cancer. I never did get to punch him. I often saw Charlie, but I never saw Adrian or Bob, at Fairburn again. I found out later Adrian was at sea, something I found to be remarkably attractive at my young age. All those seabirds to see! How I envied his travels!

I finished my pint before Adrian did. Without asking him, I ordered him a drink. The two pints appeared on the bar. I looked outside, it had stopped raining. I made a mental note to finish this one quickly & get back to birding, there were rarities to be found out there! I looked at him and asked him where he lived. He said “Hull” I told him I lived in Hull & asked him where. It turned out he lived outside Hull, at a very middle class place, a village on the banks of the River Humber, called Welton. As I looked at him, he didn’t seem the type to live in the very posh Welton. I was drinking my pint quickly, I was going to leave.
Two beers appeared on the bar. I settled back in to my seat. I told him I saw a great rarity at Welton in the mid 70’s, an American, White rumped Sandpiper on the foreshore. He stared at me closely. He growled “your Steve bloody James, aren’t you?” I replied in the affirmative. He scowled & said “seen you before, at Fairburn”. My mind peeled back the years, to the three guys, who you certainly wouldn’t want to pick a fight with, on the edge of Fairburn Ings. He hadn’t changed that much over the last twenty odd years. He had a lined, lived in face, which changed in front of my eyes, as a slight smile escaped from his lips.

Somewhow, he had remembered, that small boy, loaded down with that cannon of a brass telescope on that cold, November morning, that he never spoke to. He did know my name, he had probably heard it many times, as I ran the rare bird network for North East England & I was well known at the time, both in Hull and beyond.
Two more beers appeared on the bar. We started to talk. He told me about Abu Dhabi, where he lived. He told me about the birds to be found there, exotic sounding names being spat out at regular intervals. Hypocolius, Crab Plover and Sooty Falcon. My mind went back to a small boy, rustling the pages of a very dog eared copy of Birds of Europe & the Middle East. Since childhood, those were the birds I most wanted to see. I had done a lot of travelling over the years, but so far, those three species had alluded me. I was hooked. I paid close attention to the man on the bar stool, who was doing all the talking.
Two more beers appeared on the bar. Thoughts of venturing outside started to recede, I sat listening to this grumpy guy. He talked of four wheel drive trips into the desert & mountains. He talked of the birds & the photography he was doing. He talked about his companions, but never mentioned their names. Little did I know at the time, that one of them, Jenny, I had known since being a boy. He talked of the night sky & of the beers in the coolbox! As he recounted tales, he started to smile a bit more. Two more beers appeared on the bar.

Adrian also talked about the sea & the birds he had seen in the various oceans. I could now add to the conversation. He seemed impressed that I knew some of his old ports of call, & even more importantly, the birds to be found there. Over the last two decades I had put in a lot of mileage, birding all around the globe. He told me he was only here for a visit & was shortly to return to Abu Dhabi. He said it might be a good place for me to go to. We parted, somewhat unsteady, on our feet. We had touched on a lot of things over the past few hours. I never thought I would see him again.

Something of our conversation must have stuck in my mind. I looked up Abu Dhabi on the map. I had birded the Middle East before, but not this part. I checked on the list of possible new birds for me. It was over 40. I started looking for jobs!

I arrived in Abu Dhabi, alone on 20th August 1992. It was hot, bloody hot! It seemed like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air. It was hard to breathe. Abu Dhabi itself was a surprise. So modern! Not a bit like I expected. I walked around the Cultural Foundation doing all the normal, touristy things. There was a small notice on a board. It proclaimed that there will be a meeting of the Emirates Natural History Group on the first Monday in September, here at the Cultural Foundation. I made a mental note to turn up. I hadn’t anything better to do. Carol & the family were still in England, making arangements to join me later, in September.

I arrived slightly before 8 pm. The venue was huge and very impressive. There were a lot of people around, maybe sixty, or so. Suddenly, a guy with blonde hair took to the stage & started speaking, in very cultured, plummy tones. I didn’t know it at the time, but his name was Peter Hellyer. He was quite pompous, & the whole thing was very formal. I made a mental note to slip out when he stopped talking & head for the nearest bar. As he went on a bit, my eyes started to wonder, across the room. I saw a lady with short blonde hair seated, listening intently. She must have felt my eyes upon her, because she turned her head very slightly & directly looked at me. There was something in those eyes that was familiar, very familiar! Then she smiled at me & I knew it was Jenny Hollingworth. A face I hadn’t seen, for seventeen years!

