Monday 2 November 2020

From the Archives...

Earlier this evening I was looking for photos of an interesting gull which visited the Axe in 2010. The search led me to the archived pages of NQS Mk1 where I found a post by Davina Wydegirth, an occasional contributor in those days. Although silly nonsense, the memories it evoked made me smile. So I shall resurrect it here.

The date is 8th January 2010, and we are in the grip of a freezing spell of weather which produced some spectacular winter birding, including this patch tick for everyone...

Davina WydeGirth - on Location at Black Hole Marsh

A late night tip-off had me at Seaton cemetery for 08:00 sharp. Gavin looked a bit sheepish when he saw me there, obviously realising that I now knew I was NOT on his 'Devon Birders Big & Serious Text Group'. I gave him a conciliatory smile, promised to leave him out of all the photos, and watched very carefully as he took out his phone and rectified the omission.

We marched down the track and Steve filled in the details for me. Apparently we were going to stake out the spot where a Bittern had been seen going to roost last night. A Bittern is a rare bird - a cross between a Heron, a Short-eared Owl and a reed bed - and would be a patch tick for everyone.

We stood at the required spot, and waited. The mood was optimistic...

L to R: Steve (with front-loading doughnut dispenser), Karen and Bun

Steve was grinning continuously just at the PROSPECT of adding Bittern to his patch list. He handed us all a doughnut each, and ate six.

Nothing happened for a while. It was absolutely FREEZING, but Karen kept complaining (smugly and loudly) that her feet were too warm. Gavin kept mumbling 'Let's go in, and boot it'. Bun kept looking at the doughnut bag. Steve kept eating, and grinned a great deal.

"Let's boot it!" Gavin again.
"No," said Steve. "Let's see if it's already come out of the roost and is back on the ditch where it was first seen yesterday. Why don't we have a quiet walk along there and take a look."
"Good idea," said Gavin, "We might boot it."

And that is exactly what happened. As the Bittern flew up from the ditch all four birders followed it in silence with their bins. When it landed out of sight I heard a squeaky 'Let's boot it AGAIN!' and was instructed to wait where I was as the quartet marched meaningfully round a bend in the path...

When they returned it was doughnuts all round, then Bun headed off to work. Gavin's phone rang. It was Brian, from Exeter, asking if it was worth travelling up to try for the Bittern. Gavin said it was, then rang off and suggested booting it 'good and proper' before Brian arrived. The others thought this was a brilliant idea.

A bit of barrier negotiation was now necessary. This proved tricky for Karen. Having worn so many clothes, she found it impossible to bend sufficiently to get over the gate. The others found a hole in the fence and posted her through it like a tightly rolled newspaper. Unfortunately they were not able to find the Bittern again, so Gavin stalked a Juncus patch and kicked every clump.

Brian turned up. So did Ian M.


L to R: Karen (check out those slippers!), Brian (cheerfully optimistic and clearly ignorant of all the booting), Steve (now WELL beyond simple grinning, and all out of doughnuts), Ian M (Bittern-less unfortunately, as is evident).

Two more birders were seen approaching...

Andy and Dave

After anxiously checking with the locals that the chippy would be open soon, Dave asked about the Bittern. Gavin, Steve and Karen exchanged meaningful looks (Gavin concealing his scuffed right boot) made their excuses and left, Ian going with them. I heard later that Brian, Dave and Andy carefully walked 7 miles of ditch before coming across a dented Bittern.



Phil missed the Bittern that Friday, but caught up with it the following day and provided us with a photo opportunity...

Bittern at Colyford, 9th January 2010. I've still only seen 3 on the Axe patch.


  1. How very insightful, haha!! :D Gavin The Boot and (presumably) Karen Woolley Slippers? Aaaah, the gung-ho-itty of yoof, eh ;)

    1. There was a very good vibe on my old patch. It was a privilege to be a part of it. Ten years have elapsed since that day, and though the cast has changed a little it is still a good vibe... 😊