Monday 16 October 2023

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5th January                                                          Tragedy                                             The Bee Gees    

Now I was really looking forward to visiting Otmoor RSPB Reserve. I had only ever been there once before and that was from a north entrance into the area. This time I was to enter from the south. Otmoor, I had heard said, was famous because the main drains, ditches and meadows had inspired Lewis Caroll's chessboard scene in Alice in Wonderland. Nowadays the scene may be different, as the RSPB have blocked the drains and created a wet grassland paradise for many birds. I wanted to see those birds.

An early morning start with temperatures still well below zero. At least it was very sunny and almost windless. On leaving the house I saw a couple of Red Kites [61] quartering over some nearby trees. Thick ice covered the approach lanes and I sensibly decided to walk along Otmoor Lane, the entrance road to Otmoor RSPB reserve, pushing an unladen bike. I had left my stuff back at Lynn and Richard’s. I later found out that it had been minus sixteen degrees Celsius the night before. Hmmm chilly! I saw a covey of nineteen Red-legged Partridges [62] and a male Kestrel near to the RSPB car park.

I cycled along the reserve pathways and banks, past a feeding station with five more Red Kites that could be seen distantly and a dozen or so Great and Blue Tits that regularly came to partake of the free seed offerings. A super bright yellow male Yellowhammer [63], Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits [64] were all heard and seen.

At the first screen, which overlooked a large area of reed with frozen pools, I met a Scouse nature lover, Phil Roberts who was trying to get a photo of a Bittern. He asked what birds were around and he admitted that these were new hobbies for him: photography and birdwatching. Phil may not have been the best at either, but he was a lovely conversational sixty-year-old whose company I enjoyed as I explored the rest of the walkways. A Raven [65] was heard and then seen being mobbed by a couple of testy Carrion Crows. Then I met Richard, who had left Lynn back home to come and take part in some scrub removal with other brave volunteers. Over the year it would never cease to amaze me at how wonderfully dedicated and enthusiastic the army of RSPB volunteers were. Here they were in such freezing weather, working away together, sharing that special camaraderie that makes hard work a pleasure. On a small pool of ice-free water around 300 duck milled around or slept: mostly Teal but also Mallard, Shovelor [66], Wigeon and Pochard. Then twelve Snipe flew over, two Moorhens skated over the ice and a group of four Ravens cronked as they flew overhead heading west.

At the second screen, four Cormorants rested on a tree’s branches reasonably close by, including one young bird from the previous year. By now I had started to have very cold fingers and I realised that the cycling gloves so kindly bought for me by the two deputy headteachers of Rigby Hall Special School [assistant heads!], Helen and Linda, were not going to keep my hands warm enough. Memories of reading Catherine Hartley’s amazing autobiography of her becoming the first British woman to walk to the South Pole. Catherine took the wrong sort of gloves and was badly frostbitten. Great read that book by the way with Catherine not what one would expect an Antarctic explorer to be like, as testified by the cigarettes that were found stowed away on the sledge she was pulling! At the last reedy area that could be viewed from a screen, a Bittern [67] spent fifteen minutes walking along the reedbed edge before flying over the same reedbed. A superb, cryptically marked bird; its camouflage lost against the white ice.

The day was going to be incredibly special. As I said before, the BBC was going to make a short film to present on the local news programme that evening. Right on cue, a small green car arrived and out stepped an extremely attractive young lady. She introduced herself and explained that before interviewing me over my future endeavours, she wanted me to cycle along the same icy lane, over a small rise, down to the five bar gate, dismount, negotiate the kissing gate, lift my binoculars and pretend to birdwatch. Now to do that once on the ice was tricky enough but to repeat the process three times would be, I thought, suicidal. Nevertheless, I managed to get through it unscathed, just. Obviously, my cycling balance skills were improving, or so I thought. The interview went fine. Well, I say fine; at least this time I was not in a radio studio with my son, Joshua, heckling behind me. “Don’t be so nervous, Dad,” was the advice given whilst on the Joanne Malin early morning radio show on BBC WM before Christmas 2009. Good advice as I was extremely nervous and not knowing the name of my favourite Cadbury’s Quality Street chocolate did not help. You may remember that Cadbury’s, a proud Birmingham company, was being sold off to new American owners, Kraft and the view at the time was “no thank you.” The BBC radio and TV programmes at that time carried news and discussion platforms on the topic of the sale and so on arriving within the studio I was given a choice of chocolate.

This time though, I was in my element; outside with a extremely pretty interviewer, who had stunning green eyes, just like my wife, sugar to miss, Karen. I was at a superb nature reserve in cold, calm weather and quite a few birds were around, including Red kites, Ravens and two Bitterns.

Eventually happy with my efforts over the introductory cycling and posing, the interview took place at the entrance to the reserve once the interviewer had put me at my ease by chatting about her passion for cooking before recording. 

“Why are you cycling to every RSPB and WWT reserve?” 

A question I was to hear a few times more over the year! Good question. Before leaving, during the planning stage I wrote myself a letter to remind me exactly why I was doing this. It is a bit pompous for which I apologise but here is the original: - 

So, the day which began with a walk in the rain, ended with a bus ride and an idea buzzing around in my head.

A bike ride? Warwick to Coventry and back had seemed far enough but what was I contemplating? A maths teacher at the school, Ernesford Comprehensive in Coventry, where I had just done a day’s supply after cycling there from my then home in Warwick, had talked over coffee of his cycling trip across both North and South America. “The Argentinians are wonderful people.” He had said. “Chile is so beautiful” I can still see him in the small teacher’s sanctuary, talking with such enthusiasm and humility about travels that seemed beyond my capabilities but not beyond my fantasies.

The bus moved on towards Kenilworth.