As the minutes rolled by, someone sneaked in & sat next to Jenny, he said something to her & she laughed! It was Adrian. She then turned to a man on her other side. He was a long limbed, thin man, draped slovenly across the chair. He seemed to be sleeping, only when he was addressed directly, did any signs of life become apparent. I learnt later, his name was Rob Quested. Next to him was a very good looking blonde girl, who looked good enough to eat! She was Lynda Graham.
Finally, the speaker stopped. People started to mill about & chat. I made straight for Jenny, who was next to Adrian. It was difficult who was the more surprised to see me, Adrian or Jenny! We all started talking at once, Adrian slowly working out that Jenny & I knew each other. The noise level must have increased, because a large guy, who I hadn’t noticed before, suggested we all go to the pub. I later learnt his name was Dave Robinson. It soon became apparent that this little circle of friends, were a club within a club & we quickly exited, to a dark & dingy bar, which was strangely, underground!

They were all introduced to me, first of all by Jenny, then Adrian added his bit. The blonde  guy, came & joined us, they made way for him. After the first pint, I thought I had known them all my life. Topics of conversation were varied, but centred on travelling, camping, birding, general natural history and drinking. I had died and gone to heaven! Half way through the evening, there was a sad moment, when we all drank a toast to guy, who had recently died. His name was Bish Brown. All of them felt his loss. Time flew by & before you knew it, it was the early hours. Adrian had been holding court, as the pints flew down. This was a different man, from the one on the bar stool in Easington. He said he was only here for a few days, as he was moving to Dubai because of his work. We made plans for a weekend excursion to Dabbiya, so I could see Crab Plover.

The foray was everything one could have hoped for. Great birding, great conversation and Lynda Graham in a bathing suit! Wine & beer flowed, I couldn’t remember the last time I had enjoyed myself more. They were a funny group, this bunch. Very different individuals, held together by a passion for the natural world & a desire to explore it. I quickly realised that this was the team that Adrian had told me about, back in May. He was a happy & I thought a lucky man, to have such companions. His many years here in the UAE were some of the happiest of his life. In those days, there was an excitement about the place, exotic sounding names, in exotic locations. Places that Dave & Adrian (together with Jenny & Lynda) had all been to many times. I heard their stories & visualised their birds. When Adrian moved to Dubai, I took his place in the group. They were halycon days.

I saw Adrian less & less. He moved from Dubai & added both Gdansk & Hong Kong to his places of residence. Periodically, he returned. We always went to the ENHG meetings, often quietly slipping out at the interval & heading for the bar. The blonde guy, who was front of house,  always followed us later. They were great nights, only cutailed by the bar manager asking us all to leave.

Adrian, finally retired, prompted by a health problem. He had met Edith, who became his wife & they set about building a house on Palawan together. Periodically, he returned to the UAE. A quick phone call was made & we would meet in a local hostelry. It always seemed like he had never been away. He kept talking about his life on Palawan & the birds there. He kept asking us to go out & finally, Rob & I made the trip in January 2008.

Adrian had had health problems, but he looked fit & well, infact, better than I had seen him for a while. He was keen to show us his island & together with his friend Roger, we did just that, having a fine old time in the process. But then, out of nowhere, something happened. We were all attacked by hornets on a jungle trail. Rob, being the only one to get away relatively unscathed. Adrian was badly stung, receiving sixty two hits. He was hurt hard  & upon returning home, he took to his bed, with terrible pains, particularly in his head. He was never to go birding again.

Looking back on my time with Adrian, I feel privileged to have known him. Apart from our love of birds, we had certain things in common. For one, our rough upbringing in South Yorkshire. We both learned to use our fists to settle any disputes at an early age. Another, was our love of travel. I think we both knew there was a whole world out there, waiting just for us. Adrian was a larger than life character, South Yorkshire just wasn’t big enough for him. Nobody gave Adrian anything in his life. From modest beginnings, he rose through the ranks, to a  high position in Lloyds shipping. He got there by dogged determination. Was there a more stubborn man born than Adrian? He applied himself & he was successful. He also loved life, his family & friends. He had fantastic experiences throughout his life. With Adrian, what you saw, wasn’t exactly what you got. He appeared tacturn, grumpy and argumentative. But once you had proved yourself, he was fiercely loyal and with a heart of gold. He had developed this tough outer exterior, but as you got to know the man, these peeled away & all you saw was a small boy, with a wonder for the natural world. He was a great friend & will be sadly missed.

