Saturday, 23 April 2016
Friday 22nd April fresh N Cloudy with occasional light rain. Cool 8C with cold wind.
in other words . . .
It is amazing to see on the blog where people who are following me come from. It is possible to see the countries and in the last week the above morning greeting represents the top ten countries. Thanks to you all and I hope that my pages may inspire you all to try Green Birding and do your bit to limit Climate Change/Global Warming. On that subject, it is so wonderful to see the commitment Leonardo di Caprio has to this as his latest donations show.
The Oracle's text from the previous evening states that there are two black terns at Alton Water south of Ipswich; a bird that I have never managed to see whilst cycling so of major importance to add to the list. After fixing th back brake in the shelter of the South hide and after a chat with an early rising RSPB staff member, I set off south. Leaving Minsmere is strange after the last four days here. Each day has been different and I feel I know the reserve a lot better having explored every pathway. This could easily become my favourite RSPB reserve, so diverse and with such incredible biodiversity.
By 9:00am I am at Blaxhall youth hostel and having no word from Phil about the terns, I book in. Coffee and washing up, my phone receives two texts and I miss a phone call. The terns are still there! With apologies to Amy, the hostel manager, and reimbursed the overnight cost, I set off once more as the weather deteriorates and spitting rain falls.
Through Woodbridge and Ipswich, where I make the mistake of following the convoluted Route 1 Sustrans cycle path instead of the straight main road, I get, eventually, to Lemon's Hill bridge. A gentleman in a car calls my name. Chris Baines, a facebook friend who I had last seen whilst watching a bluethroat near The Hook on Blakeney Point four years ago, Calls me over and together we watch distant terns. A year tick, seven or more arctic terns are over the water and then I actually make a little leap into the air.
A black tern comes into view. Brilliant. It is cold and raining slightly so photographs are appalling but both birds are on the list, 219. Black tern becomes the latest '16' bird, one that I didn't see last year. I need sixteen of these over and above the 289 I did see. Now maybe it is the cricket fan in me but I break the 16 down into 4 per quarter, that is four '16' birds per three month period. January to March gave me four : dusky warbler, Hudsonian whimbrel, glaucous gull and greater yellowlegs. April has given me two already, savi's warbler and now black tern. Things are looking good. Little targets to keep the spirits up and keep the legs pedalling.
Another pleasing thing from the bridge is the number of hirundines hunting flies low over the water. They are mostly swallows with some sand martins and the occasional house martin.
Saying goodbye to Chris, as I am now starting to shiver, I head off along the circumnavigating the lake cycle path. A helicopter comes low and lands in a garden backing onto the path.
Three miles later I am warming up with a large hot chocolate and enjoying the company of Gina and Andrew, the owners of the cafe at the south end of the lake. Mentioning the helicopter I am told it belongs to a city banker.
The only other customer in the cafe is Doreen, a local originally from Anfield, Liverpool. The four of us chat awhile before all too soon it is closing time and I carry on to search the lake for other birds. Three little gulls were reported this morning but they have moved on.
The Green Year list now stands at 219, still 30 birds ahead of this time last year.
50.69 miles 1473 feet elevation up 1443 elevation down
Thursday 21st April part 2
There is a pregnant wood mouse by the RSPB's solitary wasp tower at the visitor's centre and people gather to watch her as she walks and bounds around our feet before disappearing into some leaf litter.
It is late afternoon. I walk through the large woodland area marvelling at the amount of fallen trees and dead wood. The woodland though is silent and I spend the time looking at the wonderful variety of patterns on the trunks and stumps.
Another reason to enjoy the walk is the total lack of anyone else around. Don't get me wrong, I love people but sometimes I just want to be alone.
The trail takes me towards Dunwich Heath and along a sandy track I come across a wasp species creating a circular hole. I sit down to watch. Must look up the species and find out what it was actually up to.
Is it a parasitic wasp that has buried a paralysed prey item and lays an egg on it whereupon the poor creature waits knowing that upon the hatching of the egg it is on the menu? Always fascinating, I find parasitism one of the most incredible things in nature. Now what's the name of the worm that lives in our eyelashes?