By the time I got off at the bus, for another evening at my brother Paul’s house, I had decided that I would cycle to each RSPB and WWT nature reserve in Britain, Cornwall to Shetland, Kent to Uists; see as many birds as I could and cycle the whole way, 4,500 miles so I thought at the time.

Right, the decision was made, now for the planning.

A notebook and road atlas of the UK accompanied me on the many train rides to supply teaching assignments and soon became the focus for jottings and thoughts. Equipment, costs, contacts, ideas. The large road atlas became a ‘must have with me’ companion. After a few weeks, the first route was indelibly red inked onto the pages. (West coast of Scotland – get me there; those boat trips look relaxing!). Then, in the middle of March I thought – Why? Why am I going to do this?

I had written equipment lists and costed the trip up. I had contacted the RSPB with the idea in order to start to think of sponsorship in order to raise funds for the charity, as I had the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust and Asthma Association. I had emailed Birdguides to ask about whether anyone had done anything similar. Surprisingly to me, no one had. I had discussed it with my children, Rebecca and Joshua, Mum and Dad, brother Paul and sister, Donna.

Birding friends had listened but were credulous. Why do it?

Why spend 365 days cycling with bins around the British Isles? Why not do the same in Greece or Spain. At least it would be warmer there and the bird species there would include my favourite - vultures! No, it had to be done for charity. It had to be done to show that one did not need to travel by car to see 250 bird species. It had to be done to say thank you to the late Sir Peter Scott, my boyhood hero and it had to be done to show that an ‘old man’ could still dream.

 Well the poor girl must have drawn the short straw to be out at this time in such extremely cold weather but she was genuinely interested.

Now it must have been that I was still lost in the interviewer’s beautiful green eyes, for not ten minutes later after the conclusion to the interview, I had come off my bike, somersaulting over the right side, landing on the ice-covered verge. Along a section of the lane the ice was in hard ridges where previous car tyres had moulded the ice and it was one of these ridges that unbalanced me and ‘over my shoulder I went’. Ouch! The bike was severely damaged and the gear changing mechanism on the handlebar was hanging down disconnected. Five days into the year and now the bike was broken. Tragedy! When the feelings gone (in my leg) and you cannot go on, it’s tragedy. I got up and tried to fix it, the bike's gear system that is but could only get it to give me a couple of gears. Still it was better than just one. My leg was painful but as I had a few layers on at the time I did not check it out too much.

I got on the bike, got back to Richard and Lynn‘s house to collect my things, seeing a Bank Vole under one of their bird seed feeders from their kitchen window. Whilst there I was interviewed over the phone by the Hounslow, Brentford and Twickenham newspaper before setting off for Hemel Hempstead. I gave my most sincere thanks to this wonderful couple for their accommodation and company and set off.

Down the hill from Stanton St John I came around the corner to see a large group of forty-one deer in the field next to the road, which included a strangely coloured, coffee coated doe. A Green Woodpecker [68] flew over, another bird for the year list.   

Onward I went along, thankfully, flat roads and soon I reached Prince’s Risborough and decided that a treat was in order. On finding a small café I ordered a meal of lasagne and salad washed down by a sugar laden, frothy hot chocolate. It was dark when I came outside again and there was a new problem to add to the bicycle woes. Snow! Light at first, it soon got heavier; the snow just made the next part of the journey a tad more difficult. I went south for a mile or so, cycling through the falling snow, and then took a left turn. This was the beginning of the Chiltern Hills. With a large, very steep hill to negotiate, I had no choice but to push the bike up the hill to Loosley Row and ride down the other side to Great Missenden, with the snow beginning to cling to me and the bike. An hour plus of snowy downhill thrills [terrors!] combined with hard uphill slogs before almost reaching Chesham, was not helped by the fact that the front light was not as bright as I would have liked. In fact, it was positively dull! Trying to be as ‘Green’ as possible I had seen a wind up, no battery required, cycling front light with cable attachment for a back light. Well the light it gave was poor at best and even then, it would only last for a few minutes.  An ambulance pulled over in front of me and the driver flagged me down. “You’ve got no rear lights!” The fall on the ice earlier in the day must have broken more than the front gear lever; the cable to the back lights was snapped. I tried to twist the wires together but it was no good.

I cycled downhill with a passing motorist offering friendly advice over what I could do in my predicament. “Get some ****in' lights!” Thanks! Just the motivation I needed to peddle through the snow like the clappers.

I reached Chesham safely, after having to back track half a mile or so to search for and retrieve a lost skiing glove and found a Sainsbury’s store still open. No cycling gear for sale, I purchased a RAC torch, some batteries and a box of ladies’ tights. With the torch strapped to the back of the bike, secured by the tights, I had more hills to negotiate and more snow to plough through before getting to the A41 near Berkhamsted. Whilst pushing the bicycle up a steep hill through the deepening snow, I received a phone call from my wife, Karen. It was great to hear from her. I love her voice over the phone and through my mind's eye I could see her beautiful jade green eyes. I miss her so much but a major reason for my doing a Biking Birder adventure is because of our distant love. That may sound crazy but it is complicated and too painful to discuss here. I adore my wife and always will.

After an hour or so the new back torch light had faded to almost nothing. So much for the efficiency of the torch and its batteries! The snow was falling heavily but I was booked into a small bed and breakfast in Hemel Hempstead and I was determined to get there. The fact that there was absolutely no traffic on the motorway-like three carriageway motorway-like road, the A41, did not stop me. Everyone else was sensibly tucked up somewhere warm as I either cycled or pushed through six inches of snow.

