Saturday, 5 June 2021

Bad camping karma

Long-term readers of this blog may recall how, as nature abhors a vacuum, so I abhor camping. Whitsun Bank Holiday is a favoured time for the family to spend a few nights under canvas - an activity which, I feel obliged to point out, most of the rest of the world only subjects itself to in the event of natural disasters. My folks don't even bother asking me to go with them now, as by the time biting insects and sleep deprivation have taken their toll, I make the whole experience such a misery, apparently. This is a situation which I think we have all come to realise is best for everyone.

Red-baked Shrike, Portland, 30 May
This bank holiday weekend I at least turned up on the first evening to cook the Saturday barbecue before retiring to a comfortable bed with its complete absence of midges and very limited prospects of deflating in the middle of the night. And with the rest of the crew away, I was free to go birding early on Sunday morning. This time last year I found a Temminck's Stint and a Marsh Warbler at Swineham, so I headed straight there hoping for something of equivalent rarity value. Whilst at the apex of a large meander in the River Frome - about as far away from home as it's possible to be at Swineham - news broke of a Red-backed Shrike on Portland.

I hadn't envisaged a long bike ride as I was saving myself for a planned trip to Lyme Regis, and as by the time I got home I would have walked about 5 miles already. But Red-backed Shrike is a species which might well not turn up within reach during the rest of the year so I quickened my pace with a view to getting home, packing the bike and going for it. A helpful tweet from Portland Bird Obs suggested that the Shrike was looking settled which stiffened my resolve as I set off on the long road to Portland. 

It was Sunday of a Bank Holiday weekend so traffic was fairly busy, and I took advantage of a few more available stretches of footpath than on other recent trips to Weymouth. It is an iron law of twitching Portland that passing trains will enforce a long wait at the level crossing in Wool, and it appears that this law applies to cycle twitches every bit as much as the car-based version. Compared to my last journey in this direction (for a Bonaparte's Gull at Lodmoor) though the conditions were pretty good, with just a light headwind which was at its strongest as I made my way along the causeway from Ferrybridge.

As I reached Culverwell, Julian Thomas was just leaving and kindly pointed out the Shrike so I could tick it from the road - the pressure was off. Then a quick yomp up the hill for a better view and some photos which were obtained shortly before some horse riders flushed the bird, after which it seemed to get a bit restless. It went missing for the next four hours, so I had arrived just in time. A chat with Garry Hayman and Roly Pitts about what else might be around for the year list concluded that a quick seawatch would be in order before the return journey, but an Arctic Skua, a few Manxies, Kittiwake and a possible Little Gull with a distant feeding frenzy of Gulls were the best we could manage. 

After this little sit-down, I knew I needed to conserve as much energy as possible for Lyme Regis, so I headed straight home rather than checking out other parts of the island as thoroughly as I would have liked. As I passed Lodmoor, the phone rang and it was my wife asking if I had the house keys. I replied that I had my house keys and, in response to further questioning, explained that, no, I couldn't just get the train home to let them in. It turned out they had left a couple of sets of keys at the campsite and returned home expecting to find me there - a very unsafe assumption given my recent habit of spending pretty much every spare waking hour out and about on the bike. 

Suggesting that the other three members of the family, with their cumulative 82 years of life experience, should be able to remember to carry at least one set of keys between them did not go down well and the exchange was terminated with a metaphorical slamming down of the phone at the other end. To be fair, the inability to find anything is one of the many things I hate about camping, but while I empathised with their predicament, I didn't feel I could take responsibility for everyone else's forgetfulness in this instance. Karma clearly disagreed, however, and within a minute of the call ending, a loud pop announced the rapid deflation of my rear tyre.

After the ensuing tube replacement, the rest of the journey home was a slog to say the least - harder, in fact, than any part of the Lyme Regis marathon. This was possibly because the trip was unplanned, which I always find harder to prepare for psychologically compared to a 'scheduled' journey. The icing on the cake was provided by a second puncture in as many hours. At least this one was just on the outskirts of Wareham, so for the second time this year I was subjected to the indignity of limping home pushing the bike rather than sailing down West Street, arms aloft, like the triumphant winner of the Giro d'Dorset from my dreams.

The Shrike was to be my final addition to the year list for May, which saw 16 new birds added in total - my third highest monthly tally after January and April. I cycled 355 miles during the course of the month, just 5 miles shy of my highest monthly total of 360 in April, bringing the year list up to 187 in the process.

Red-backed Shrike, Portland, 30 May

1 comment:

  1. My family are also of the opinion that camping goes a lot better without me.