Friday, 5 February 2016

Frisky Foxes (!) and Swanage Friends - a Barn Owl too.

Wednesday 3rd February fresh SW sunny intervals, 14C

Early morning at Middlebeare, two foxes are well and truly stuck after their night of passion. For two hours they stand back to back, occasionally struggling to separate and snap at each other but to no avail.
Three spoonbills are out in the channel and a barn owl flaps past moth-like.

As for the foxes, I am videoing their predicament when suddenly they're free. The larger of the two just sits looking exhausted. The smaller one jumps around and dashes a few yards left and right before rejoining the partner for some gentle jaw open sparring.
In all my many years of watching nature I have never seen this before, an eight-legged foxy pushme-pullyou.

To Swanage after looking over for hen harriers with no luck I cycle. Through the village of Corfe and along the undulating road I cycle and go to a very dear friend, Perry's house. Unfortunately she isn't in and so I leave a message on the door and start to explore the old places I loved here back when Swanage was our home.
Around to Peveril Point and the plaque to the husband of Perry, Gordon Barnes, who died almost ten years ago. Gordon was the closest friend, other than my last wife, Karen, that I ever had. Gordon was born in Birmingham, like myself, yet in 1960 this young man became the assistant warden at the Fair isle Bird Observatory. He then became a crofter on that Fair Isle before leaving there in 1975 to sheep farm in Wales. I met him in Swanage, at Peveril Point, after he and Perry had retired from their third farm, a mixed farm in Devon. I photographed the bike with Gordon's plaque.
A phone call from Perry and a quick cycle ride to her house to spend an afternoon looking at Gordon's Fair Isle notebooks; notebooks that detailed incredibly rare birds that he's seen there. Page after page of his notes and drawings, list after list of birding seen, birds ringed and even one list detailing birds oiled by fulmars.
Hermit thrush, white's thrush, great bustard and a bird for which there is only one British record, great black-headed gull or Pallas' gull. A needle-tailed swift page even has a sharp needle tail feather stuck to the page!
Perry had a present for me for days when it may be a bit chilly cycling, a lovely pair of alpaca wool gloves. The afternoon goes quickly and Perry phones another of my best friends, Pete Barratt, to warn him that I am here. A meal at our favourite Bangaldesh restaurant is arranged for the evening.
The meal is as delicious as ever and the conversation is about lost spouses and wildlife, holidays and birding. Pete had been out to Georgia, near Azerbaijan, last year birding and had also driven out to Sweden.
The evening finishes back at Perry's house looking through photographs from the happy days when both Gordon and Karen were alive and the five of us used to spend so much time together. Photographs of sitting in the garden on hot summer days, the best photograph to me is of an alpine swift flying in front of my friends standing in a row along a cliff edge above Peveril. What a bird and oh, what happy days.

Year list still at 149, twenty ahead of this time last year.


14.76 miles 776 feet elevation up 659 feet elevation down

Arne, Dorset. A Wonderful RSPB Reserve and another bird for the year list

Wednesday 3rd February fresh to strong W sunny intervals, 9C

The cycle ride from Weymouth to Arne is a delight with a strong wind at my back and empty roads with high quality tarmac. It is going to be a great day; I can feel it in my bones.
I feel excited as I approach Arne along a lane from Stoborough. This is one of my top five favourite RSPB reserves with beautiful heathland and woodland habitats beside estuarine arms of Poole Harbour, the World's second largest natural harbour.
After having cycled through some thick smoke coming from an area being cleared of old conifers, more restoring of the original heathland habitat, I reach the reserve and go to the small visitor's reception block. There I meet Luke and Chris, RSPB staff and soon, after stowing the bike away safely, I am off speedily walking to an area where I am hoping to see my first target bird of the day, Dartford warbler.
Reaching the area of thick gorse, the exact place where I saw dartford warbler last year, I search and listen for this superb small bird. The wind is still very strong and after an hour or so I still haven't seen or heard one.
I stand near to some gorse that looks particularly suitable and take out a chocolate bar for lunch. Then I hear something; a small, scratchy sub song. It sounds as if it is coming from quite a way away. I am therefore very surprised when a male dartford warbler pops up out of the gorse about ten feet away. It moves unconcerned by my presence amongst the gorse for a few minutes. 

Then a female pops her head up too. I get such fantastic views and so close as I stand stock still and watch them exploring the gorse.
New bird for the year and the important one from the three target birds for the day, as there would have been only be a few opportunities of seeing one, being restricted to the heathlands of mostly Southern England. No matter, it is on the list. Brilliant.
I walk down to the small cliffs from where one can look over to Long Island and beyond to the ferry crossing at Studland. The tide is receding and four spoonbills are quite distant out on the mud that starts the Middlebeare channel. There are also a fair number of avocets and curlew here. In the distance to the south I can see the famous ruins of Corfe Castle. This was blown up by Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War after he captured it from the Royalist army. I take a photograph as a flock of Brent Geese are flying in front of it.

Through the large woodland and along the side of some large fields, a sign of how benign this Winter is is that there are no Winter thrushes on the grass and no finches either. Usually in a normal, cold Winter there would be hundreds of both.
Also missing are the large herds of Sika, a specie of large deer. They have obviously been culled to protect the habitats.
Back to the Visitor's Centre, which is soon to be replaced by a much larger one, hopefully by Easter, I meet Rob. Now Rob is another RSPB staff member and last year we had a fabulous day birding Arne together.
I head off for Middlebeare where the National Trust has a hide that overlooks the other end of the Middlebeare Channel from where I was earlier in the day. This sued to be one of my favourite birding places when I used to live in nearby Swanage and holds great memories for me. I haven't been here for around ten years and I am surprised at how high the trees have grown around the hide. The view across the muddy channel looks the same though with the curling dyke down the centre viewable because of it being low tide. I am hoping a hen harrier will go past and that the resident barn owl will put in a showing.
By dark neither have been seen but there have been a number of spotted redshanks and spoonbills. Little egrets and brent geese so life is good.