I cycled past a Premier Inn and although I was sorely tempted to stay there, I resisted and eventually got to my destination town. Still, I did not know where the B & B was. I had got the address written down on a small piece of paper but I had no detailed map and neither did I have a smartphone nor SATNAV. I did find the local police station and went in to ask for directions. The kind, friendly and gorgeous police ladies behind the desk joined in my laughter at the abominable snowman dripping before them and luckily my Bed and Breakfast was nearby.

Ten thirty, late evening, on the clock when I got into the warmth of a large terraced house, greeted by a lovely German accented old lady, Mrs Peters. She immediately saw the condition I was in and got me a large, hot bowl of mushroom soup with toast, together with two warm mince pies and a chunk of fruit cake!

Nine hours to get from Otmoor to Hemel Hempstead, I felt exhilarated to have made it, despite finding that my left shin had a quite nastily cut and my thighs were both badly bruised from the fall. I bathed, made sure my cut was properly cleaned up with a bandage applied, I was soon sleeping soundly in my small, cosy, warm room, despite the sound of a German-speaking TV channel coming from Mrs Peter’s bedroom next to mine.    

42 miles                                                                                               1566 feet elevation up   1608 feet down                                                                

Thursday 12 October 2023

BB 2010 On The Road Again Warwick to Otmoor.


4th January                               

We’re on the road to Nowhere 

Talking Heads  

I got up early having slept fitfully. So, at 3.00 a.m. I was on the computer, completing a PowerPoint to show to the Otmoor RSPB group and reading Roz Savage’s blog. More on her in a bit. At 8.30 a.m. I went to the nearby Royal Mail sorting office to see whether a new camera had arrived. My previous small digital camera, a Sony Sureshot, had been smashed by one of the Special Needs children in a class at the last school I was teach at full-time, Rigby Hall Special School in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Bless her, she could not help it. This student was almost blind, had almost no vocabulary and her needs were communicated to any staff present by violent outbursts and one of the four utterances that she had practised. When she needed the toilet, she would scream “can I go to the loo?” in a strong Scouse accent. At least this time her thrown object was my camera and was not the desk where she worked with her teaching assistant constantly present, that she had thrown previously. Neither was it the chair that flew past my face cutting my lip on the first occasion of her being in my form. We soon learnt that one way to prevent her from throwing her desk was to place over twenty household bricks in the desk drawers. The first time she tried to even lift the overladen desk, her reddening face was a picture I wish I had taken. Her language was undecipherable! 

Mind you I was not that upset over the camera being smashed as I had had a lot of problems with it with the lens extension frequently jamming up. The worst occasion for this to happen was a couple of years previous whilst watching displaying Little Bustards one February in Spain. I had taken about six photographs when it jammed. No more could be taken on that holiday. Once again, I could not be too disappointed as their raspberry brrrrrrrp, Harry Secombe-like calls were so hilarious!

My new camera had not arrived, so back home for breakfast and last-minute packing. With everything that I could get into the panniers packed, well everything that I thought that I would need, the bike now was too heavy to lift! I had hoped to carry my telescope and tripod, a laptop and various booklets and stickers given to me by the Asthma UK charity and the Geography Association, from whom I had also been given fifty Barnaby Bear books. A few stickers and books were OK to take but the weight of the other items meant they all stayed at home. Would the lack of a ‘scope make a big difference? Time would tell. The lack of a laptop and hence lack of internet access would become a persistent time-eating problem throughout the year.

Out in the back garden, I had to brush thick hoar frost from off my bike but once having done so and having oiled the parts that nature can reach, Mum and Dad waved me off and despite the weight, the bike ran smoothly and easily. So, there we were on the road to Otmoor RSPB reserve. I say ‘we’ because I was not alone. I had a collection of cuddly toys with me precariously chained to the bike. At this point there was a large green frog to represent the RSPB’s rainforest at Harapan in Sumatra and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust as I had bought it at their HQ, Slimbridge; a large cuddly Black-browed Albatross for their ongoing albatross campaign and a glove puppet teddy bear named Barnaby Bear. Barnaby Bear is more famous than I, not that I am jealous – much! He is the symbol of the Geography Association and teachers, children and parents delight in taking Barnaby Bear all over the World. There are websites of his adventures both on the BBC’s and the Geography Association. There are many books large and small and at Primary schools one of the Geography curriculum topics is entitled ‘Where in the World is Barnaby Bear?’ Well he was with me, freezing on top of my sleeping bag on the back of my bike. Poor Barnaby! At least he had fur. Imagine how a rainforest frog felt in this harsh winter freeze and 2010 was to have extreme cold weather and lots of snow at both ends.

After a few miles, my legs were fine, the initial stiffness having gone, and the cycling was exhilarating. The countryside, white with frost, had few birds and the roads were relatively free of traffic.

Heading south I crossed an almost empty M40, took a wrong turn just after that and stopped to check my maps whilst taking a breather and admired the view. Back on the correct road, I came to the first long, hard hill and had to push the bike up the last few metres. A Sparrowhawk [59] glided over a small attractive church atop the hill I had just climbed as I reached the top and I remounted my bike pleased to add another bird to the list.

Despite the cold, the effort of the cycling soon had me removing both woolly hat from beneath my cycling helmet and my gloves. The sun was low in the sky ahead of me as I headed south and I was beginning to realise that sweat would become a problem and, sorry to mention it but asthmatic mucus would need to be constantly blown and spat out. Lovely!

I was stopped along the back route to Banbury by a phone call from the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) nature reserve at Barnes, London. They asked me to confirm what day and time I would be calling in so that local press could be arranged. Beside the road, in a field with a low depression sat around one hundred Lapwings together with a good number of the commonest bird seen during the day, Wood Pigeons. These were fluffed up and sitting on the ground pretending to be partridges which had me stopping on a couple of occasions to check out whether another year tick was in the offing. A smashing male Ring-necked Pheasant was the next year tick [60]. Otherwise only the occasional small flock of Fieldfare and Redwing was seen, together with sporadic titmice and Robins.

