I have never before pulled into the car park at West Bexington and found it completely empty. It clogs like fat in a drain during the summer, while out of season the wild weather will always lure somebody – drawn to the chaos of a storm driven sea.
Today though, in mid-January sunshine, even the ‘free’ spots just outside the entrance were empty, and a lone herring gull watched me with cock-eyed curiosity as I tapped my registration number into the ticket machine.
I paused for a moment. The cloud that had swept west as I dropped down from the hills was throwing a few spots of rain into my face. My hope of an unseasonal adder were doused, but I could see brightness out towards the Devon coast and decided to pay for my stay and sit out the squall from the dry of the car.
There I watched the waves crash through the thud of rain on the windscreen, the car rocking as the wind angered. The sea was big and dirty, well muddied from the swell of last night’s blow. I had woken this morning hoping to see snow, but found instead a warmth in the sunshine that stirred reptilian thought.
I found my ‘earliest’ ever adder on 28th January, while my ‘latest’ came on December 12th – dates etched into my memory like that of my earliest swallow (11th March, in case you wondered). I have a hunch that the adders along the south coast, particularly along the well-drained pitch that typifies the western end of Chesil, might not hibernate at all. A prolonged spell of bitter cold might send them down, but in recent winters the microclimate along the links would keep their cold blood permanantly stirred.
Today I thought I might improve my ‘earliest’ date, but that rain flurry would have sent any snake slinking back beneath ground. I still walked though, and trudged my way to the wet of the reedbed where at least 2 dozen snipe zig-zagged across the breeze and a water rail squealed.
I paused to watch a young stone chat in the sunshine, clinging to a deadened head of hogweed as it rattled in the wind.
Further along the beach, on the mere, I thought I found a female scaup among the tufties.
I struggled to remember the key points to look for. It had a lot of white at the back of the bill, but could I see the hint of a crest or were my hands shaking? There was something about the beak itself I needed to suss out, but I needed a better view…
I cursed my binoculars, dropped a year ago and out of alignment since. My parents had promised to pay for a repair as a birthday present – I just needed to find out the cost. My next birthday is less than two months away and still I squint through a blur.
A couple of photos should do the trick – long range, but easy to blow up on the computer at home. Now here, I am cursing the limitations of my lens. The mystery duck’s beak isn’t quite clear enough, but it looks marginally more tuftie than scaup so I cut my losses and side with probability.
Perhaps I’d get more out of the lens if I learned how to use it properly. Perhaps I wouldn’t have needed it had I got off my arse and got my binoculars sorted out.
Perhaps, in fact, it really doesn’t matter. I got back to the car with a welly full of water and a smile on my face. The ticket had long since expired but no one was going to come inspecting today. I trundled home and realised a good walk was exactly what I needed.