A sandy area on the heath has evidence of another interesting creature, the capture pits of the antlion. Like the sandy hole that so many are thrown into by Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars, The Return of the Jedi, the antlion has made a pit into which an insect might fall into. If one does the antlion grabs it for a tasty meal.
Down to the shore with not a bird to be seen out at sea. Minsmere at the moment is definitely not the place for a protracted seawatch. Once on the north wall path to enter the RSPB reserve there are birds as bearded tits ping and fly.
Back in the shelter of the North Hide overlooking the scrape there are four Mediterranean gulls to watch with one pair exchanging glances and green weed.
A male redshank has loving intentions and pipes whilst moving ever closer to his desired love. He takes off and whilst hovering lower must be gutted to see the female fly off. It was ever thus.
Thursday, 21 April 2016
Thursday 21st April fresh NE Very sunny all day. Slightly warmer at 10C
I decide to walk down to the Sizewell Nuclear power station after a lovely bright sunrise. The wind is still north easterly and cool at 6:00am. It interests me how the high cirrus clouds are heading north, albeit slowly.
A kingfisher lands on a post near to the scrape and bearded tits pink their way between reedbeds. The former bird proves difficult to photograph through the reeds and is soon off.
With still no news on any new bird for the year list anywhere nearby and the ones that are will be easy to get later, it seems only sensible to explore all areas of Minsmere. The low dunes and sandy pathway with low hairy birch, willow and oak with sporadic pines look good for any migrant warblers and indeed there is a lesser whitethroat to add to the year list, 217. Look carefully because a dog came barking and off it flew.
Lying in my sleeping bag the previous night, instead of counting sheep I counted regular occurring birds that I still need. I made it fifty. That means I would need thirty four rarities, one a week. I will take that at this time of year.
A text from 'The Oracle,' Phil Andrews asks whether I am up to cycling to Bedfordshire to see white stork and the sole Lady Amhurst's pheasant. “Of course I am,” I reply “but only if the white stork isn't plastic.” I bird on not too confident that the stork will be a real wild bird. There is a greenshank on Lucky Pool and three brent geese head north along the beach.
After searching for but not finding the rare whorl snails near the Minsmere sluice it is rather strange to see a fulmar coming from over the scrape. It heads out to where one would expect to see it,over the sea.
From the elevated position of the sea wall path I can see over the scrape and notice a large peregrine tucking in to a large prey item. I go to the public platform and get great views of it despite heat haze and distance.
There are a number of waders close to the feeding bird; black and bar-tailed godwits and dunlin. All of them must be thinking that the peregrine will be some time eating and so in the meantime they feel safe.
Walking back towards the north walk four whimbrel come down the beach. Three carry on towards Lucky Pool. The other one turns and heads north.
Bearded tits show as I walk towards the visitors' centre and the sand martins are tazzing around the sandstone cliff as I go towards the cafe. Once inside one of the staff, Doreen gives me a cheese scone. Delicious and it went well with fruit crumble and custard. Maggie, another cafe worker comes over and chats about her twenty years of playing the French horn in the North Opera orchestra. RSPB attracts volunteers from all walks of life, wonderful people.
The Green Year list now stands at 217, still 29 birds ahead of this time last year.
Wednesday 20th April fresh to strong NE Very sunny all day. Cool 8C with cold wind.
After a cold night I am up around seven and head down to the Island Mere hide. Despite the early hour there are a number of photographers in there and the clicks start almost immediately as three otters strut on top of a large pile of cut reeds. They eventually swim along the reed edge, causing consternation with a nearby greylag and disappear.
I walk off in the direction of the Bittern hide, stopping every so often to look for any migrants in the trees. Blackcaps and chiff chaffs oblige.
From the North hide overlooking the scrape I find two well hidden snipe and chat with a couple from Stoke on Trent, Nick and Helga who tell me that they follow my adventures on the Biking Birder 2016 blog.
The cafe closes and immediately a male pheasant, a red-legged partridge, a magpie and a number of chaffinches come down to search for titbits. I go to the west hide at the scrape. This I feel will be warmest place with a setting sun providing warm as long as the shutters are shut.