More phone calls stopped me as I cycled, mainly from a persistent teacher from a school in Slough. Tracy Ball from Penn Wood Junior School was eager that I visit and I was keen to oblige. The school visits were to be an integral part of the year, a chance to promote ‘Green’ issues with the people who will live with the consequences of our present eco efforts, or lack of them, children.

When three miles from Banbury yet another phone call, from Andrew Waters at RSPB Midlands HQ in, luckily, Banbury stopped me. “Come in and have a coffee,” Andrew said. How could I refuse? Once in the centre of the town I found the offices, after a chat with a proud local who wanted to and did tell me not only about how to find the RSPB but also told of the ‘fine lady with bells on her toes’ in the centre of the town.

What a welcome! I was greeted by hoots from attractive young ladies who leaned out of the office windows.

After coffee, and after being given some large RSPB stickers to place on the back of my florescent jacket and after being given a RSPB yellow collection can for the front of the bike, some photographs were taken with everyone outside for the use of the local press and RSPB newsletters. 

Then it was time to be back on the road again heading for Otmoor, the large RSPB reserve near Oxford.

On leaving Banbury I recalled my first birding experience of the town, well of the town's sewage works anyway. A day twitching with my then fiancée Jane back in 1982; a journey to a romantic location to bond our newish relationship. Sunny weather as we drove our old, clanging Marina away from our one-bedroomed bed-sit in a rundown area of Wolverhampton. The car had needed a push start as the starting motor was defunct and now the bearings on the right side gave their repetitive clunking sound as the A roads to Stratford Upon Avon and Banbury were travelled down. Our connection to the grapevine, the way birders found out about what rare birds were available by phoning each other up, was through one ‘Black Country’ John Holian. John was a TV celebrity back in 1983 when a program about birders was made on the Isles of Scilly. Bernard Cribbens had been the outsider to the twitching world and Black Country John, nicknamed because of his roots and TV requirements and not by anything that those who knew him would call him, was his guide for a few days of intense rarity chasing.

Well, John had given us the directions for Banbury sewage works and we drove through the gate to be greeted by a brave worker who told us the correct way down to the grass plots. A long walk along a muddy path towards a small group of birders and then there was the bird, a lifer for us both and an American far from home. A Lesser Yellowlegs in the Midlands, a good bird anywhere but extra special here, strutted around this grassy, wet meadow, accompanied by a few Meadow Pipits and a Water Pipit. The American wader's legs were indeed bright yellow and within the hour the bird had been well grilled and UTB. [Under the belt, a twitcher’s term meaning that the bird had been acceptably seen so one could tick it off on one’s list.]

Not satisfied with one lifer for the day, Jane and I headed off for Brill in Oxfordshire and having once past through the delightful village, we soon found a long line of cars with everyone focussed upon a haystack of a bird devouring some poor, unfortunate creature, actually a rabbit, about fifty yards away. Jane had not been too thrilled by the American wader but now she monopolised our telescope as she watched the ‘barn door’ tearing apart and eating the small rabbit. White-tailed Sea Eagle on the list, another lifer and so close that we could see every feature; its huge, hooked bill, its immense yellowish talons and large, cruel eyes. It was an immature bird so no bright white tail but that did not detract from the awe of seeing this wonderful bird of prey. One could hear the gasp from the birdwatching crowd as it took to the air, having finished its meal; the official term of ‘barn door’ being such an apt name for it. It was huge and it flapped over our heads and went away to the west. We followed its flight until it disappeared behind trees some way off. By now we were leaning against a five-bar gate from which we scanned the large meadow in front of us and found a Little Owl sitting on a fence post a little way off, enjoying the winter sunshine. A fox walked through the scope view completing the scene. A double tick day and all in my home area of the UK, the Midlands.

Back to 2010, eventually over the A34 and down towards Stanton St John, it was by now getting quite dark and I was exhausted. I was cold and the sweat from my excursions made me feel extremely uncomfortable. My decision to cycle the whole way from Warwick to Otmoor in one day was in retrospect a dicey one. I was not yet as fit and strong as I would later become and the last few miles were extremely tough. Yet a few chunks of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, for yes, I am, like everyone else so the old advert sung by Frank Muir used to say, a bit of a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nutcase, gave me the energy to climb the last hill. Then, having found the correct turn off lane, I found the beautiful thatched, stone cottage of Richard and Lynn Ebbs, two professors at Oxford University now working at the John Radcliffe hospital: she a Professor of Virology, he a Professor of Bacteriology.

Once again, my mobile phone rang, this time almost immediately after I had arrived at the cottage. It was from Central News, the ITV news program for the Midlands. Could I come into the studios in Birmingham tomorrow for an interview? I declined the kind offer to cycle fifty miles back to Brum which would mean having to start the journey all over again. Anyway, I had already been booked by the Oxford BBC news program for the next day. TV celebrity! They will have me on ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’ next and I will not abuse the insects!

Conversation, once I had had a hot shower and a change of clothes, turned to careers and recent holidays. They spoke of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and the need to step over the intransigent Blue-footed Boobies there and of meeting on another occasion the Mountain Gorillas of Uganda.

