Thursday, 13 March 2014

A Wheatear for Ed?

It was Ed's funeral this morning and sadly I couldn't attend because of a prior engagement that I couldn't change. I thought about Ed at the time of his funeral and decided that I would go out later and try and nail my first Wheatear of the spring in his honour. Now that would be Northern Wheatear and not Desert Wheatear like Ed found on some spare ground next to a supermarket car park in 1994!

I hadn't seen Ed for over 20 years but had very fond memories of him. What I liked about him was that he was a bit of a maverick birder and 'ploughed his own furrow' and that is an ethos that I have always tried to follow. There's too many birder clones these days all wanting to do the same thing and having to see the same birds; not Ed.

Ed used to bird around urban Blackpool and certainly found some birds including Roller, Desert Wheatear, Richard's Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatchers and Wrynecks to name but a few. I was lucky enough to see some of Ed's birds and in some unlikely locations, or were they? Ed was very much ahead of his time and realised that if he birded close to the coast, with perhaps some artificial light thrown in and in green areas in an urban desert migrant birds would be concentrated in these areas. Ed wasn't just about rare birds, but a dedicated student of migration.

Some local birders scoffed at some of his records, but I know as Ed did that they were all genuine, and like me he knew that 'time out = birds in'! He would spend as much of his time birding as he could and that would mean working these local patches every day. He used to work at the local telephone exchange and from his place of work, or the obs as he referred to it as, he could sea watch perhaps when he should have been working. As Ian said to me today if Ed had run his own shop there would have been sign permanently up on the door saying "back in five minutes"!

It was courtesy of Ed, or should I say Ed's mother, that I received a rather unusual nickname. Back in the early 80s I telephoned Ed one day to tell him that there was an Upland Sandpiper at Sandbach in Cheshire and that we were going to see it if he wanted to come along. Ed wasn't in and I left a message with his mother. When Ed got in, from birding of course, the message he received was that "Shaver had phoned and there was a Sandpiper in Cheshire"!

I have Ed to thank for my first Black Redstart when I had just started birding as a teenage boy and was thrilled to see this bird adjacent to a railway station, typical birding habitat for Ed. Wryneck sunning itself along a railway embankment a stone's throw from Blackpool Pleasure beach was another of Ed's birds that I enjoyed. I could go on telling gentle and humorous tales of Ed's birding exploits including the strange case of a Yellow-browed Warbler in a sweet jar, but I'll save that for another time!

He was a gentle man, a character, and there are few of these today sadly, and above all a great birder and a great bloke. And did I connect with a Wheatear this afternoon in his honour? Unfortunately not, but I did try.

The fog never lifted today as it was forecast to. The sun just didn't gain the strength to burn it off. It lessened slightly this afternoon and I hit the coast just in case there was a Wheatear or two about, but in reality I knew the chances were slim. I came across 40 Meadow Pipits grounded by the conditions and that was it. It was pointless looking on the sea as it was even foggier out there, although I could make out the forms of 29 Eiders in the murk.

It's looking similar for tomorrow, but if that fog lifts I'll go out and have a look.


Peter B said...

Thanks Seumus,you have described a tee. Like you I was privileged to see some of the wonderful birds he discovered. I am only sorry that I hadn't picked up his death as I would certainly have gone and paid my last respects

The Hairy Birder said...

I do apologise Peter, as I should have checked to see if you knew about his passing. He certainly was a character and in fact Ian and I were reminiscing about him during a very quiet sea-watch this morning. A lovely man.