Monday 22nd February light to fresh W Sunny 9C
The bicycle is all shiny, serviced and ready as I collect it. New chain and gear system, new brakes and cables, new back wheel with a new Marathon Schwalbe Plus tyre and a new cartridge; the bike looks fabulous and the ride is perfect after Stephen and Stephen, Dad and Son, are paid.
Goodbye to cousin, Rosemary and Paschal and a simple, reasonably quick ride to Virginia Water around fourteen miles north west.
Entering the park via the eastern entrance, I cycle path a large, new cafe and find the path around the lake has been improved since my last visit ten years or so ago. I search the cascade in the the south east corner but don;t find any of the brilliantly attractive ducks that Virginia Water is well known for. I head for the tall totem pole and where a small pool is cut off from the main lake, people are feeding a number of common duck in amongst which are four male Mandarin with a lone female.
Two ring-necked parakeets fly over and land reasonable nearby and so in the space of just a few minutes, today's target birds are added to the list bringing it to 169.
Now this number of different birds had not been seen until the end of March last year so my progress is superb. Three red kites fly over, two of them in a sort of close together display flight. London is so lucky that the Chiltern reintroduced birds have multiplied and spread to such an extent that London skies frequently contain these magnificent birds. I just hope that they continue to increase their numbers so that more people can enjoy their elegant spectacle.
Through Staines and north to the west of Heathrow I reach a public house just outside West Drayton that two of my best friends will remember well; the Paddington Packet Boat. I want to stay here for the night because back in 1985 it was a directional landmark for a teacher with three young students who were searching for a special bird, a ferruginous duck.
I was that teacher and the students, Alex the Bear Barter, Jason John Oliver and Richard Southall were out on a bird watching trip. For the three Wolverhampton boys it was their first experience of rarity searching, twitching as it is called. That day so long ago had already been successful with a famous Siberian bird, an olive-backed pipit, having been seen in the back garden of a Bracknell garden. This bird had caused queues of birders to stand outside Huckleberry Close waiting their turn to go into the lounge of the bird's finders to watch it in comfort.
When we arrived early in the morning, after driving through the night despite my wife's dire warning of impending doom that she psychic-like predicted, there was a note on the door asking that birders gave the occupants a rest and went instead around the the nearby Primary school's playing field where the bird could be seen. We did, we saw and happy we left to go get the next bird on the lads' want list, smew at Kingsbury.
Back in the days before pagers and SatNavs things weren't quite so easy over getting accurate gen (information). Our happy troup were buzzing with excitement as we went through some large gates to get to the perimeter road that went around the large Wrasbury reservoir. Some workers busy painting those gates even waved us through and wished us luck. Those workers left the same gates locked when we returned an hour or so later!
Now trapped inside the reservoir we drove around the reservoir. We hadn't found any smew and we were now stuck inside the reservoir grounds with apparently no way out. No mobile phones to get help, we found a gate that we thought we could lift off the hinges and so escape. We heaved, we laughed, we couldn't lift it. Whilst we tried a police car arrived and the officers heard of why we were inside and why we were trying to get out. They had had a report from a member of the public that some lads were trying to steal the gates. “We'll send someone to let you out,” the police officers laughed.
Two hours later an old man on an old squeaky bicycle arrived with a key.
Still upbeat despite dipping on the smew, we went the short distance to the Paddington Packet Boat. The large gravel pits was supposed to be the home for a male 'fudge' duck but we couldn;t find it. We searched and did find an area of bomb crater like pits where some locals had been digging out old Victorian bottles. Two dips and a Siberian birds, we drove home to the Midlands.
It later turned out that we were at the wrong place at Wrasbury. The smew were on another pool near to the reservoir. As for the ferruginous duck, that had been hiding under a tree almost next to the car and we had missed it.
As for the lads; one, Jason is still a very keen birder who takes his young son, Jack birding most weekends.
Richard is occasionally seen birding but loves dragonflies more than birds.
Richard with a yellow shirt me.
Sadly the Bear died too young. An un-diagnosed heart condition caused a heart attack and a great close friend had gone.
Alex the Bear and Richard
A wonderful thing is that his brother has taken up Alex's binoculars and is now a very keen birder.
Nowadays the group of ex-students who bird is much larger; indeed we have our own facebook group page, The Birding Clams.
No room at the Inn, I backtracked to West Drayton where a hotel had a bed. The daylight faded as large flocks of ring-necked parakeets flew into an adjacent park to roost, hundreds of them.
So the year list is now 169, nineteen ahead of this time last year.
27.15 Miles 786 elevation up 920 elevation down