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Welcome to my blog. If you live in Surrey and birding is your obsession (to get out of bed at some ridiculously early time of the morning, no matter what the weather, to go and look at birds isn't normal behaviour, believe me) and you're still a bit of a novice (like me) then, hopefully, this blog is for you.



Monday, 12 November 2018

SUCH A PERFECT DAY

The area between Foreness Point and Botany Bay where some of my dad's ashes are scattered
Some of you will recall that my mum passed away a couple of months ago. She lived in a bungalow in Palm Bay, Cliftonville, which is within walking distance of Foreness Point.

She originally moved there with my dad back in 2006, when they downsized from a house they lived in just down the road. My dad died in February 2015, and my mum kept his ashes in the bungalow.

For all the time my mum lived in the bungalow after my dad passed away she never went through any of his stuff or thrown anything away. In fact, his room was pretty much as it was the day he had been taken to hospital before being transferred to a nursing home four and a half years ago. Time had been frozen.

Annie and I have had go through all her possessions and also those of my dad's during the past month or so. I found it quite difficult, because it brought back so many memories and by going though all of my dad's belongings in particular, many of which I would be forced to throw away, it felt like I was erasing his life.

I discovered so many poignant items he had kept. Magazines and newspaper cuttings, many of which included interviews I had either written or had been quoted in. His room was very ordered, with everything labelled and filed. Boxes of fuses, plugs, tools, his indoor bowls medals, tickets and passes for Grands Prix I had taken him to, photo albums, maps, books,VHS tapes, CDs logging many of his stories he had written about his life.

He enjoyed writing. He focused on his early life, when he worked on a farm during the Second World War, and became a very good writer for someone who had only taken it up in his 70s. He even had his articles published in the local paper, as well as the magazine Best of British.

He also had his writings featured on a BBC website called WW2 People's War - an archive of World War II memories. You can read one of his stories here called Doodlebugspotting in Kent - A Near Miss.

Now his room, and in time, my parent's bungalow, will be just a memory. But I still needed to do one more thing to give closure to my dad's life – and that was to scatter his ashes.

Some of his ashes are now with my mum' in their garden, but it was also important to scatter some along the cliff tops at Foreness Point, where he loved to walk most mornings. He was remarkably fit for his age, and was still walking and playing bowls into his later 80s. And so just over a couple of weeks ago, that is what Annie and I did.

When most people think of Margate they imagine candyfloss and penny arcades, but to me Margate reminds me of walks along the cliffs and along the sandy beaches near Botany Bay, where you may only see a handful of people. It is a much underrated coastline.

Foreness Point is a special place for me, too, as when I used to visit mum and dad at Palm Bay, I would often make a point of going for a walk around the area for an hour just in case a decent bird appeared.

This coastline has a great record for bird sightings. I hadn't see that many, I admit, as I was invariably there at the wrong time and for only a short period, but I have seen Wryneck, Whinchat, Wheatear, Redstart, Rock Pipit and Corn Bunting, as well as Red-breasted Merganer and Eider. Fulmar breed here, and there are plenty of waders and seabirds to see on any given day.

On any given day, when I was back in Surrey, another great bird would invariably appear in the area, whether it was a Bee-eater, Honey-buzzard, Short-eared Owl, Pomarine Skua, Pallid Swift, Ring Ouzel, whatever. I always felt sad I'd never seen a true rarity here.

And then, just a few days after scattering my dad's ashes, news broke of a White-billed Diver, in summer plumage no less, happily swimming around the Margate area and showing well to the gathering throng.

I had to wait a couple of days, but it was still there on November 5. I took the day off and headed to Margate.

The White-billed Diver at Foreness Point - a magnificent bird
It was a beautiful day. I parked in my usual spot along The Ridings, and walked down to the cliff tops, just yards away from my dad's final resting place. And there out on the calm sea was this stunning White-billed Diver. What a striking bird!

Purple Sandpiper sleeping at Foreness Point
Of all the birds I had missed over the years, this Diver had made up for it. Added to which, down on the waters edge among the rock pools was a single Purple Sandpiper, a bird speciality of this coastline, as well as Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Oystercatcher. I even caught up with a few birding friends I hadn't seen for a while.

My dad had been watching over me. It had been the perfect day.

Rock Pipit
Flock of Gannet flying east

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