I search through the larger gulls and find a yellow-legged amongst them
As evening falls and the sun sets, a large full Moon rises over the sea bank.
Five common tern look almost chocolate brown in the fading light and a peregrine looks to have rosy underparts as it chases a bar-tailed godwit. The godwit survives, just, by diving into the water.
The Green Year list now stands at 216, still 30 birds ahead of this time last year.
Tuesday 19th April Light to fresh NE Very sunny all day. Cool 8C with cold wind.
Early morning with nightingales, three of them singing in turns and occasionally coming out into obscured views. I am sitting on a grassy knoll amongst gorse bushes listening. Cetti's, willow warblers, chiff chaff and blackcap all add voice to the chorus.
With bird number 215 on the list I head back towards Minsmere and stop to walk a public footpath to search for whitethroat. The area looks perfect for them with thick bramble patches and sporadic bits of hawthorn hedge. I chat with a local woman out for a walk in the bright sunshine. A whitethroat comes out onto the topmost twig of a hawthorn and scratches it's song. Bird number 216.
To the Island Mere hide just in time to see a bittern fly over the reeds to land nearby in the dense reedbed. Four bearded tits, including two males do the same. There is the briefest glimpse of an otter way over the back of the mere amongst the reedbed edge.
Once more to the scrape with my mobile staying as silent as the grave. Every minute I am hoping for news of some rare bird having been found within cycling distance but nothing. The wind and weather conditions are all wrong. Cold northerlies and full sunshine is either stopping migrant birds from moving in large numbers or some are flying straight over with no reason for stopping.
I spend some time on the internet in the cafe before heading once more for the scrape.
Apparently the scrape was the idea of the first resident warden at Minsmere, the famous Bert Axell. The area had been flooded during World war 2 to prevent any possibility of German tanks finding an area to invade. The wetlands created attracted avocet which bred for the first time on over one hundred years. These attracted visitors and ber came up with the scrape idea for the avocets in the early 1960s, an idea which has been copied around the world. When the RSPB were given the opportunity to buy the area they had to quickly raise £240,000 and thankfully they managed to do just that.
At the scrape, two common terns are flying around as three more rest on a muddy island. The bar-tailed godwit is still here as are a number of Mediterranean gulls.
Afterwards I head around for the sea and spend an hour seawatching seeing three harbour porpoise and a single red-throated diver heading north low over the sea.
A male stonechat is atop some gorse near the north walk looking superb in the sun. There is no sign of the stone curlews in the field but seven red deer are relaxing there.
Once more through the woods I head for an evening at the Island Mere hide, stopping on the way to watch a superb male redstart fresh in, and watch as otters and bitterns give great views. Outside, in the cold wind, and RSPB staff member is logging booming bitterns, mapping the booms so that she can collate results with other colleagues later and see how many booming males the reserve has.
The Green Year list now stands at 216, still 30 birds ahead of this time last year.
Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Monday 18th April Light to fresh NW Cloud built up during day yet dry. Cool 8C with chilly wind.
A Tawny owl is hooting as I cycle along the road through the oak woodland. A cuckoo is cuckooing as I walk up the ramp to the Island Mere hide at 5:00am. It is still, cold and cloudless. Bitterns are booming and water rail are squealing. The Savi's is reeling away again but still a long way away so no chance of views.
Two early morning photographers come into the hide before six, one of whom tells me that I met his wife, Claire last week. Three otters decide to swim across the far left corner of the mere. Two bittern decide to show themselves by flying over the reedbed as marsh harriers sky dance.
Along to the visitors' centre, I go straight past and down to the stone curlew field where a distant bird is standing up on the far side. Another year tick, 213 and a bird that will save my legs from having to cycle to Weeting Heath to see one there. Shame really as I love Weeting Heath and the staff and set up there.
I spend the morning in the North Scrape hide with Robin Harvey, the site manager for the reserve and all-round brilliant birder. With a team of seven wardens, he and others run the Minsmere reserve as well as a couple of nearby RSPB reserves. A little-ringed plover lands nearby and a house martin flies over, Robin's first of the year.
