Friday 13th to 18th May
Friday the thirteenth. Fresh to strong NW Sun, increasing cloud, cold to very cold with wind chill.
I set off for Frampton with the news that a broad-billed sandpiper is now there with curlew sandpiper and a wryneck. T-shirt weather soon changes as clouds gather and the pleasant side on wind that takes me to King's Lynn becomes a strong and extremely cold gale.
A stop for some chips and a fish cake, I live it up by having some lunch on a picnic bench at Sutton Bridge. The cycling is tough but the three available year ticks keep me going.
The A17 is as busy as ever and I avoid it as much as I can. It would be lethal to cycle it in this howler.
Cycling along one small back road stretch I see a stoat some out of the grass in front of me. I stop and it passes right past my feet!
Eventually I reach Frampton and quickly head to the spot where the broad-billed sandpiper has been seen; a small group of birders marks the spot.
It has gone, flown off with a flock of dunlin. There is a curlew sandpiper, bird number 242.
“It will be back,” I am told.
Late evening, the bird hasn't returned and looks like it has gone. A temminck's and three little stint, as well as three curlew sandpiper and a lack of the wryneck, also gone, make for mixed feelings.
67.40 miles 1289 feet up elevation 1319 feet down elevation
Saturday 14th May Fresh NW Sunny intervals, not so cold.
A friend from the Midlands appears, Rob Wardle, and together we walk to the spot where the broad-billed sandpiper was last seen. Dunlin and ringed plover, a text jingle and a message from T Oracle. 'the sandpiper is on site.' I look across to a small group of birders adjacent to the car park and notice one waving to us frantically, beckoning to us to come on down!
Broad-billed sandpiper is a close bird, greyer than the dunlin that surround it with zebra head and obvious large drooping bill. Brilliant, a bird I haven't seen before whilst on a Green journey and my third ever.
With the bird UTB I have another go at searching for the wryneck and collect two carrier bags full of strandline plastic. This all goes to be recycled but my efforts aren't rewarded by the wryneck turning up.
I set off for Abberton reservoir in Essex. There is a Franklin's gull, an American bird that has been showing up there for a few days.
With the wind behind me at last the cycle is pleasant and reasonably fast. Through Holbeach and Wisbech, I reach the village of Three Holes and a text; two white-winged black terns at March farmers. I turn to the west and head that way.
Evening time, white-winged black tern goes onto the list despite being quite distant on the far side of the flooded meadows. Thanks to Nigel and Amanda from Deeping for the use of their telescope. Two short-eared owls are closer and there are a number of black terns out over the water also. One of the editors of Birdwatch magazine is there so who knows maybe my exploits will grace the magazine's pages. More importantly it would be fabulous to see an article on Green Birding in there.
With two more birds of superb quity added to the year list I cycle on.
69.49 miles 440 feet up elevation 423 feet down elevation
Sunday 15th May light W Sunny, cool to warm
Another target bird has appeared, a great reed warbler at Paxton Pits and I detour in that direction.
Just south of Huntingdon my mobile tells me there is a cycle path but it is a bumpy, grassy mountain bike only affair that goes along the beautiful river Ouse. It is lovely and I would love to push the bike along this stretch and enjoy the pastoral scenes but there is a rare bird to see and I return to the main road.
Paxton Pits, birders looking through gaps in the hawthorns to look over to a patch of reeds. The bird is singing away almost none stop but getting a view takes over an hour. A brief flight view and trembling reeds to show where it has landed are all I see.
Then suddenly the great reed warbler climbs a reed to near the top and so having seen it, kissed it, licked it and ticked it, another very rare bird goes onto the year list. 245.
53.17 miles 1010 feet up elevation 968 feet down elevation
Monday 16th May light W sunny, warm
Cycling along the country lanes south of Cambridge, corn buntings and yellow wagtails are seen.
Something is up with the bike, a puncture, the first of the year and the first since last June in fact so I can't complain. It is the front tyre and it takes me thirty one minutes to repair and replace.
Still the bike feels sluggish but I put it down to feeling very tired after cycling 180 miles in the last three days. Along one narrow lane and whilst cycling uphill a car comes behind me and seems reluctant to overtake. I feel irritated as I get off to let it past and feel embarrassed when the lady driving, Monica, calls me over to give a donation. She has seen the RSPB sign on the back of the bike and wants to give to them. There are lovely people out there and I shouldn't let my tiredness make me grouchy.
I reach Abberton in the late afternoon after negotiating an excruciating and convoluted maze of small lanes. Two birders from Minsmere, both RSPB staff have been here all day but haven't seen the Franklin's.
Two other birders arrive and after an hour or so one calls out that he has got it. It doesn't inspire confidence when I look through his telescope and find a little gull, not the Franklin's that he is claiming. Still it is another bird for the year list, a first summer bird almost lost amongst black-headed gulls and common terns and distant in the heat haze.
Another hour of searching passes and the same birder shouts that he has got it. His friend and I don't get onto it. They go onto a bird identification app to check and I hear, “yep, that was it.”
They leave satisfied that they have seen the rare gull.
Alone for a while, I see a hobby and a couple of yellow wagtails. Then a birder arrives, Geoff Keen from Weybridge, and together we search.
The gulls have started to fly catch in the fading light with the sun almost setting. One gull catches my eyes and I scream, “There it is!” and there it is, thirty yards in front of us flying past. Partial dark hood, dark, long wings, black bill, this is the real thing and my extremely hastily taken photograph in the gloom does it no justice.
Franklin's gull goes on the year list, unbelievably but so good. 247.
51.05 miles 1860 feet up elevation 1890 feet down elevation
Tuesday 17th May fresh SW sunshine to cloudy, cool 15C
The bike is still sluggish, especially up hills and I stop to check it out. I find that a spring on a front brake block has stopped retrcting the block from the wheel rim; repairs take a while. I have no battery left on my mobile phone and decide to get to Malden to charge it at the local library. With no news available I am cycling towards a bird, a red=footed falcon, that might not be there.
I spend two hours in the library, charging the phone and updating the news on facebook, checking emails and the like.
I reach Vange RSPB reserve, south of Basildon at around 3:00pm. The falcon hasn't been seen since one.
By dusk it hasn't returned and with the weather now cold and breezy, it seems as though it isn't likely to either. A dip and I luckily haven't suffered too many of those this year.
One pleasant thing, as per usual is the company of other birders. One in particular stands out, Tom Bell, a very enthusiastic young man who's patch is Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve. He delights in talking about the birds he has seen and the places he is about to go birding to. Minsmere and Skomer, very good; Alaska and California, brilliant.
The year list is 247, twenty four ahead of this time last year.
Time to head north, back to North Norfolk for an appearance at the excellent Norfolk Bird Fair this weekend. Hope to see you there.
Last six days cycling:-
320 miles 7283 feet up elevation 7128 feet down elevation