Saturday, 16 January 2016
Friday 15th January fresh to strong NW sunny intervals, hail showers
The road today will be hilly. The wind today will be obliquely in my face. The weather forecast says showers. I set off.
No birds in the hedgerows today, I pass the spot where two male cirl buntings were the other day. The wind is keeping them down. The big push begins and the day alternates between long up sections through beautiful wood, down steep brake-screeching falls and flat river side roads.
Between Chudleigh and Bovey Tracy there is a road block, possibly due to flooding. I have to go around the diversion.
Beyond the latter the climb to get to the top of the Dartmoor plateau is long and tortuous. Today is turning into one of the hardest days for months. Hail showers add to the fun!
The top though is beautiful in full sunshine now with the grey and white curtain of the receding hail departing to the south. The two Tors to the north have brown bracken patches with green pathways and exposed rocky outcrops to tempt the walker to climb.
Day after day, alone on a hill , , , ,
Through Widecombe, all this is taking a lot longer than expected, and up again. The road sign stops saying Dartmeet and I turn for Postbridge. The road become one long sheet of ice and snow and skating away on the thin ice of new day becomes my task for the next few miles, slowing me down even further.
Reaching Postbridge, the main road is clear of ice but narrowed by snow. Half way to Two Bridges the views over Dartmoor are stunning, old yellow grass stems poking through the snow, all stand out as the Sun sets.
A very good friend, Lee Dark, has been texting me all day as to my progress and now meets me in the fading light for a brief chat. We are both worried about the state of the road as darkness falls and the temperature drops below freezing.
In the dark, past Dartmoor prison, I plummet off the moorland and down to Tavistock. The owner of tonight's bed & breakfast, Kingfisher Cottage at Tavistock, phones me as I am screeching down the last hill drop; I must change the front brake block! He was worried about me, as it is now near half past six. Two minutes later we are chatting as the kettle boils.
The Green Year list still stands at 115. The average mileage for January is now approaching 31 miles per day. Today's elevation is more than the height of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. Ouch!
41.09 miles 4423 feet elevation up 4134 feet elevation down
Friday, 15 January 2016
Thursday 14th January Strong NW Cold and sunny
Only one target today, the bonaparte's gull hopefully at Exmouth. I should have made this the priority three days back and gone there after Bowling Green RSPB reserve instead of heading for Dawlish Warren. Green Birding on my scale depends on the rare birds with opportunities for the more common species presenting themselves along the way.
Oh well, today I may rectify my mistake.
The cycle ride around the whole of the Exe Estuary is easy along the cycle way and my old comedy song repertoire keeps me going. I am busy doing nothing, working the whole day through, with positive thinking bringing me sunshine.
For five hours I search the Exmouth seafront. For five hours I look out across to Dawlish Warren in strong sunshine but bitingly cold wind. Joined by three Devon birders but still no Boneys.
Mark, the main gull man goes off to try another area and phones back. He has found a glaucous gull. Everyone hightails off to find Mark and the gull. I try to find them all. Can't. In panic I search the seafront but no birders. I search the far sandbanks. No Glaucous!
I retrace my cycle route back to the Red House over yonder without an addition to the year list. Will that glaucous come back to haunt me?
The Green Year list still stands at 115, fifteen ahead of where I was at this time last year.
25.33 miles 708 feet elevation up 778 feet elevation down
Thursday, 14 January 2016
Wednesday 13th January light W Warm sunny AM 9C showers cooler PM
The thought that I would get to Tavistock by evening is on my mind when my mobile comes back to life after being in a no signal void at Dawlish. I am on the road west towards Ashcombe and the small lane is already a series of ups and downs. A male cirl bunting is singing in an oak tree.
Brilliant to get one, I had expected to have to go to the Labrador Bay RSPB reserve area on the return through this way in about three weeks time.
There is another one lower down in a bush and closer further down the lane.
Eight texts messages in less than a minute, there is a little bunting at Dart's Farm, Topsham. Texting birding friends for confirmation before making the decision to turn around and go back I receive phone calls from Chris Craig and Tony Barter. Seen at 8:30am, I retrace my route and on reaching the main Exeter road head north and onto the Exe Estuary cycle path once more.
At Dart's Farm once reached there is a group of around a dozen birders searching a stubble field. The bird was seen at 12:15, it is now 1:00pm.
There are plenty of chaffinches and goldfinches. With them is a male brambling. Chatting may have cost me the little bunting. Whilst talking to a birder who used to frequent Upton Warren, my ex-patch in Worcestershire, John Day, the birder with telescope to our left says that he has just had it, that he had been watching it in a distant oak tree. He didn't tell us this until the bird had flown. No one else has seen it.
Kevin Rylands is the local RSPB conservation consultant and together with John Day I spend the rest of the afternoon searching for the special one, unsuccessfully. A female merlin does pass, dashing one way over a hill crest and then returning about half an hour later. Both are great company, as are other Devon and Somerset birders some of whom come over for a chat and give good wishes having seen my blog.
