Saturday, 16 July 2016
Wednesday 13th July Light WNW Heavy showers & sunny intervals
The black guillemots are out on a jetty as I leave Oban. Heavy showers alternate with sunny intervals as I cycle towards Fort William. Magnificent scenery all the way, sections of superb cycle path take me away from a busy road for long sections.
A stop for a snack at a small cafe brings about a meeting with a fellow Brummie (someone born in Birmingham). Not just a Brummie but someone who lived in the same area, King's Heath, that I lived in as a young boy. A bacon, black pudding and apple sauce bap wasn't a Brummie creation that I remember but it was tasty enough.
Through Fort William, as I head north along yet another section of cycle path, a young lady on a bike comes alongside me and asks if I am the man cycling to all of the RSPB reserves. She, had seen the article in Wingbeat, The RSPB's teenage magazine for the Phoenix members. A physiotherapist by trade, cycled with me for a couple of miles, a pleasure to meet and chat with.
To Spean Bridge and after a gift of a small white rabbit for the bike to be named June from June, a local lady on her way to the pub, I search a woodland there for wood warbler. No joy, just treecreepers, willow warblers and titmice, I set up the tent and relax.
54.28 Miles 2495 feet elevation up 2263 feet elevation down
Wednesday, 13 July 2016
uesday 12th July Light WNW sunny intervals after one brief shower.
I spend the morning intermittently waking up, reading and sleeping in turn. With no reason to rush as the ferry back to Oban isn't until 17:40, I can relax and take the opportunity to get into a philosophical and scientific book.
Looking out of the tent to the beach I wonder which beaches in the World are considered the best. Bondi? Copacabana? Surely neither of these can be as beautiful as this one and there isn't a soul to be seen here. I have the whole area to myself.
I can still bird whilst inside the tent and I have a list of four by the time I decide to get up; raven, meadow pipit, wheatear and herring gull have all been calling, cronking or tacking just outside the tent. One doesn't need to see them to know what they are.
More plastic on this beach though and by default I collect four large carrier bags of it and take them to the skip two bags at a time. The reason for the double trip is that on reaching the skip the first time I see that I have lost a pannier somewhere in the sand dunes and going back to retrieve it I decide to collect some more plastic.
On reaching the skip the next time I see I have lost my cycling gloves and have to go back to search for them! Twit.
Whilst lying in bed this morning I was thinking about various things from the past and I don't know why but a repetitive ditty from the Reading Rock Festival days from the 1970s. That one was about marijuana. I changed the words . . .
And he would pedal, pedal, pedal.
The Biking Birder.
He would pedal, pedal, pedal.
A little further
He would cycle in the rain,
Usually in some pain,
Up a hill, down a hill
Then get lost again.
And then he'd pedal, pedal, pedal,
A little further,
Until he saw the bird.
Give his pencil a lick,
And then put down the tick,
And then he'd pedal, pedal, pedal . .
One more time!
I had been thinking of the fundamental differences between Carbon Twitchers, the more normal birder who uses a car or airplane to get to the birds and my own Green Birding pursuit of the same.
My birding is 99% perspiration with 1% inspiring moments, to paraphrase Edison. Those moments though may come from landscape beauty as well as natural moments. They can come from a more intimate relationship with the environment than a Carbon twitcher gets driving along the same roads.
A crazy bit of thinking away from all that involved scale. There were a few midges in the tent this morning and I thought of how immense I am compared to a midge. A crazy thought with large error margins is that were a midge to be my size, I would be around four kilometres high to keep the scale comparison going. I wonder what the relative masses of us both would conjure up?
9.96 Miles 414 feet elevation up 448 feet elevation down
Monday 11th July Fresh WNW dull AM to sunny PM
The ferry at 7:15am is easy enough on flat sea and on reaching Coll the cycle ride to the area where the snow geese are usually to be found is an easy ride too.
For the first time in a long time I do a day list of birds and before finding the snow geese I have seen around thirty species. I have also heard five corncrakes but as per usual no views of them.
The snow geese are in same field as last year. My memory tells me that back then I saw twenty plus a young bird. This year there are seventeen. They seem more animated this year and when a couple of walkers pass through the field they all fly out onto the sea.
I feel good about seeing this iconic bird this year.
It is the Seventieth anniversary of the ildfowl & Wetland trust and to celebrate they are reissueing an edition of the Paul Gallico – Sir Peter Scott book,The Snow Goose and seeing them close to and not in an enclosure or as a white spot in a flock of six thousand pink feets is a s good an experience of them as I am likely to get in Britain. Now watching the huge flocks in The States would be good. One day perhaps.
It feels good too as it is the bird for Doug Hilton's Snow Goose Wildlife Trust down in Kent.
Bird number 265, now twenty eight ahead of last year and one that I didn't count last year yet as they are category C2 on the BOU list they are countable and maybe I should update last year's list to 290. I won't though as I don't feel it right to update retrospectively, as with the marsh warbler this year.