The Youth.

This post originally appeared on the UAE Birding website.

The Youth, Adrian & Rob
Adrian & Rob birding.
The Palawan birdmobile!

Adrian outside his house on Palawan.

Adrian & Edith's house on Palawan
A Yorkshireman till the end!
Adrian & Rob, deciding what to do next!

And this is it! The star bird on Palawan!
Palawan Peacock-Pheasant.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

From the British Press - Just to make you smile!

Forwarded to me by Mr Press himself, my good friend Peter Hellyer! They are very UK-centric, but I defy you not to smile!


Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a
spokesman for North West Gas said, 'We agree it was rather high for the time
of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up
during the explosion that destroyed his house.'
(The Daily Telegraph)

Police reveal that a woman arrested for shoplifting had a whole salami in
her underwear. When asked why, she said it was because she was missing her
Italian boyfriend!!!!!!
(The Manchester Evening News)

Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because
they cannot issue a description. It's a Special Branch vehicle and they
don't want the public to know what it looks like!
(The Guardian)

A young girl, who was blown out to sea, on a set of inflatable teeth, was
rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. A coast guard spokesman
commented, 'This sort of thing is all too common'.
(The Times)

At the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a coast guard and asked
him to estimate the wind speed. He replied he was sorry, but he didn't have
a gauge. However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land Rover
off the cliff!
(Aberdeen Evening Express)

Mrs. Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue , Boscombe, delighted the audience with
her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each week to do
her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she recalled -
'He'd always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in
the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out Heil Hitler.''
(Bournemouth Evening Echo)


A list of actual announcements that London Tube train drivers have made to
their passengers...

1) 'Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologize for the delay to your service. I
know you're all dying to get home, unless, of course, you happen to be
married to my ex-wife, in which case you'll want to cross over to the
Westbound and go in the opposite direction.'

2) 'Your delay this evening is caused by the line controller suffering from
E & B syndrome: not knowing his elbow from his backside. I'll let you know
any further information as soon as I'm given any.'

3) 'Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The good news is that
last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. The bad
news is that there is a points failure somewhere between Mile End and East
Ham, which means we probably won't reach our destination.'

4) 'Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay, but there is a
security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore stuck here for the
foreseeable future, so let's take our minds off it and pass some time
together. All together now.... 'Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.....'.'

5) 'We are now travelling through Baker Street ... As you can see, Baker
Street is closed. It would have been nice if they had actually told me, so I
could tell you earlier, but no, they don't think about things like that'.

6) 'Beggars are operating on this train. Please do NOT encourage these
professional beggars. If you have any spare change, please give it to a
registered charity. Failing that, give it to me.'

7) During an extremely hot rush hour on the Central Line, the driver
announced in a West Indian drawl: 'Step right this way for the sauna, ladies
and gentleman... unfortunately, towels are not provided.'

8) 'Let the passengers off the train FIRST!' (Pause ) 'Oh go on then, stuff
yourselves in like sardines, see if I care - I'm going home....'

9) 'Please allow the doors to close. Try not to confuse this with 'Please
hold the doors open.'
The two are distinct and separate instructions.'

10) 'Please note that the beeping noise coming from the doors means that the
doors are about to close. It does not mean throw yourself or your bags into
the doors.'

11) 'We can't move off because some idiot has their hand stuck in the door.'

12) 'To the gentleman wearing the long grey coat trying to get on the second
carriage -- what part of 'stand clear of the doors' don't you understand?'

13) 'Please move all baggage away from the doors.' (Pause..)
'Please move ALL belongings away from the doors.' (Pause...)
'This is a personal message to the man in the brown suit wearing glasses at the rear of the train:
 Put the pie down, Four-eyes, and move your bloody golf clubs away from the door
before I come down there and shove them up your arse sideways!'

14) 'May I remind all passengers that there is strictly no smoking allowed
on any part of the Underground. However, if you are smoking a joint, it's
only fair that you pass it round the rest of the carriage.'

Thanks Peter!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Spiny-tailed Lizard or Dhab in Arabia.

Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastix microlepis)

This species is widely distributed across both the UAE and Arabia. It prefers natural desert, interspersed with gravel plains. It needs this harder substrate, in order to dig its large burrows, (they would collapse in pure, soft sand).

A typical pose of a Spiny-tailed Lizard.

They can grow up to 65cms and normally live in loose colonies. These colonies may extend over a wide area, depending upon the availability of food. They feed on natural desert vegetation. In fact, this is the sole lizard species, which is wholly vegetarian in Arabia.

The largest member of its genus, the Spiny-tailed Lizard, is easily recognised by the relatively short and heavily spined tail that gives the species its common name. The body is large and rather flat, with a large head and strong limbs and, like other members of the Agamidae, it is capable of changing colour with body temperature  turning from black, to white, or yellow, as the lizard warms up 

The Spiny-tailed Lizard is difficult to distinguish it from the closely related Uromastyx leptieni (Leptien’s Spiny-tailed Lizard). There is still some debate here in the UAE, if we have one, or maybe two species, in the country. Recent opinion seems to favour the later opinion.

The local name for this species is the dhab. (sometimes spelt dhub). It used to be widely eaten, as a good source of protein, by the local beduoin, but today in the UAE, it is protected by law.

In the UAE, the dhab,
 gets  full protection from the law!

In fairness to UAE nationals, I don't know of anyone who has eaten dhab, who is under 70 years of age! Modern UAE nationals, would turn up their noses in disgust! However, some believe that the dhab is an afrodisiac and in neighbouring countries, protection is not all that it should be!

Dhabs ready for the pot!
Some of us, have been celebrating Christmas, and the New Year, is just around the corner. So, if you fancy a change, for your celebratory meal, then try this yummy recipe from Jordan. This is a traditional recipe from this region.
Dhub Mansaf  (recipe from eastern Jordan)

2 whole dhubs
½ kilo rice
5 pieces Arabic bread (Khubz mashrouh)
¼ kilo laban or yoghurt
100 g ghee
50 g pine nuts
Salt, pepper, allspice, cardamom

Serves 2 to 3.

Catch two adult, well-grown dhubs, skin them and remove organs (except liver). Cut the dhubs into small pieces, wash them and cook in a small amount of water together with spices until the meat is half done. Add the laban and simmer until tender. Add the browned ghee, reserving a small quantity to brown the pine nuts. Meanwhile in another saucepan cook the rice. Keeping some bread aside to dip, break open the rest over a large tray, leaving an edging around the rim.  Spread more of the laban sauce over this and pile with rice. Arrange the pieces of dhub on top of the rice. Sprinkle the entire plate of rice and dhub, with browned pine nuts.

Eat with right hand.

Visual instructions:

It looks so great that .....

You have to protect your future meal!

Careful now, you don't want to spoil it do you?

Best enjoyed, among a group of like-minded friends.

Beautiful! Can you smell the rich aroma?

Bon appetite!

For something slightly different, try this alternative.

Carefully remove all skin, as it is, a bit leathery.

It looks just great doesn't it?

A wonderful dhab biryani!

Surprise & delight your friends with these wonderful local dishes. Just make sure that you have enough, to go around. Some people might come back for more! Enjoy!

Monday, 26 December 2011

50 years of Birding - a bit of a Milestone?

With 2012 quickly approaching, it is the usual thing to reflect upon the fading year. However, 2011, has not been my greatest year and so I thought, I would do the opposite and look forward to the approaching one! (But, not just yet)!

The coming year, will be a very special one for me – it will be my 50th year of birding! I cannot remember a time, when I wasn’t interested in natural history. I supppose there must have been, it’s just that I can’t remember it! I always tell people that I started birding in 1962, but this is not strictly true. I was birding for a couple of years before this date, its just that I never kept a diary, or a bird journal of any kind. I couldn't yet write, you see!

Looking for the Bridlington Med Gull in 1956!
I am the one wearing the white hat!
A pre-birding photo, aged 3 years old.

1962 was a bit of a landmark in several ways:

a)      1962/63 was one of the severest winters in the UK in living memory. I saw unprecedented  numbers of birds in the garden. My first Woodcock lay dead, on the snow (not tickable, though)!

b)      The family home changed! It changed, from a very modest two up two down pit house, with an outside toilet, to a rather grand Norman Castle! To be honest, it was one wing of a Norman Castle, not the whole castle! But, I had acres of woodland to explore!