The cycle back to Starcross on the west side of the Exe is along the cycle path once more in the dark and with rain falling though. With a feeling of complete safety away from raods I put my MP earplugs in and sing Pink Floyd songs all the way to a superb Bed & Breakfast, The Red House. Now why haven't I got the Jimi Hendrix song on the player?
A lovely evening is spent talking with the proprietor and a guest, Corinne and Rosella. Corinne talks about her writing a novel about a child with Aspergers Syndrome and Rosella is a Spanish lady from Murcia who is a vet over here. How appalling that she was given a job here on half salary of British vets with her qualifications due to her nationality.
The Green Year list now stands at 115, seventeen ahead of where I was at this time last year.
25.33 miles 708 feet elevation up 778 feet elevation down
Tuesday, 12 January 2016
Tuesday 12th January Fresh to strong NW Showers and rainbows
Sun-arise early in the morning at Bowling Green RSPB reserve and the high tide on the Exe Estuary brings in masses of avocet and black-tailed godwits; around six hundred and possibly over a thousand. The two greenshank from yesterday are still parading the margins, this time they are accompanied by over forty redshank. It seems the spotted redshank out on the river last night is now in front of me close enough to photograph.
Two birders come into the hide. The first is Dean Reeves who immediately tells me that last year he was second on the Surfbirds year list list; being second to Lee Evans. He looks at me and remembers where we met before five years ago. Dean it was that woke me up as I slept in the hide at Shapwick, Somerset. Together we remember the birds we saw on that day; sand martins and a long-tailed duck, winter and summer.
The next birder, Martin Elcoate, comes in resplendent in cycling gear which is a good job as he has a Specialised bicycle with him. Martin is a Green Birder! With his patch being the three kilometre square around Bowling Green reserve and Topsham, Martin says that he comes here regularly on his way to work. With a desire to be more environmentally friendly, he and his wife decided that one car would be better than two and so Martin now travels to work by bicycle. So far this year Martin has eighty seven on his Green year list; last year he saw one hundred and thirty five.
Brilliant to meet both birders, the conversation is sharp and interesting.
Once the wader flocks had settled after fly pasts en masse, I set off through Topsham to the other, the west side of the River Exe and head downstream along the Exe Estuary cycle path. Flowering daffodils! It is January isn't it?
A female red-breasted merganser is swimming lone on the river and there are stonechat and cetti's warblers calling along the way. Before reaching Powderham large flocks of brent geese are feeding in the flooded meadows, especially on the RSPB Exminster Marshes.
Just before reaching Dawlish Warren a farmer named Richard stops me to ask whether I could look on one of his stubble fields for cirl buntings. I look but find none, just a large flock of linnets, a few chaffinches and a lone buzzard.
Down to Dawlish Warren nature reserve, I search the sea for grebes but only find great crested. A rock pipit is close by at the foot of a groyne stanchion. Two shags are out on the sea jumping as they dive beneath the waves. Linnets and stonechats are near the dunes.
The weather makes the walk along the beach bracing with a strong north westerly gale blowing sand into my face. I am here to look for the Bonaparte's gull but although it has been around Dawlish and Exmouth for over a year I cannot find it.
I go all around the Warren, following the sea around to the hide on the north side. Here there is a lone grey plover and a couple of curlew. The tide is extremely low and with the gale birds are well spread throughout the estuary and not here.
I head back to the small woodland near to the visitor's centre and look unsuccessfully for the reported firecrest. There are a couple of goldcrests here and a chiff chaff.
Another search over the sea gives just half a dozen or so great crested grebes.
A day of strong wind, showers and rainbows ends with a lovely sunset.
The Green Year list now stands at 112.
20.51 miles 588 feet elevation up 511 feet elevation down
Monday 11th January Light to fresh S Sunny intervals with drizzly showers 7C
Barbara has a whole wall of her dining room devoted to world travel. Coloured flags denote where she has been and white flags are stuck on where her bed & breakfast clients live. She is obviously adventurous as the photographs of her with friends atop various European mountains show. What a great bed & breakfast, Heather Croft Taunton; she deserves a plug.
The day is spent heading south which is mostly along the A38 until I make a mistake and lose it. The next five miles are spent negotiating a country lane with very questionable tarmac. Finding the A38 replacement I reach Exeter and get to the excellent RSPB reserve, Bowling Green at Topsham. Into the hide, the nearest flock of wigeon has my target bird, an male American wigeon. There is also a lone oystercatcher, another new year tick surprisingly late addition.
The Green Year list now stands at 106.
40.25 miles 1798 feet elevation up 1863 feet elevation down
Sunday, 10 January 2016
Sunday 10th January light to fresh S Sunny interval with heavy rain shower band from 1:00pm to 2:00pm
Not out as early as I should be but breakfast at the Newhouse Farm B and B, Westhay is superb. Out by 9:15am, I head immediately for Ham Wall RSPB reserve and yet another go at seeing the dusky warbler.
Arriving at the spot I know so well by now I hear it calling. It is there in front of me amongst some thistles away from the water's edge and near the path. Call a soft tack repeated quite quickly, pale legs obvious to see and the supercilium is whitish both before and after the eye.
It crosses the canal in front of me and keeps low in amongst the ground vegetation only allowing brief glimpses. A very fast, erratic bird, it stops calling and disappears.