Then we were off to the local village hall up the road in the village where I was to give a talk about my adventure to the dozen or so who had braved the weather. My talk started with an image of a beautiful blonde woman sitting with a Mona Lisa like smile holding the tiller of a small boat. A strange way to start a birdy talk to a small group of local birders you may think but here was a photograph of the incredible Roz Savage, who if you do not recognise the name I will elucidate. Roz was an office girl in London, far away from her native Australia. In 2006 she suddenly decided that she wanted to do something more with her life. Therefore, she decided to row the Atlantic single-handed. Once the Atlantic was crossed, not content with that tremendous achievement, she thought that it would be churlish not to row home to Australia so, via Hawaii, another challenge was completed despite being told that her route included areas with impossible to pass waters. Spreading the word of Climate Change, oceanic plastic pollution and save the planet, Roz reached Oz in 2010. She then became the first woman to row across three oceans, completing her row across the Indian Ocean in October 2011. It is amazing what a commitment to advocating a Green life can have you achieve.                                                                


47.55 miles                                                                                    1841 feet elevation up  1651 feet down

Monday 9 October 2023

BBI - 2010 A Lazy Day watching A Favourite Sport


280 & 281

England won by an innings and 83 runs

3rd January, 2010                                                       Get out of your lazy bed    Matt Bianco  

Now it just so happened that on the television there was Test match between England and South Africa being played. My decision over what to do on a bitterly cold January day, with me being a little obsessive about cricket, was an easy one to make. Should I do the sensible thing and get cycling towards the next target RSPB reserve? Should the next destination, from Warwick to Otmoor, near Oxford, be reached in two easy stages of around twenty-five miles each, with a night in a comfy village Bed & Breakfast cottage, or done in one day by cycling the whole fifty six miles in very frosty conditions? Life is full of difficult choices.

I lay down on the settee and watched the match! The weather outside continued to be a blast from the Arctic, with temperatures down to five degrees below, Celsius that is. A day off, after getting out of my lazy bed, and I had only just begun the cycling – birding year. At least a Pied Wagtail [58] was in the garden, seen from my prone position on the settee and so was added to the year list.


Sunday 8 October 2023

Biking Birder 2010 - January 2nd. Middleton Lakes RSPB Reserve and The MIGHTY Aston Villa


BB2010 Day 2

2nd January                                                                              Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day

                                                                                                                                                                            Jethro Tull 


Awake early in my strange bed, too early for John and Mary so I lay reading a book that I had brought along with me, Birdwatchingwatching by Alex Horne. Interestingly written but I felt, lacking in birds. Maybe you will feel the same about my little tome.  I saw the last moments of a glorious pink sunrise as I watched from their back-patio window, counting the passing birds. Three large seed feeders were well positioned to one side of a large garden and a regular procession of titmice, Great, Blue and Coal Tit [40], Robin, Blackbird, Collared Doves [41] and Starlings came to inspect and feed whilst Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls passed over. Even a Buzzard [42] was seen, lazily heading west followed by attendant mobbing Carrion Crows.

Two inches of snow greeted me outside as I opened the door but undeterred, I set off for Middleton Lakes. John had wanted to accompany me on his bike but the snow and the ice prevented that. Photographs were taken at the doorway; thanks were given and I was off. Not so great navigation had me going in the wrong direction up the wrong street but kind words from a lady motorist put me right and I was soon cruising downhill towards Middleton Hall and through the rather posh entrance way into the RSPB reserve there. With Rook [43] added to the list on the way and a Grey Heron [44] seen on arrival, I walked around the immediate area near to the imposing hall and, on finding the tucked away RSPB offices, I was soon joined by Gary Jones, the warden, who I am delighted to say, spent a good two hours plus showing me around this new reserve. We were soon talking away as though we had known each other for years. So much chat in fact that the birdwatching seemed a little intrusive. A party of those fabulous ball of fluff birds, Long-tailed Tits [45], avian lollipops, were watched though. Oh, to one day see a stunning continental race bird with its pure white head, an ambition bird.

“This field will be developed for families. A sort of ‘do what you like’ area,” said Gary. Yet another RSPB warden met in two days, with each one displaying the same passion for their chosen reserve. It had been Chris at Sandwell Valley who thrilled about talking of future developments there and now here was Gary delighting in each new habitat.

Now here was habitat creation on a grand scale. Masses of reeds, Phragmites, thousands of them and all hand-planted by hundreds of RSPB volunteers in one area. There was also an area of wetland scrape. “Over there will be a broad walk,” explained Gary pointing to beneath the trees that contained a large heronry, each of the twenty or so nests with two holes in the bottom. An old joke I used to tell my young YOC-ers (Young Ornithologist's Club, the now gone branch of the RSPB for youngsters) which they, being gullible, believed were for the heron’s long legs to hang through so that the sitting bird wouldn’t get cramp.

Back in 2004 I had cycled here from my place of work at that time, a Special School named Castle School in Walsall, to what was then called Drayton Bassett Gravel Pits in order to see a very rare wader, a Broad-billed Sandpiper. It was not a lifer for me. I had seen one at Coton, just a few miles to the south years before. Now the area of working gravel pits had gone, to be replaced by what will be a fabulous, diverse range of habitats over an expansive area, once the habitat creation projects have matured. The thought of having such a reserve so close to my beloved Midlands was exciting.

Together we walked, Gary and I, birding a bit and chatting. There were clear views towards Tamworth, with the vertical drop of the Apocalypse ride at Drayton Manor theme park poking above the trees. I remembered going on that a few times in the past with my children, Rebecca and Joshua and my step-daughters Claire and Sarah!

As at Sandwell Valley the day before, birds were restricted to small patches of ice-free water. Still there were good numbers of Mallard, Pochard and Tufties together with a Great-crested Grebe [46] and a few Goldeneye [47]. Down to a pathway of sorts adjacent to the River Thame where thirty-seven Gadwall had found an area to their liking: the site for a future hide. Beside one large pool Gary pointed out a few stubs of darkened wooden posts sticking up near the water's edge. Here was evidence of a prehistoric fish pen which had been excavated by a local archaeological group. Uncertain of how old it may be, Gary said they thought it might be anything up to four thousand years old. What birds would the builders of this have seen so long ago and which ones would they have eaten? Back to the 12th Century Middleton Hall and into its café to warm up and enjoy coffee and cake.