Having watched the snow geese in the field and on the sea, and having seen them swim away around a headland, I take a closer look at a beach. It has a mass of plastic rubbish on it.
Two hours later I have cleared two thirds of the beach and there are three large fishing crates full of it to be collected.
I head back to the hidden bike and make my way to the south western tip of Coll.
Pushing the bike to the north of the RSPB reserve here I find another beach and spend some time on a cliff watching the birds go by; manx shearwaters, shags and gannets. I lay my head back and fall asleep for an hour or so.
On waking I look around me and the sun has come out. Everything looks so different with the light colour of the granite outcrops looking almost Pyrennean limestone white.
I go down to the rocky beach and collect all the plastic here too. This time though I collect it in two large carrier bags and take it back to the RSPB car park to deposit it in a large lidded skip. Then I return to the beach for some more and set up my tent to camp on the grassy area overlooking a very large and beautiful sandy beach that curves away to the south.
Leaving the tent to dry out after the other night's heavy rain, I walk along a headland and find a number of frog orchids Coeloglossum viride; tiny in stature with dark reddish mauve lines on the cowls.
In the evening cloud comes over as I settle into my now dry tent. The fresh breeze is making everything feel and look cool with the granite taking on a darker grey appearance. From where I am I can see over some ancient sand dunes to a high hill on the Isle of Tiree. I am asleep before sunset.
12.5 Miles 389 feet elevation up 350 feet elevation down
Green Year list is now at 265. As already stated, this is 28 ahead of this time last year!
Sunday, 10 July 2016
Sunday 10th July
The fates are with me!
The weather forecast, thanks BBC, states that Sunday in Oban would be a day of heavy rain. The day starts that way and I take the tent down as it pours. I decide to see whether there is a bed available at Oban's youth hostel. Black guillemots as usual are close to the sea wall as I cycle there. These fabulous comical looking birds are quickly becoming a favourite of mine.
There is so a day relaxing instead of cycling to Fort William. Sleep in the lounge after a breakfast of Lidl's pseudo Hob Nobs, chocolate of course. An afternoon is spent watching Andy Murray win Wimbledon.
A text from the Oracle, Phil Andrews.
Apparently the snow geese on Coll are tickable, a C2 population,
Last year Phil and I had talked about these geese after I had searched them out and saw a group of twenty one of them, including one juvenile.
Plastic fantastic was Phil's verdict back then and I didn't count them on my 2015 Green Year list despite stating that they were category C on BOU.
So great, now he tells me that I should have done back then and that I could have done if I had seen them yesterday.
Actually I had looked for them yesterday but not with any real conviction as the rain fell and a gale blew.
From the comfortable lounge of the youth hostel I determined that I would go back to Coll tomorrow.
Meanwhile the weather in Oban? Drizzle and light rain for the morning followed by a dry afternoon with a south east wind. Thanks BBC.
Saturday 9th July Fresh to Strong SE. - PM Heavy rain, cleared in evening to cloudy but dry
Once off the ferry this afternoon I cycle to the RSPB reserve at the south west corner of the island. The rain is heavy but at least there is only a light north easterly.
A female hen harrier is quartering the moorland despite the rain. Four rock doves, real ones not the tatty feral pigeons back in England, fly past becoming Bird Number 263 on the Year list.
Into the RSPB visitor's centre with it's sandy floor, to dry off and have some late lunch. No chairs, I sit on a plastic box full of leaflets and read a book my Dad has given me, My father and Other – Working Class Football Heroes by Gary Imlach. I read about Gary's footballing father, Stewart Imlach and his part in Nottingham Forest's FA Cup Final victory in 1959. A very emotional read and almost unputdownable. Swallows come in to get away from the rain and later I see the youngsters sitting on a wall.
Unfortunately I am feeling very tired and I close the book, put my head in my hands resting against the wall and fall asleep.
Awake again, the rain has stopped but a strong south easterly has sprung up. I walk around the machair, that special flower rich habitat so well known on the Hebridean islands. Immediately I hear a corncrake crexing . . . . crex crex . . . . crex crex........
Two snipe are drumming in the dull skies and meadow pipits and reed buntings are on fence posts.
The latter are soon dispersed when a superb grey with black wing tipped male hen harrier flies past.
Down to the beach I look at a good number of pyramidal orchids on the way. It is a very low tide and rocky outcrops stretch out into a calm sea; the area being sheltered on this the north west side of the island.
Back at the visitor's centre I talk to the RSPB warden. The bird I had hoped for, spotted crake is not present. There had been one a number of weeks back but it hadn't been heard whipping since. Oh well, it was worth the effort.
Last year I came to the reserve on my tour of all of the 234 RSPB reserves and was surprised when on arriving I immediately heard a spotted crake. Shame history hasn't repeated itself but you can't win them all.
I start to head back to the ferry and whilst walking into the strong wind a couple of twite land on a fence nearby; Bird number 264.
More corncrakes are calling as I walk the flat road by the island's airport.
By now the strong wind is behind me which makes a pleasant change. The ride back to the harbour is quickly done with a stop to watch a pair of red-throated divers on a small loch.