Me, with my first dog,
the girls are my cousins, Susan & Pauline.

c)      I mastered the art of reading! And did I read? I read everything connected to natural history. I began on my life-long path to speed reading. I still do it today! Then I discovered the local library! My earliest favourite, was A.F.C. Hillstead’s, The Young Birdwatchers and a little later, Adventure Lit their Star, by Kenneth Allsop. This latter volume was published in 1962 and I virtually memorised it! I also devoured every Obervers book series, that was connected to natural history.
The staple birding ID book in 1962!

d)      My mother was often incarcerated in a physcatric wing of a local hospital and my father was down the coal mines. To me, this meant one thing – freedom! Freedom to explore, to try and find the local Badgers and Foxes and of course, a few birds!

e) I started to keep my birding journal. I still have the lot from 1962, until the present day.

1962, was the year I began living, really living. Doing the things I wanted to do and not what they (my parents) expected me to do! Fate, had thrown me a very nice hand – I lived in a natural history paradise and to a seven year old boy, this had no boundaries. I was going to make the most of this opportunity!

I was an enthusiastic egg collector and this lead to me looking at things very carefully and methodically. I would often walk slowly down a privet hedge looking for nests. In season, I found them and out of season, I found insects, mice and short-tailed field voles sometimes using them. I had a moat, complete with a working drawbridge! Several pairs of Moorhen nested here and I was a frequent raider of their nests, not only just taking the eggs for my collection, but also eating the eggs themselves! It was while engaged in such an activity, that one afternoon lingers in my mind. It was a defining moment for me, in my pursuit of birds. I had sat down on the bank of the moat, looking at the three moorhen’s eggs I had just taken, when I noticed that one of the eggs, showed signs of hatching! Now, this put me in a dilemma, because I really wanted these eggs, but something in the back of my mind, told me that this wasn’t quite right. Was I being cruel?

A Common Moorhen's nest, with eggs.
The start of a life-long obsession?

I suppose, I must have sat there for a while, because I remember seeing a flash just past my head! It was a physcodelic whirl of colour and it landed on a stick in the water. It was of course, my first Kingfisher and it was perched in profile in the open, just for me! This was exactly like the painting in the Observer’s book of British Birds. He must have painted it here – the same stick, the same bird! He had been here before me! It dived into the water and re-emerged with a small stickleback in its bill, which it began to bash on its perch. It was quickly swallowed and the spell was broken, when the bird flew off further down the moat. I went back to the Moorhen’s nest and returned my stolen bootie. I then ran, as fast as I could, to the castle and into the library. Yes, I had my own private library, because both my parents were barely literate, (leaving school at 12 years old in 1932)! Hardly anyone but me, entered the library, it was my own little sanctuary. I caressed the book and turned the pages, until I found my dream bird. It looked back at me, just as it had done on the moat. I had seen a Kingfisher! Remember, I was seven years old!

It is still a thrill, to see it today,
 as all those years ago!

I think I must have been a bit of a trial to my parents. I was very gifted at school and quickly became a focus of attention for teachers. My enthusiasm for the written word, masked my obsession, that of the natural world. No one seemed to notice, that I read so called, scientific books. I found childrens’ books well – childish! I looked at them with distain! By the time I was ten, my favourite book in the whole world (well South Yorkshire, at least) was T.A. Coward’s Birds of the British Isles & their Eggs. It was a two volume work, published in 1919. How, I loved it! I read every page, hundreds of times. I now had an aim, (everything became very clear to me), I had to see every bird in this hallowed book! Subconciously, I had become a twitcher, before the term was coined!

Euopean Honey Buzzard
from T.A.Coward's landmark work.

The great man himself,
 and he has got my binoculars!

