You may not have noticed but today was the beginning of the end for a little bit of Birdwatching history as Vodaphone, the last producers of pagers announced that they are no longer going to make them? Whats the big deal you may say?
Well for some of us pagers were for many years our life-line for finding and seeing (or missing) rare birds in the U.K.
It all started with a lovely little Cafe in Cley-Next-The Sea, Norfolk. I am probably from the last generation to have experienced the legendary 'Nancys Cafe' (run would you believe by Nancy Gull - Honest)! And well remember my first visit when I was asked if I wanted my tea in a cup or a mug, not being a lady, I of course asked for a Mug and received a huge steaming mug of tea and a piece of home-made butter cream sponge cake (bigger than my closed hand) for...50P! Nancy's was the beating heart of the bird information network for many years, with people from all around Britain phoning in their rarities while groups of lingering twitchers sat waiting for the phone to ring, drinking gallons of tea and reducing huge quantities of cake to crumbs.
This all came to an end in the mid-1980s when sadly Nancy retired, but a group of birders from Norfolk then had the idea of a premium rate phone line that you could call from any phone box in Britain to find out the hottest bird news. It was a brilliant idea for a time when nobody had a mobile phone and made the guys who thought it up a fortune.
Then someone had the bright idea of telling people what they wanted to see without having to keep stopping and finding change for the phone and Rare Bird Alert was born and for the next ten or fifteen years, the pager would be king! A simple beep would notify you of recent news but what everyone wanted to hear was the dynamic concerto of a Maga-Alert, to say that something rare and splendid had turned up somewhere in the country.
I well remember my first solo trip to the Scillies. I was on board the Scillonian and already past the outermost islands when the ship erupted in noise. You have to realise that apart from a handful of day-trippers the whole ships contingent was made up of serious birders, 100 to 120 people, fifty percent of which had a pager! It was uproar. "What is it, what is it?" were the only words you could hear. It was a rarity and... it was on Scilly - a Paddyfield Warbler near the medical centre, just ten minutes yomp from the harbour. Wow we hadn't even arrived and it was all happening.
In those days it was not unusual for a mega-alert to be followed by a repeat of the message for anyone outside of transmission range for the first one, so nobody was surprised when the mega went of for a second time a couple of minutes later. Now everyone was pretty cool about taking out their pagers, after all, they knew what was happening - didn't they?
But it wasn't a repeat message, it was for Scilly but it wasn't a Paddyfield Warbler. This time it was a Rose Breasted Grosbeak on St Martins Island and everyone was suddenly in a panic. What do we do when we dock, run for the Paddyfield or jump on the boat for St Martins. I chose the Paddyfield and got fantastic close views (including it flying between the legs of one birder) but if I had gone to St Martins I would have been £10.00 better off and RB Grosbeak would now be on my life list, as two subsequent visits to the islands failed to produce the very desirable yank!
Obviously Mobile Phone technology has gradually replaced the need for pagers but I am glad to have been there when pagers were king and it is with a little bit of sadness that I hear they will soon be no more.
I am sure that a few reading this may well feel much the same? - Chaz