Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Birding Leeds Damnation Festival? Err, no.

But I did get over to Spurn to see an Isabelline Wheatear, before then heading off to Leeds to enjoy the delights of beer and grindcore at Damnation Fest

Damnation is a one-day festival of heavier metal held each year at Leeds University Union, this year on Saturday 5th November. My plan for the day had been to go birding first thing with the local bird group, the Bradford Ornithology Group, but after some mix-up with the car, I couldn’t get there for the start time.

But, as luck would have it, an Isabelline Wheatear had turned up at Spurn late the previous day. So by the time my wife had brought my daughter back from her violin lesson in the car, I was all ready to set off to the east coast.

I arrived at the Narrows on Spurn at 12:30 and in no time at all I was on to the bird: flew past me northwards in a gently undulating way, landing maybe 15 metres away. A pale, upright wheatear, the colour of the damp sand it stood on, looking long-legged and quite graceful. It wagged its tailed as it ran around the flotsam on the western beach, occasionally stooping to pick at insects. In flight you could see the extra white on the rump and tail (as opposed to the common-in-these-parts-in-Autumn Northern Wheatear), with the black looking like more of a band than a full inverted T.

I checked the other ID features (admittedly, many of which I’d only learnt that morning, but that’s the point of twitching – seeing, and learning about, something new). The wing coverts were the same colour as the mantle, there was a clear dark line through the eye (the supercilium was feint), and then there were those longer legs, short tail, and upright stance. A lovely bird.

Since the bird landed near me around 50 other birders had come up the track to join me from where they’d been watching it earlier. The bird had been getting people running up and down the beach, and occasionally over to the eastern beach, all morning. I stuck around the same area, getting great views each time it came back; the best being as I was leaving – it landed not five metres from me.

Waiting for the Isabelline Wheatear to fly back -
Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, 5th November 2011

This was an impulsive, smash-and-grab twitching job, but made up for missing the local bird walk in the morning. Anyway, Isabelline Wheatears tend not to stick around more than a day, so to me it was a no-brainer for me to twitch it.

I headed back just as the first bands were coming on stage back in Leeds, and I arrived at Leeds University Union about 16:00. And immediately got lost. The place has certainly changed in the, ahem, 20 years since I left the Uni. It took me ages to get my bearings and find all the stages and my friends, and the bar, etc.

Damnation is an interesting festival, with a relatively low-key line-up this year. I guess I enjoyed meeting friends and have a laugh as much as seeing the bands, but the ones that stuck out were Doom (sounding more powerful with their old-school crust than many of the younger bands on show), and Godflesh (always going to be my favourite band, even though this performance wasn’t a patch on the one at Supersonic last year. JKB left the stage at the end looking unhappy, most likely because of a technical glitch mid-set threw their focus - word of advice Justin: get a decent roadie. I'll do it for free if you want. But great to see them all the same). Here's a picture of them, sort of, from the mosh pit:

Godflesh, Damnation Festival, Leeds - 5th November 2011

It was good to meet up with some old friends and see some bands I haven’t seen in years. Plus seeing the Izzy Wheatear gave me an excuse for a few extra (too many) beers…

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