Thursday 29 September 2016

A Gale & Heavy Rain So . . . Here is The Tale of The Birding Clams

Thursday 29th September Gale Force W to NW Heavy rain

Special Birding Days with The Birding Clams

The weather outside is brutal; 60 to 70 mph gales and heavy rain so I turn to a book to while away the morning hours. Birds New To Britain, 1980 - 2004 details the finding of the first lesser scaup back in 1987 at Chasewater, Staffordshire. Mentioned are two ex-students of mine, Jason John Oliver and Alex Barter. The former is a twitcher going strong. The latter sadly dies over ten years ago. Bart, very affectionately known as The Bear, was a phenomenal birder and all round brilliant bloke. Here are a few photographs from birding days with Bart, Jase and another Coppice High School student, Richard Southall. 

For a few years in the 1980s they, with their teacher, me, birded around the UK. As they grew into lads and then men, the friendship grew and now they and the birding students that followed have a bond beyond mere words. We are 

The Birding Clams

1. A First Outings of the CTC – Coppice Twitchers Club

They haven't always been called The Birding Clams. Back in 1984 a group of three Secondary-aged lads; Jason Oliver, Alex 'The Bear' Barter and Richard 'Dicks-out' Southall, were in the back of a yellow Nissan Cherry with their teacher. Destination, the famous olive-backed pipit that had found a back garden in Bracknell to it's liking.

Flickr user CharlesLam

A first trip for what was to become regular overnight twitches by a number of council estate students from Coppice High School, Ashmore Park Estate, Wolverhampton.
The trip was memorable for the four involved. The pipit was seen easily enough but the other two scarce bird targets that day caused just a few problems. The fudge duck at gravel pits south of Uxbridge wasn't seen. Victorian bottles were found though and a couple of carrier bags full of them were taken home. The area was pock marked with pits where London collectors had dug into the Victorian rubbish tip to find bottles rarer than the ones discarded by them but picked up by us. The ferruginous duck, to give it it's proper name turned out to have been hiding under branches overgrowing the gravel pit margins. Unknown to us at the time, all we had was a handwritten list of possible birds with the name of the site; no specific details of which tree, bush or lake to look on.
Smew at Wrasbury was written down. Little did we know that Wrasbury was more than just an immense curved reservoir with a very high bank around which ran a road.

Workers had waved to us as we drove through gates they were painting. Workers had disappeared when we returned to those gates an hour later having not seen any smew. The wet paint gates were locked.
Two hours later police arrived to deal with a group of lads who were trying to lift a different gate off its hinges so that an escape could be made.
Two hours later an old man arrived on a push bike with a key to open those gates.
The smew. So it turned out weren't on the reservoir but on some gravel pits a little further on!
My wife had begged me early that morning not to go. She said something bad was going to happen. Being locked in Wrasbury reservoir for four hours watching ducks and the planes taking off from the nearby Heathrow may just have been what she foretold.

Actually all this happened three years after a more successful birding weekend with J.J. Holian, Bill Low, myself and another Coppice student, Steven Turner, better known as Smoothie.
A weekend in Norfolk, with the four of us sleeping in the car, gave us pallas' warblers, richard's pipits and various lesser scarce birds.

Those same three lads, Jase, Sout' and Bart, were in the car, March 1985, as we careered extremely excitedly, down the hill at Cuckmere Haven. A little crake had practically allowed birders to stroke it. We arrived the day after it was last seen. To make matters worse, later that same day I managed to flush a red-breasted goose not once but twice and both times before Jase had managed to see it. Rumours that one of the lads had a tattoo of the goose made in order to grip off Jase are surely found-less; too cruel a jest.

2. 1989 Two months, two 'Firsts'.

The Nissan Cherry had a leaking radiator. A first for Britain was at Charlton Poll, Billingham, Teeside. Eggs and large bottles of water got the lads to the, hate to say it, most boring 'First' ever seen. The double-crested cormorant arrived at the pool at the allotted time. “Be there at 7:45AM,” we were told. In it flew at 7:45AM. It landed on the water, caught a large fish, swallowed it and then stood on a pontoon for the next hour. There are only so many plumage and bare part details to take in and so after that scintillating hour we were off to more exciting birding at Bamburgh Castle to the north.

Chalk and cheese, ying and yang; how different a bird only a few weeks later. Thousands trying to see a golden-winged warbler. It took us seven hours of searching around a housing estate near Maidstone, Kent before we found it on some pyracantha surrounding a town house.
 photograph by Tim Loseby

3. Two Coppice Twitchers Thought They had Twitched Their Last.

A new wonderful girfriend for the teacher and an American vireo, red-eyed, to go and see. Diane had already rescued the team from the disaster of having an old Escort blow up on the A2. Diane had even taken the team; the teacher, Ian Crutchley and Steve Allcott, onward to see the target bird of the day; the marsh sandpiper at Elmley.

The vireo though was to bring terror into the proceedings. Who but Diane would, whilst driving at a naughty speed down the A30 through Devon, swerve off without thought or reason up the slip road. In fact a reason for such erratic driving was never given and two shaking lads on the back seats will recall with horror the moment of screeching brakes and pending doom. The vireo was secured later after a different driver had negotiated the narrow lanes around and to Cot Valley, Cornwall.

4. Clam Days Return

A name for the group, not CTC but a name with fun and movement; now known as the T.I.T.S, each rare bird was greeted by a small dance from the lads. The Terpsichorean Inspired Twitcher Society racked up the list in 2005 as each tried to complete a Big Year and see 300 bird species. 

The ex-Coppice students, now into their thirties managed it; their ex-teacher didn't. He had spent too long watching The Ashes series, the best ever cricket Test match series, to get the extra birds that would have lifted his respectable 292 to the magic 300. Mind you, he was with his son, Josh, at Edgbaston when Kasprovic gloved the ball to Jones off Harmison.
A few of the birds seen by the group that year:-

5. Clams Today

Nowadays the glory of the Coppice High School Twitchers Club, now known as The Birding Clams, meets up every year on Shetland. The first week of October sees the group assemble and bird. The exploits of the C.L.A.M.S, the Clear Lunacy & Madness Club, can be seen on Facebook. There is a group page called just that, The Birding Clams.
The Clams have even enjoyed birding in France!

Some members have stayed faithful since that long off time back in 1984. Others are new and some didn't even go to the same school or have that teacher. Yet the group is strong is, the fun is still there and the most important thing, after the birds that is, is the deep friendship and camaraderie of the group. 

Yet to come . . .  

Clam Days On Shetland.....

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