Feeling that I really deserved this one, having missed a couple last year by minutes, I celebrate in my time honoured way. “Yes!”
A '16' bird in 2016; I need sixteen new birds above what I achieved last year to take the European record.
I searched the reedbeds and lakes adjacent to the muddy path but didn't see much of note, except unfortunately for a black mink swimming across the canal and heading into the reedbed.
Leaving ham wall after almost forty eight hours here I head for Greylake RSPB reserve and arrive just in time to enjoy lunch, four pieces of Toblerone and some orange juice, and shelter from some heavy rain showers.
Later I reach Taunton for an overnight stop.
The Green Year list now stands at 102.
26.18 miles 950 feet elevation up 861 feet elevation down
Saturday 9th January light S-SW Heavy rain showers, occasional thunder.
Starlings leave and go overhead as I sit in the hide at Noah's Lake, Shapwick listening to the rain on the roof and the conversation from another early riser, Rob. Rob says that he is down here most days photographing whatever nature puts in front of him.
By 9:30am the starlings have all gone and the great white egrets have left the roost. Still no sign of the glossy ibis though.
In heavy rain I cycle to the the road and hide the bike. I don't want to trudge and push it through the mud. Unencumbered I walk down to the dusky warbler spot again and meet someone looking pleased. He has just seen it. Confidence is high once more.
By 3:00pm confidence has gone and over five hours standing in the rain has not given me even a glimpse of it. I did get a year tick, number 100 on the list. A couple of meadow pipits were on an area of cut reed amongst pied wagtails. There have been very few other birders braving the weather and only one, Paul Williams from Clevedon, spent the day as I did. He went for a walk and saw the glossy!
Well there's always tomorrow.
I retire to the Railway Inn and buy a couple of rolls. Having only had a packet of Hobnobs and some bars given to me yesterday by Pete Drommett I needed some sustenance.
Down to the Noah's Lake hide again which is full of starling watchers. A group of four, two couples are from Winchester. Together we watch the grey skies and as rain falls and darkness does likewise, masses of starlings fly over. A sparrowhawk tazzes past, almost seeming that it was coming in the hide with us. It is carrying one of the starlings. Well one million take away one.
Then . . . I shout out . . . Glossy ibis!
There it is flying low over the reedbed to the right. It lands for a short while out in front of me and then takes off heading left low over the water until it has gone into trees.
The Green Year list now stands at 101.
Friday 8th January light S wind Very sunny, warm, 9C
Chris Craig and I stand on their patio as I prepare to leave and a marsh tit comes down to their peanut feeder; first of the year. After the big push up onto The Mendips, another bird is soon added when I see three stonechats before plunging down through Cheddar Gorge.
On flatter ground with drains and dykes two green sandpipers fly over me and a completely white pheasant was alone in a muddy field. This is the only pheasant I have seen since leaving Worcestershire.
I reach the spot where a cattle egret has been reported and there are indeed a herd of a dozen large cows. There isn't a cattle egret with them though, just four little egrets. I cycle further down the narrow country lane and a very close buzzard poses on a dead tree stump.
I return to the cows and wait. Lunch consists of two three day old doughnuts and some orange squash. Live it up I do.
After waiting about forty-five minutes the cattle egret flies over and lands in a field away from the cows beside a small ditch. It just sits there and preens.
To Shapwick/Ham Wall RSPB reserves next to meet Pete Dommett, a freelance writer for a photo shoot. Pete has written an article about Green Birding for youngsters to go into the Wildlife Trust magazine, Watch and wants to include a short piece about my exploits.
If you want to know more about Pete or commission him then email him at :-
Pete is friendly companion for the afternoon and is also into nature and so we walk down to try and see the dusky warbler, seemingly my bogey bird, which has been in bushes beside the path through the extensive RSPB reserve.
Marsh harriers are making the ducks nervous as we negotiate the mud. Reaching the dusky warbler area we meet a couple who I last saw at Mid Yell, Shetland last year. They have just seen the rare bird and confidence is high.The weather is lovely and so warm. There is even a hawthorn bush with blossom and leaves. Is that in for a shock when winter arrives, if it ever does?
Two hours later confidence has dissipated. No dusky. Pete decides to take a photograph of me and a chiff chaff lands on a twig beside his head.
Back at the car park, made larger last year due to the large number of visitors that come here at this time of year to see what I would imagine is the largest starling murmuration and roost in Britain, Pete and I continue past quite a number of people gathered along the long path through Shapwick Heath. Masses of starlings go overhead, tens of thousands of them. The sunset on this beautiful warm, windless day is quite lovely with flock after flock of the fascinating birds going past.
I go to the hide after Pete leaves for home and make myself comfortable. Great white egrets come into roost, seven of them but there is no sign of the reported glossy ibis.
Two dips of important birds, if I am going to get the 300 then I need birds of the quality of dusky warbler and glossy ibis. Not too disappointed, it just means I will have to bird the reserves again tomorrow instead of moving on.
The Green Year list now stands at 99.
26.60 miles 1045 feet elevation up 1473 feet elevation down