Other birds seen during the visit included Cormorant, Herring Gull, Linnet, Shelduck, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, Reed Bunting, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Fieldfare [48 to 57] and a male Kestrel. (Remember this last bird when I talk about my final year list will you please?)


 I cycled on, after saying goodbye to everyone at Middleton RSPB Reserve, to a ‘sacred’ football ground nearby, Bodymoor Heath the training ground for my team, Aston Villa. No players were there as I stopped to ask the security guard to take a photo of me by the Villa sign. They were all at Villa Park awaiting a match against Blackburn Rovers in the third round of the waning FA Cup; a match incidentally that the Villa won 3 – 1. I say waning as the FA cup is a pale reflection from what it was before the 'big' teams decided to put out weakened teams when playing in it. A sad reflection of how football has changed since the creation of a Premier League. How disgusting for Manchester United to boycott the iconic tournament in 1999-2000, in my opinion.

I will admit to being a passionate Aston Villa fan and have in the past been a season ticket holder. Always in the mighty Holte End, I have been there for the ups, like when we won the First Division back in 1981, as well as at the European Cup Final at Rotterdam in 1982. Playing against Bayern Munich, midway in the second half, Gary Shaw put a ball through to Tony Morley. Toney turned the full back inside out before putting the ball on a plate to Peter Withe standing alone in the six yard box. The ball came across and, via Peter’s shin, into the net it went after hitting the right hand post. Into the net went Peter With and on turning he was floored by the Villa midfielder, Gordon Cowans. Peter, Gary Shaw and Gordon all ended up on the floor as we, the massed Villa fans behind the goal went ecstatic! Better than sex, Villa held on to win the European Cup that day. I was there and took the consequences of missing a couple of days from work on my return. I did not take a sickie. Everyone in the school knew where I was! UTV. VTID.    

The rest of the afternoon was spent cycling to Warwick, the home of my Mum and Dad, Mary and Brian. I had a brief visit of Kenilworth Castle as I was passing. I had already decided that during the year I would visit as many special places as possible whilst circumnavigating the UK as well as visiting the RSPB and WWT nature reserves, castles, cathedrals, museums, prehistoric sites and the like.

I arrived home at 4.00 p.m. much to Mum and Dad’s amazement. I had not told them that I would be calling in. “You’ve only just gone!” Said Dad. “I’ve given up,” I joked.                                                                               


35.25 miles                                                                                                                                         751 feet elevation up   

                                                                                                                                                                 1054 feet down

Photographs of birds were taken during BBIII 2016


Saturday 7 October 2023

I'm Back! Let's Really Push the Green Birding Button. Future plans and Retrospective Plus BBI 2010 January 1st


Hello again.

Back to blog once more, my hope is that through future posts you may be inspired to join the world of Green Birding by participating in the activity, that you will share your Green Birding experiences through the various social media outlets, especially with me and who knows, maybe the world Green Birding and all of its forms and participants will change your life as much as it has mine over the last 14 years.

To restart my Biking Birder blog, I can think of no better way than point you in the direction of a superb blog, The World of Green Birding by Jim Royer of California.

 Image -  Cape May, USA Big Sit 

Being updated at the moment, the blog does have a great description of what Green Birding is and reason for it . . . 


Green birding has developed as a way to bird that does not have a negative impact on the environment. Even when talk of global climate change was fairly new to most of us, some birders realized that the extreme driving and flying that a few birders undertake for big years and big lists, is detrimental to the environment. If a person really cares about birds, it seems inconsistent to be driving and flying thousands of miles to pursue birds (with the extreme carbon footprint of such efforts). The BIGBY movement that developed in Quebec was an effort to bird in a more environmentally responsible way and to encourage birding in one's local patch. This also fosters the study all of nature in the birder's local area, not just birds. It leads to a deeper appreciation of your local area and, hopefully, even preservation and restoration efforts there. In this way, green birding often leads to green naturalism and nature activism.

There are birding advantages to green birding. On a bike or on foot, birders can see and hear birds all the time, not just at stops or for fleeting moments through the windows of a speeding car. Green birders are able to stop at any time to see and study birds found en route, not just at pullouts. Consequently, more species are seen in less distance and green birding big day species totals are approaching the totals once only recorded on big days in cars, even though the distance covered in a day by bike is far less. 

Green Birding also still satisfies the competitive urge possessed by some birders. The sport of birding can be done responsibly. The Big Green Big Year,  "BIGBY," was soon followed by all sorts of variations on big green years for counties, states and countries. Birders started green big days, green big hours, county green lists, walking big days and big years. The Big Sit, which originated independently of this movement, was now seen also as a way to green bird. Birders could satisfy their urge to compete at various levels in a way that was not bad for the environment and which fostered a greater appreciation of birds and all nature in their local area. This has been further promoted by eBird, the online bird database developed by National Audubon and Cornell, with its local patch challenge. With eBird, birders are not only encouraged to bird locally, but to note nesting and seasonality of birds, important data for the study of birds and the effects of climate and habitat change.

Green birding has a physical challenge not present in motorized big days and big years. Top big days often involve over 100 miles of cycling over varied terrain, and big years can involve thousands of miles of pedalling. This additional challenge heightens the satisfaction of a successful big day or big year. It usually pushes those participants, who are able, to new levels of fitness. For those who are not physically able, there is the big foot hour and the Big Sit. A wheelchair category in the green birding records is certainly open for any of the green birding categories.