My parents didn’t understand this obession, my mother equating bird watching with homosexuality. (In later years, she found her fears were unfounded)! But, I was insistant, I wanted my pair of binoculars! To date, I had used my wonderful Grandmother’s 2x opera glasses, which I could fold and place in my shirt pocket. But, I had read about proper binoculars –some being able to magnify 6x! Imagine the views I could get, with this state of the art technology! I fantasised and began to beg! At that time, I received my weekly sweet money. I stopped eating sweets! I begged for a job as a paper boy, delivering newspapers, but they said I was too young. I arrived at the shop every day for several weeks at 4.30 am. I used to help unpack the bundles of newspapers and magazines from the back of the van. On cold days, the twine used to cut into my fingers, but after a while, the owner gave me hot tea in the mornings and eventually a job, delivering papers on my bicycle. I now had money, not to spend, but to save! I had a pair of Barr & Stroud 6 x 30 binoculars fixed in my sights! I told everyone what I wanted. November 5th, is bonfire night in the UK. I built a Guy and begged for penny for the guy, in the streets. This was normal practice in those days, to get money to buy fireworks. I never bought any fireworks!

Someone in the town, must have mentioned this to my parents, because one day, my dad sat me down and asked me how much I had saved. I can’t remember the amount, but it was a considerable sum in those days. He said they would match penny for penny, everything I had saved. I told him what I desired. A little over a month later, Santa Claus delivered my spanking new Barr & Stroud 6 x 30 binoculars in a leather case! I cried! It was 1965.

The object of my desire!

Transport, before the luxurious Morris Minor in 1957!
 I am the one on Mum's lap!

In later years,
our driving roles were reversed!

To say a whole new world had opened up to me, was a vast understatement! I could now see anything and everything! Nothing could hide from my gaze! It was at this time, that fate lent a kindly hand. I was eating fish & chips with my parents, on a weekly shopping excursion to Doncaster. I saw an advert for a meeting of the Doncaster & District Ornithological Society – it was next week! But, I had a big problem, how to get there! I begged my dad to take me in his wonderful Morris Minor (we had recently graduated from a motor bike & sidecar, to this fantastic mode of transport. It had a heater in it)! My begging must have been persistent, similar to a young cuckoo’s treatment of its foster parents, I suppose! He drove me to the meeting and stayed with me until the end, often sleeping next to me. I devoured every slide and every word. I was in heaven. I suppose he must have liked those sleeps, because every fortnight for the next five years, he drove me to those meetings. Until in fact, it was deemed, I was old enough to catch the bus, on my own.

I was exploring, I was learning a lot and I was reading! From these meetings I became aware of the multi-volume Witherby’s Practical Handbook of British Birds, published in 1920. This was it! Everything you need to know about British Birds!

I wanted it, but it was about six months of my father’s salary as a miner. Completely out of the question. I went to the local library & enquired about it. I got it from the British Lending Library in Wetherby at the time. I had it for two whole weeks! I read. But, all good things come to an end and I had to return it. But then, I requested it again in my father’s name, two more weeks; my mother’s name, two more weeks and my brother’s name, two more weeks! Then it was my turn again! Now the librarian wasn’t stupid, just very understanding! My parents knew her and much to my delight, the following year, she ushered me into the inner sanctum of her office. She asked me to open the package! 

By 1966, I was going on all kinds of trips with the Doncaster & District Ornithological Society (DDOS). I was popular in the group. I was enthusiastic, but I had one major handicap, which quickly became apparent. I got car sick! It came upon me like a volcano, usually, after a mile or two, in anyone’s car! I prepared well, I got my bags. But, I suppose it was the smell that got to them in the end! Offers of lifts to see birds began to dwindle! But then, we had the bus trips! I could sit next to the driver, he was paid to drive and he changed every trip! Perfect, I could throw up into my sick bags at every opportunity. Others, sat four rows behind. Whenever I sat on a birding bus, there were always four rows of empty seats behind me!

It was October, 1966, we were on a foray from Doncaster to Gibraltar Point. Expectations ran high. One of my most wanted species at the time, was Richard’s Pipit. This was a rare bird in those days and I had recently missed one at Spurn. The combination of October and Gibraltar Point seemed ideal to achieve my goal.

Thanks for the photo Khalifa!