Year list still at 148, nineteen ahead of this time last year.


27.87 miles 1187 feet elevation up 1210 feet elevation down

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Hill after Hill to get to an American Duck

Monday 1st February          fresh to strong W     sunny intervals,                                                                   occasional light rain 13C

There is a report of a green-winged teal at Seaton, Devon which is around twenty miles from where I am at present. With the bike ready I start the cycle. This part of Devon is very hilly and the day seems to be one long push up steep hill after steep hill and the going is tough and exhausting.

Through Budleigh Salterton, through Sidmouth and after a particularly steep and long hill climb, I reach a main road with a turn off for Beer.
Unfortunately a lack of road signs takes me down to Branscombe from which to get back on the right road for Beer there is yet another steep hill.
Beer, I find the youth hostel there and leave the panniers and sleeping bag. With an unladen bike the ride over to Seaton is not that bad and I find the reserve upon which the rare American bird has been seen.

A birder carrying a telescope comes up to me saying that we met on Shetland back in 2010. His name is Tony and together we search for the teal. I find it whilst peering through some tall reeds. Great, green-winged teal goes onto the year list, yet another really good bird; a great start to February.

Year list goes to 147, eighteen ahead of this time last year.


18.66 miles 1993 feet elevation up 1869 feet elevation down

Monday, 1 February 2016

Last Day of the First Month - Exmouth

Sunday 31st January fresh to strong W cloudy AM sunny intervals PM 13C

The final day of the first month starts at Bowling Green RSPB reserve near Topsham. Waders in large numbers are coming in from off the estuary as high tide approaches. Black-tailed godwits number around 800 with a few bar-tailed with them. There are also a couple of hundred avocet and smaller numbers of dunlin and redshank. They all take off together when first a sparrowhawk flies along a hedgreow and then a female merlin does likewise.

I still need to find the Bonaparte's gull and with the weather nothing like the heavy rain forecast I cycle to Exmouth. Along the way another cyclist, Max joins me and we cycle together for a couple of miles. He talks of his job and of his two young children.
I spend a few hours along the seafront in Exmouth checking every gull as the tide recedes.

There are very few gulls though and around 4:30pm I head off for a nearby country hostel. Reaching it I am greeted by two Midlanders acting as managers of the complex. One has a coffee in her hand which is in an Aston Villa mug, my own football team sadly.

11.12 miles 497 feet elevation up 430 feet elevation down

So the day ends. Monthly statistics:-

Green Year list 146 birds
Number of birds not seen in 2015 3
Mileage 723.56 miles
average mileage on days cycled 27.83 miles
elevation up 40,184 feet
elevation down 40,344


best birds :

great white egret x 10
hoopoe
grey phalarope
lesser scaup
cattle egret
glossy ibis
American wigeon
smew
Red-necked grebe
great northern diver x 22
Firecrest  x 2
Black-throated diver x 6
Ring-billed gull
Rose-coloured starling
slavonian grebe

A Wader and An Owl, Exe Estuary, Devon.

Saturday 30th January fresh W sunny, short shower PM

To Teignmouth seafront and a search for the Bonaparte's gull I missed earlier in the month first today. The tide is high and the sun is shining; such a contrast to yesterday.
No sign of the gull, lots of herring gulls.

Same again at Dawlish, I continue to Dawlish Warren and after seeing nothing other than two great-crested grebes and a single great northern diver on the sea, I continue around to the bay by the hide. Waders are still roosting there due to the high tide and amongst a fair number of oystercatchers and curlew are some bar-tailed godwits.
I walk all around the point opposite Exmouth and back along the beach, picking up plastic rubbish as I go.
Golden syrup on chips, actually quite nice, are bought from Chippy Chaps Fish Bar by the railway tunnel and eaten for lunch. An unusual combination I know but it seems to work when vinegar is added.
stonechat
Along the excellent Exe Estuary cycle path once more, the weather is beautiful if a bit colder than of late. Just north of Exminster Marshes RSPB reserve's car park I see a woman with raised binoculars on the pathway above the level of the cycle path. I ask here if she has seen the reported short-eared owl and she tells me that it is in the field in front of us. The bird is obscured by a large hawthorn bush from my view but I soon have a sight of it.

The woman's name is Helen Hawke and she asks me how I am getting on as she saw me on Springwatch last year and knows of my quest. She asks a young coouple to take a photograph of us both and puts some money as a donation into the charity box. Thanks Helen.

To Matford Marsh RSPB reserve next but I can't see the dodgy small Canada goose. I had been warned that it is difficult to see as it stays amongst the bullrush and sedges.
Late in the afternoon I reach Topsham and Bowling Green RSPB reserve. The water level of the pools in front of the hide is a lot lower than when I was here previously and duck numbers are reduced.
As darkness falls I nsider how superb the Exe Estuary is for Green Birding. It has a superb cycle track around it's perimeter, some fabulous RSPB reserves with masses of birds, particularly brent geese and waders, the latter amass at Bowling Green when the tide is high. Then there is Dawlish Warren and it's dune system and the sea. Nearby there are woodland and hedgerows with cirl buntings amongst the commoner birds. Altogether it is the perfect area for a great day cycling and birding.

The Green Year list now stands at 146, seventeen more than this time last year.


21.69 miles 905 feet elevation up 884 feet elevation down