Into the harbour waiting room to read and wait for the ferry back to Oban.
14.64 Miles 457 feet elevation up 457 feet elevation down
The Green Year list is now at 264, fully twenty seven ahead of this time last year!
Saturday 9th July Light S - AM Dull, misty, drizzle
7:30AM - I am sitting on the ferry that takes one to the wonderful Hebridean island of Coll, which lies north west of Mull. The trip takes just under three hours and hence I have some time on my hands to take stock of the year list situation.
Now for non birders the following may be of less interest than previous blog entries but I am trying to give everyone a perspective of the planning that goes into the route and itinerary. Also one may like to look and assess my chances of beating the present UK Green record, currently at 289 and of beating the magic 300. As for the European record held by Ponc Feliu at 304, well have a look, read the text and consider whether I will beat it.
My Green Year list stands at 262 and that is twenty five ahead of this time last year. Whether this lead will be maintained and lead to a new European Green year list record will depend on how many birds that I saw in the final six months of 2015 I see again this year. Those birds were:-
American golden plover
Blyth's reed warbler
Eastern subalpine warbler
Olive backed pipit
Pallas' grasshopper warbler
Subalpine warbler – Moltoni
The photographs are of the birds I saw last year.
Chances of seeing all of these are very slim. Citril finch, Chestnut bunting and Moltoni's warbler are once in a blue moon birds. Others should be added easily; rock dove today on Coll for instance.
Then there are the ones where I feel I have had their equivalent bird already; Franklin's gull is on the list this year replacing laughing gull. Purple heron for night heron and greater yellowlegs for lesser. Still time for these birds to turn up, hopefully.
With the rest of July being spent going to Speyside and the Abernethy Forest, as well as seawatching for the two rare ducks near to Aberdeen, King eider and the white-winged scoter; I should add osprey, crested tit, ptarmigan and capercaillie. The scoter would be the first lifer for me this year, that is a bird I have never seen before. In fact I am not sure of my British life list, around 460 I think. I must update it someday.
Now as well as the forty six birds mentioned above there are a couple of ones that I missed last year that may surprise some. Waxwing, how could I miss waxwing? That classic, superbly beautiful winter visitor which occasionally reaches the UK in large numbers. Didn't see one. The photographs of Tommy Hyndeman's son, Henry holding either an apple with a waxwing on it, or a stick with number of them on it taunts me to see them this year.
I was surprised I didn't see a pectoral sandpiper. A gimme I thought. Didn't see one.
With the month of August being spent on North Ronaldsay there should be the chance for some of the rarer birds seen last year being seen again this; sooty shearwater, storm petrel and barred warbler.
Here is a list, compiled by The Oracle, Phil Andrews, of the rare birds seen on North Ronaldsay over the last few years that would be additions to my list:-
American golden plover
Pacific golden plover
How many of these will be added to the list by the end of my visit there? The target is for ten of them and anything over that will be a bonus. Anything under will hopefully be caught up by the Setember and October visit to Fair isle and Shetland.
Now for those months I have made some spreadsheets that give percentage probability for each of the rare birds seen there for each month. I have placed this information on the blog before but repeat it here for you to make your own assessment of my chances of seeing my target of ten birds for each month. You may like to make a list guessing which ones I will see.
So from 2005 to 2015, fifty eight different rare birds that I still need for my year list were seen in September with an average of nineteen new birds per year.
In order of percentage probablility from 100% downwards these birds were:-
All of these then have a better than 50:50 chance of me seeing them. It would be a shock notto see yellow-browed warblers this year. Last year I saw at least 111!
Now here are the birds with a less than 50:50 chance of being seen:-
Blyth's reed warbler
Pallas' grasshopper warbler
American golden plover
Western subalpine warbler
Now for the 'once in eleven year' birds:-
Eastern olivaceous warbler
For October, with the years 2011 and 2012 having the data missing, and an average of almost 18 possible year ticks per year, on Fair Isle the birds go like this:-
Blyth's reed warbler
Pllas' grasshopper warbler
Subalpine warbler sp.
November will see me moving south through Scotland. Bean geese at the RSPB reserve at Fannyside, near to Falkirk, should be a gimme. Maybe there will be a snow goose with the Pink-foots somewhere close as well.
December will be a case of wherever the bird is I will try to get to it. Maybe the pallid harrier will return to Snettisham, Norfolk. Maybe there will be ring-necked duck or blue-winged teal somewhere.
So there you have it. If you have read all this then I salute you. A page really for the bird fanatic maybe but I hope that you can see how incredible the next few months could be. The list will grow and I feel it that I will easily beat the current UK Green record of 289.
As for the 300 . . . it is going to be close but what a ride!
By the way, the ferry can't dock at Coll due to very thick fog and is carrying on to the next island Tiree. Standing on the aft deck it is sad to see pieces of plastic floating in what sea I can see. Nicer to see manx shearwaters sitting on the water before skittering off into the fog.