Later in the day, after a meal in the cafe and after publicity photographs for the RSPB Suffolk Twitter feed, I see my first swift of the year speedily flying over the scrape, bird number 214.
I meet Robin again in the evening. He is heading around the scrape and off towards the ruined priory to the south. I can see him birding there as ten whimbrel fly around just behind the south scrape hide before heading off north. Later another group of whimbrel, twenty five of them fly past over the sea, also heading north.
The Green Year list now stands at 214, 30 birds ahead of this time last year.
Sunday 17th April Light to fresh W Sunny intervals, two short hail showers
Cuckoo cuckooing in the early morning and nearby willow warblers and chiff chaffs singing with cetti's warbler blasting; these start the day with still a cool wind blowing from the west.
I set off for Minsmere RSPB reserve, the iconic and magnificent reserve which has hosted Springwatch recently, with alight wind mostly from behind to help me on my way. The small country lanes are empty so early on a Sunday morning and there are small undulations in the landscape to give me short rests as I cruise downwards after each short uphill section.
Signposts with milages start to tell me that I am going backwards. Not really, it is just that in the centre of Loddon the sign states five miles to Beccles. The next two signs each say six miles despite being over a mile further. Oh well, keep pedalling.
On reaching the main Lowestoft to Ipswich road at Blythburgh there is a splattered stoat on the road, which I photograph for my 'car-nage' project. A hundred yards later there is a dead male wheatear. So sad to think that this bird had flown all the way from Africa to die on a British road side. I check it for a ring bit doesn't have one.
Minmere is truly wonderful and a short hail shower passes over as I cycle down the seemingly never-ending entry lane.
I meet a gentleman who is telling everyone that he is a local bird guide, Alex Bass and together we walk to the Mere Island hide. Bearded tits are easy to see here and a number of bitterns are booming. A reed warbler not too far into the reeds yet still unseen, is singing and so becomes bird number 210 on the year list.
Around the walkways and through the oak forest, I head for the scrape. There is a cacophony of black-headed gulls and a number of avocets and duck. The black-tailed godwits are acquiring summer plumage yet their single bar-tailed cousin is still in it's silvery winter attire.
I find a common tern sitting on post number four, bird number 211. The islands used to be named after biscuits way back long ago but now there are numbered signposts to help birders locate the different species. Coomon sandpiper, look right of number two. Mediterranean gull, look by number nine.
A sandwich tern flies out to sea as I push the bike along the sandy path.
I circumnavigate the scrape, visiting every hide before heading back to the Island Mere hide for the evening. Well, after enjoying a coffee in the cafe taking up position on a picnic bench overlooking the sand martin cliff. The sand martins are here in good numbers, flying frantically around and occasionally landing next to holes in the sandstone. They don't seem to be entering them though, just hanging onto the cliff edge.
I try to imagine what it must be like for new visitors to the reserve. On leaving the visitors' centre they walk down a short path. Suddenly on turning a corner they come across a golden yellow streaked with orange sandstone cliff with maybe a hundred swirling sand martins. A beautiful introduction to one of the RSPB's flagship reserves.
Evening at the Island Mere hide, most people have gone home but four ladies who are staying in accommodation on the reserve are enjoying the peaceful sunset.
An otter swims nearby not too concerned about being so near to the hide. I cup my ears and hear the bird I have cycled here for, Savi's warbler. The bird is a long way off over the far side of the large mere yet it is quite a distinctive trill. Nowadays a very rare breeding bird in Britain, I remember seeing them in the 1980s singing on bushes not too far from this spot. The Savi's I really remember though was at my patch, Upton Warren nature reserve, back in 1984. That bird could be seen reasonably close singing on a now long gone bush near to the Moors car park. I remember seeing it one evening, a lifer for me and then returning before daybreak the next day to get more views. A male garganey was beside it on the water; a lovely pair.
The Green Year list now stands at 211, 28 birds ahead of this time last year.
33.13 miles 1052 feet elevation up 1055 feet elevation down