Last, there is a more spiritual side to green birding which becomes more evident on long bike rides. The birder on the road for a big day, and especially for multiple days, experiences the terrain, the weather, the sounds of the wind, birds, cars, and sees the effects of man on the terrain more intimately than those speeding by in a car. The birder starts to feel more like a slow bird moving from one location to another. The green birder is apart from the people speeding by and, like a bird, is also vulnerable to those cars and the weather. Days on the road aren't boring; the birder gets into into a groove after a few days: where the 60 to 100 miles (or more) on the bike feels routine. The bicycle birder achieves a different and satisfying mental state on the road. In the quest for birds the green birder becomes like a bird - totally in the moment.

The page has a handsome Biking Birder at the top, wonder who he is, and photos of Dorian Anderson, Ponc Feliu Latorre and the incredible though sadly departed Theodore 'Ted' Parker.

Future posts will detail these three Green Birding superstars and others.

A brilliant book by Richard Gregson gives more details . . .

Available on Amazon . . . 

Now before starting with the story from my beginning, January 1st 2010, just a quick mention of next year, 2024.

On May the eleventh, which by a huge coincidence is St Ponc's day, the patron saint of beekeepers and herbalists and also the name of the European Green Birding champion extraordinaire, Ponc Feliu Latorre, eBird will be having their amazing worldwide Global Big Day.

Ponc and I hope that Green Birders everywhere will take the opportunity to do a Global Big Day and make it the world's biggest Global Big GREEN Day.

A lot more on that to come.

So, lets go back to my first day on a Biking Birder adventure, 2010 when after years of local patch watching by bike, I left my Special Needs teaching post to cycle around the UK . . . 

1st January 2010                                                            Rock n Roll [Led Zeppelin Live]

                                                                                                          Alright, let's go!


It was near dawn as I walked down an icy country lane atop a high hill at Romsley, Worcestershire. Stars shone in the clear sky and Orion, the Hunter, was easily seen as distant traffic hummed on the M5. The hunter would look after a kindred spirit, wouldn't he? For what is birding but a form of modern-day hunting? A bird not for the pot but for a jot, a pencil mark in a notebook.

I strained to hear the bird that I wanted to be the first bird on my Green year list for 2010. That bird I hoped would be a Tawny Owl. Conditions were perfect for the owl, the air being very still and very cool, with a deep, crispy frost making the country lane slippery underfoot. The owl’s haunting call would travel a long way in these conditions and its mate would respond with a similar refrain. Tu-wit . . . tu-whoo. No rain this morning, the wooing would be intense. No too wet to woo.

The way became steeper as I approached the small English Oak woodland along the northern edge of the road, silhouettes of the trees showing their presence against the grey sky, with the distant kaleidoscope of the Black Country streel lights providing a backdrop. With an almost full Moon setting behind the woodland, I waited, straining my ears for the slightest sound.

Birding radar primed with my hands cupping my ears, a minute passed. Then another. Somewhere distantly an early rising dog barked.

A sudden sound.


A Carrion Crow cawed. [Bird number – 1]


My first bird of the year was a crow, symbol of doom and death. Hadn’t Van Goff used them to say so in his last painting before committing suicide, The Cornfields? That caw was a great omen for what was to pass over the coming months, yet maybe it was “cor!” Read these pages and decide for yourself how I viewed the Biking Birder year at the end of my adventure.

Actually I like crows and the whole Corvid family, for they are intelligent, enterprising and in some cases such as the Jay, extremely colourful birds. Indeed so wondrous are the colours of a Jay’s feathers that, as a teenager, I had an after school part-time job, using them to make flies for the fly fisherman. Sitting around a large, rectangular table, covered with the brightly coloured feathers of many birds, a small vice in front of me to hold the barbed hook and the merry Brummie-accented chatter of the many older ladies with the same, was a lovely way to earn extra cash for my pubescent hobbies; fishing, football and feathers. All the ‘F’s, a mantra for every teenager. Make sure your hobbies begin with this letter by adding philately and photography to the list. Flinging for cricket!

A few seconds after the crow the Tawny Owl [2] hooted, disappointed at being relegated to second. I tried hooting myself with licked, cupped hands but the tawny recognized the falsity and stayed silent.

Now if you haven’t tried this before, here are some simple to follow instructions.

Put your hands together as if you’ve just clapped. If the Tawny Owl had hooted first, I would have done. Then clasp your fingers around them, slide your thumbs together and open up the palms, still with fingers clasped, to make a sound box. Put your thumbs together and open them against an index finger to make a small hole revealing your inner palms. Blow into the hole over the middle knuckles of your thumbs. Practice and make a hoot. You’ll have a hoot trying. If it doesn’t work straight away, lick around the inside of your palms to increase the seal. Wash your hands first though, Health and Safety!

I turned back, returning to my sister and brother-in-law, Donna and Charlie’s house nearby. I had spent the previous night seeing in the New Year here, celebrating the New Year with close family members. A New Year beckoned and what a year it was about to be. I was going to cycle to every RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) nature reserve in the UK. I was extremely daunted by the task ahead but exhilarated at the challenge. I was innocently excited at the prospect of 365 days of birding and siteseeing around our fabulously diverse country.

A black male Blackbird was on the lawn and a Wren was noisily singing and ticking in the bushes next to road. Strange to hear such a loud song from such a small bird and at this early time of the year.

These being the next additions to the year list, they were closely followed by a couple of Magpies in a Blackthorn bush, two for joy, with Black-headed Gulls flying overhead. [3 to 6]

Thieving Magpies are beautifully iridescent in places with blues and green when the light reflects the colours from their darker feathers. They're not just black and white. Marmite birds, a lot of people are like that with this member of the crow family. You either love them or you hate them and many are they who would like to see a Magpie cull, blaming them for the lack of songbirds around nowadays. However I have seen it put by Bill Oddie in one of his books, that over the lack of songbirds these days one should blame the cat. Yet the preferred moggie gets a better press. No one dare take on the cat crazy, crazy cat brigade, no matter how many billions of birds are slaughtered around the world by them.

