Dunlin and Snipe

Dunlin often share the same feeding grounds as Snipe.

04-10-2019Neville James-Davies

Every nature enthusiast will admit that at some time in their hobby, to having the inevitable accident. It doesn’t matter how careful you are or how steady you are on your feet, sooner or later it will happen. It has happened to me on a number of occasions – I am of course talking about mishaps. When you are looking up into the sky, along the ground, on the tops of trees and even behind you, sooner or later you are going to have a fall. So this week I am going to take a light-hearted look at my own collection of mishaps, from being electrocuted to head banging a hide door, from being frisked to causing panic on the beach.

So, there I am on the Albufereta back roads, minding my own business, watching a flock of Cattle Egrets feeding around the feet of some Horses in a little field off the roadside. My hire car is close by, a little four door Vauxhall. Suddenly this lady comes running over, and in broken English she ask me why I am interested in her Horse. I tried to explain I was watching the Egrets then she proceeded to accuse me of trying to steal one of the Horses. At this point, and getting a bit annoyed with her, I showed her the photo of the said Egrets in her field, before explaining that trying to cram a fully grown Horse into the back of a Fiat hire car is an impossibility. At this point she calmed down and could see my logic. It was early morning and this was my first stop of the day. I did wonder what else that week was going to bring.

In fact that week did bring another incident, thankfully not to do with alleged Horse rustling, but regarding one of the world’s rarest gulls. It was a warm afternoon and I had been out birding for most of the day, so decided to try my luck at getting a half decent shot of an Audouin’s Gull and Puerto Pollensa beach is a good place to see them. So there I am, sauntering onto the beach with my binoculars to hand and an obvious camera at my side. I spot a gull which turns out to be a Yellow-legged Gull, but further over at the water’s edge is my sought after prize. Passing close by a group of bathers, I started to notice fingers being pointed at me, and suddenly white bits getting covered up very quickly. It dawned on me that that this particular quite rowdy group hadn’t realised I was trying to photograph the Audouin’s Gull beyond them, but thought my attentions were on them. It really is hard to try and convince bathers of what you are trying to do when you have binoculars and a camera – needless to say they weren’t convinced.

Audouin’s Gull.

Another embarrassing incident involved a May visit to the Albufera Marsh – where the CIM hide was the intended destination. As I approached I could hear the hide had a number of birders and photographers inside. Now I know this particular door is squeaky, so I gently opened it and it was indeed quite full inside. Just then, a gentleman at the top end pointed to a gap on the seat, so with enthusiasm I walked inside – forgetting about the low door frame. I duly head butted the said frame with one heck of a thud that even a football hooligan would have been proud of, and coupled with this my telescope banged loudly against the side. With that, the waders that had crept closer to the hide took off, and I was left being stared at by a bunch of unimpressed people who had patiently been watching these birds. With several apologies I made my way to the seat, and sat down not making eye contact with anyone and gently rubbing my now sore head. One or two people further along were trying to contain their laughter, but in the corner of my eye I could see shoulders going up and down. The waders eventually came back and so did my vision. I did spot a Wood Sandpiper which gave me some forgiveness.

Being searched by the Guardia Civil one evening when watching Scops Owls near to their station was embarrassing, as was explaining my hotel was the Sangria so they thought I had been drinking and driving too, and stalking a Wryneck in a woodland only to end up walloping my head on a low branch was also embarrassing even though there were no people present to see it. What was embarrassing was watching a Booted Eagle flying overhead at the salt pans and then hearing a splash and realising you had just gone waist deep into water, much to the amusement of a group of birders coming the other way. What made this worse was that mud had clung firmly to my legs, and my three-quarter length shorts were now heavy and close to falling down.

But my worst moment of mishaps involved an electric fence. Again I was in the back roads of the Albufereta, and had come across an interesting looking stream at the roadside. I had seen a bird of some sort, possibly a Crake dropping down into the vegetation, so I decided to explore further in case it was a crake species. In front of me was an electric fence just above knee level, with a second strand higher up about shoulder level. I quickly deduced that I could bend down and get between these two strands with ease, so I laid my telescope down in the grass, and held my binoculars and camera close. I cocked my leg over the lower strand, followed by my other leg but at this point the vegetation gave way slightly, and suddenly a bolt of electricity went through my nether regions which made me scream in pain, at which point I stood bolt upright, only to get another shock across my shoulders from the other strand. A third shock ensued as I hastily cocked my leg back over. These fences certainly deter livestock from straying out of an area, and certainly stop people from straying in as well. Sharp pains travelled through me for several seconds.
I composed myself and stood staring back at the fence, and swearing at myself for being so stupid. But at least I was alone and could spare any blushes. But unfortunately I wasn’t. I turned around to see a car just across from me that had stopped with four birders inside, with the two in the back rolling about laughing, and the passenger also chuckling away, with the driver calmly asking me ‘anything about’? I remember my embarrassing and ridiculous response, ‘not sure I’ve only just got here myself’. How quick one can walk away when they have to.

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