A UK Green birder, birdwatcher, twitcher and environmentalist, Gary Prescott aka The Biking Birder is going to detail all of the new things in his life this year. Starting with working at Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm.
15th January fresh to strong NW sunny intervals, hail showers
road today will be hilly. The wind today will be obliquely in my
face. The weather forecast says showers. I set off.
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
Chudleigh and Bovey Tracy there is a road block, possibly due to
flooding. I have to go around the diversion.
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!
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.
after day, alone on a hill , , , ,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
miles 4423 feet elevation up 4134 feet elevation down
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
well, today I may rectify my mistake.
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.
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!
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?
Green Year list still stands at 115, fifteen ahead of
where I was at this time last year.
miles 708 feet elevation up 778 feet elevation down
13th January light W Warm sunny AM 9C showers cooler PM
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.
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.
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
are plenty of chaffinches and goldfinches. With them is a male
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.
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.
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?
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
Green Year list now stands at 115, seventeen ahead of where I
was at this time last year.
miles 708 feet elevation up 778 feet elevation down
12th January Fresh to strong NW Showers and rainbows
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
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
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.
to meet both birders, the conversation is sharp and interesting.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
search over the sea gives just half a dozen or so great crested
day of strong wind, showers and rainbows ends with a lovely sunset.
Green Year list now stands at 112.
miles 588 feet elevation up 511 feet elevation down
11th January Light to fresh S Sunny intervals with drizzly
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.
day is spent heading southwhich
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
There is also a lone oystercatcher,
another new year tick surprisingly late addition.
light fading fast I head for the platform where one can see the
length of the Exe Estuary. It is low tide and amongst a small group
of redshank stands a lone spotted redshank.
Green Year list now stands at 106.
miles 1798 feet elevation up 1863 feet elevation down
10th January light to fresh S Sunny interval with heavy rain
shower band from 1:00pm to 2:00pm
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.
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.
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.
that I really deserved this one, having missed a couple last year by
minutes, I celebrate in my time honoured way. “Yes!”
'16' bird in 2016; I need sixteen new birds above what I achieved
last year to take the European record.
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.
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
I reach Taunton for an overnight stop.
Green Year list now stands at 102.
miles 950 feet elevation up 861 feet elevation down
9th January light S-SW Heavy rain showers, occasional thunder.
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.
9:30am the starlings have all gone and the great white egrets have
left the roost. Still no sign of the glossy ibis though.
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.
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
there's always tomorrow.
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.
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.
. . . I shout out . . . Glossy ibis!
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.
8th January light S wind Very sunny, warm, 9C
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
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.
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.
return to the cows and wait. Lunch consists of two three day old
doughnuts and some orange squash. Live it up I do.
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.
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.
you want to know more about Pete or commission him then email him at
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Green Year list now stands at 99.
miles 1045 feet elevation up 1473 feet elevation down