Saturday, 2 May 2009

A Day At The Races?

In May, however far removed I am from birding and there have been times where I haven't picked up an optic for several months, my thoughts have inevitably turned to those who might be embarking on that most intense birding experience the Bird Race.

A veteran of three maybe four campaigns in the late Eighties/Early Nineties and still proud that the team of which I was a part equalled the County Record; Bird Races are etched upon the very fabric of my birding memory.

Back then we took it very seriously, weeks and weeks of preparation, planning meetings, poring over maps to determine shortest routes. As race day approached we would aim to have certain awkward species 'staked out'; a Barn Owl nest site perhaps or a Willow Tit nest, a Black grouse lek. Other species were left to chance, passage waders or seabirds.

The Bird Race would take over birding during those weeks, checking and re-checking sites, timing journeys between locations, nights spent reviewing past bulletins looking at where certain species had bred or been seen at that crucial time of year.

After the first one we were better organised, we would aim to be at a site ready to start at the stroke of midnight, we always finished by c9.00-10.00 the following night, energy by that time well depleted. We used every tactic to save time and steal a march on any competition, even securing permission from the National Trust to use my four wheel drive (long since gone) to get from the Long Nanny car park to the Long Nanny itself thereby knocking forty minutes off the journey and saving a great deal of energy.

Food would be consumed on the move, no time would be wasted, even those fabulous moments when we would chance upon something scarce or unusual would be cut short, the nagging truism that ' A Bluethroat counts the same as a Tree Sparrow' in the Bird Race always at the back of our minds (and often the tip of someones tongue).

I'm not sure I could stay awake for a full twenty four hours today, even back then it was probably the most tired I've ever been. On one occasion I sat at home afterward and started eating a cooked meal from a tray only to fall asleep in the food, head first; the only time in y entire life I have ever dropped off instantly.

There is a small part of me though that will forever remain competitive and want one more attempt to 'set the record'. Maybe next year. For now share your Bird Race memories in the comments and give me my annual fix.

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