The drive was only punctuated by the necessity for the bus to stop, for me to empty my bulging sick bags, in the nearest bin. This seemed to happen quite frequently! We were nearly at our goal, the lane that leads to Gib! But, I for once, was unprepared, I had run out of bags! I was going to volcano! The driver reacted with admirable fortitude and skill. I leapt out, bent over and did my stuff! Everyone else stayed on the bus. As I became upright, I saw a falcon, perched on a dead snag, quite close. I picked up my bins and saw my very first adult female Red-footed Falcon (infact, it was my first Red-foot of any kind)! I knew what it was instantly, the same bird as in Coward, and in Bensen’s Observer’s Book of Birds. I waved to the throng. No-one moved! I went to the door and shouted, Red-footed Falcon! Nobody moved, I guess the smell was still on my breath! I looked at the leader, Reg Rhodes. Begrudingly, he moved, and as he did so, muttered, "a bloody Kestrel!" He picked up his bins and I do believe that this was the first moment, I had ever heard anyone say "fuck", in my presence! People got off the bus! I was eleven years old and had found my first BB rarity.

Red-footed Falcon - not the 1966 bird,
this photo was taken many years later.

More rarities followed in the coming years, by 1970, I was a regular at Spurn and I had seen a lot of scarce migrants and genuine vagrants. I then went to Hull, to supposedly study geography, but it just happened to be the closest place to Spurn! I went birding

 August, 1971 at Spurn.

A bit closer, so you can see
it is an Icterine Warbler.
Now, the reason I tell you these little tales, is so you know a bit more about me. I go birding and try and find rare birds. That’s what I do. In 2007, I had a stab at a UAE big list. Despite spending 14 weeks out of the country, I amassed a total of 327 species. My final bird of the year, being a Water Rail, at Al Wathba Lake on the last dusk of the year. However, I remained unhappy with this total, I could have done better, 330 is within reach. So the coming year will be my 50th year in birding and what better way, than to go birding!

Looking to the future - 2012 beckons!

Here are my rules:

·        The year list, will be based upon the official UAE Bird Checklist as of 15th November 2011.  Only category A & C species will be counted.
·        If any revision to this list is undertaken during 2012 my list will be revised in line with the  revision.
·        Only species seen, will count. Heard birds will be recorded, but not countable on my year list, until I have seen them.

Here are are my goals:

  • To break 327 species in the year, but really I have set my heart on 330 + species.
  • To find at least three new birds for me, in the UAE. Notable gaps include Red breasted Merganser; Red Knot; Rustic & Red headed Buntings etc. Surely, some of them, must fall to me in 2012?
  • To go on more pelagic trips.
  • To enjoy myself!

My milestones:

  • 200+ species by the end of February.
  • 300+ species by the end of June.
  • 330+ species by the year end.

Will we get any of these beauties in 2012?

It will probably be a whole new selection of rarities, which will delight, and amaze us, in 2012!

I will place regular summaries of my activities on my blog, at least on a monthly basis, but more frequent, if it gets exciting!

Enjoy your birding & have a wonderful 2012!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Holidays, 2011: Part 2.

It is 5.15am and it is dark this Christmas morning. I am just off to work, while everyone else, sleeps a little longer! Finally, got back home around 3pm, to find that they had very nearly started without me! Carol and the girls had been working hard in the kitchen, some welcoming smells there! Children had been very good, adults less so! The moment we have all been waiting for – present opening time!

Carol, getting a nice surprise!

It is my turn now!

Nicci, looking very Chrissmassy!

A fine pair!
Peaches, with a lot of stuff!

 It's starting!

Beginning to get a little messy!

It started in an orderly manner, but soon descended into our normal chaos! For some, it was all too much!

The end!
  Read the cover!

Sister act!

A lot to smile about?

Carol, looking horrified/surprised?

Rowan, enjoying a quiet moment!

Dressed to kill?

Is this the worst present ever?
A bit of a hint perhaps?

Sister Act 2.

Princess Peaches, in a fairytale!

And now,
 for something completely different!

We did well from Santa today!

Read the label, if you can!
Drew, Hazel and Amy arrived, with more presents! Plus extra food, just in case….

Amy & her Mum, Hazel. 

Hazel & Drew,
 with the shortest DVD set in the world?

I received one very special present from them. I will show you how good it is!

Real scary eh?

Where's your magic powers now,
 then Spiderman?

Everyone is getting in on the act now!
Is it because I look so cool?

Time for the dinner. This is what the table looked like before……


All set!

Is it the Lizard Boy? No, it's Pudding Man!

They are just stealing my thunder, now!

She wears it so well!
 Spiderman, getting the hang of it!

With a little bit of help, from Daddy!

Starting to get a wee bit tired now!

Desparate measures!

My bar & the new bar girl!

Thanks Carol, for all your hard work!

Till next year then?