Here I might be naughty and suggest that an escaped Eagle Owl’s diet of a number of cats in the West Midlands recently did more to save little tom tit than any shooting of the local magpies would ever have achieved. 

8.00 a.m. a quick breakfast of cinnamon-flavoured porridge and orange juice whilst listing birds from the kitchen window; Blue and Great Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, and Jay. [7 to 13]

I always love listing the New Year birds on a new notebook page as the birds come so quickly and all those common birds briefly have an added importance. When listing like this a Blue Tit is as vital as a Siberian Rubythroat and in different contexts would be equally as exciting. Imagine what would happen if a Blue Tit turned up in Central Park, New York or a Robin in China!

The relaxing start to the day was interrupted by a phone call from BBC Radio WM for a live broadcast slot. So, whilst standing on the lawn watching the bright early morning star, Venus fade and the Sun rise for the new decade over the nearby Waseley Hill, I listened to Every Breath You Take by the Police. Then there was the over the top introduction from the DJ, all about New Year’s resolutions and how there was a man whose plan would take this to the extreme.

The ten minute interview went quickly. I was relaxed on this occasion and it ended with a sincere, “Good luck and keep in touch.”

Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Wood Pigeon, Redwing and Siskin were seen and heard during the interview as I walked around the garden, added to the growing list as we talked. [14 to 18] Eighteen birds seen already, not a bad start.

Soon it was time for me to get the Cannondale bike ready with packed panniers all mounted and binoculars swinging from my neck. Ready, I sat astride my Cannondale ‘Fatty’ bike, a true Rolls Royce of a bike, especially compared to the mountain bike I had been training on for the past few years. I was ready for day one of the Biking Birder 2010 experience. Now I would cycle 5,000 miles on this bike this year, or so I thought. It would actually turn out to be quite a lot more.

At 9.00 a.m. a good friend, Gez arrived from Kidderminster to see me off. Gez and I had become very firm friends when we both worked at a local special school, Rigby Hall. There we had developed the Eco Schools project to such an extent that the weekly non-recycled rubbish, landfill stuff, for the whole school was down to a couple of full carrier bags! Everything else was reduced, reused, recycled, as the '3 is a magic number' song goes. Food waste was either composted or Bokashied; the latter being a system for dealing with cooked foods. Around the school playground were a number of circular stacked wormeries where the children would place their fruit waste, apple cores, banana peels and the like. The liquid collected from these was incredibly rich and the soil was some of the best potting medium I had ever seen.

Gez, together with Donna, Charlie and my little niece Emily, shouted good wishes and took photographs as I set off. Waving goodbye to them all I was saddled with naivety over what lay ahead.

Up the hill and around the corner, avoiding the icy kerbs, I came to my first junction. So far so good, as it was for the next mile and a half, careering down a very steep hill towards Halesowen; the cold air bringing tears to my eyes. A Mistle Thrush [19] flew over, as did a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls [20].

The first roundabout, a very busy one, was circumnavigated carefully with me taking the road to the right towards Birmingham. A hill to cycle up and a full stop, I got off and pushed. Why? Cyclists don't get off their bike no matter how steep the hill, do they? I did. I didn’t know how to change the gears! I hadn’t a clue. It was something to do with some levers on the handlebars but which ones and how to move them?

If the truth be known, despite my nickname for the year, Biking Birder 2010, I was then and possibly still am, more Birder than Biker, a bike rider more than a cyclist.

Now the Cannondale bike had been kindly and amazingly, given to me only three weeks beforehand by someone I had only met for the first time at a work party at Upton Warren nature reserve, Worcestershire.

During every autumn, through to each following spring, on the first Sunday of each month and every Tuesday, around twenty people spend the day carrying out various conservation tasks such as reed removal, brash bashing and grass mowing. All fine tasks designed at getting the reserve in tip top shape for the next breeding season. Well, a new volunteer, whose name is Gert, on listening to the lunchtime chat in the Flashes hide, asked what everyone was on about when talking about my chances of me completing my challenge. I explained pompously that I had three aims for the next year namely to:

  • Cycle to every RSPB {Royal Society for the Protection of Birds} nature reserve in Britain. Around 200 of them to visit.
  • Cycle to every WWT {Wildfowl & Wetland Trust} centre, all nine of them.
  • Beat the Non-motorized year list BIGBY record then held by Chris Mills of Norfolk. Back in 2005 Chris had seen 251 bird species cycling around East Anglia. There'll be more about the amazing contest that Chris had with Simon Woolley from Hampshire, both doing a BIGBY, a Big Green Big Year as the Americans call it, later.

“I’ve got a bike you can have,” Gert had said unhesitatingly. Two days later it arrived at my place of work, Rigby Hall Special School and as it needed a few repairs it spent most of the rest of the time before January the 1st in the repair shop. Hence the lack of riding on the bike. Thanks for such a fantastic bike Gert!

After pushing the bike up that first hill of many, up to the Quinton Road, the rest of the way to the first reserve on the year’s itinerary, Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve, was uneventful and relatively easy going. In fact so easy was it that I was the first person to arrive there. No friends and family yet to see me off, no RSPB staff, no press, I was early. The roads, that had taken me through the Black Country via Blackheath and West Bromwich, were delightfully quiet. People obviously had better things to do than be out early on New Year's Day driving around. Song Thrush [21] and House Sparrows [22] were seen along the way. Hellos and Happy New Years were shouted to the Black Country folk with my bon homie comments being reciprocated favourably despite the early hour.

I spent the time waiting for the official ‘Go!’ by birding, adding even more birds to the growing year list.

Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve was an obvious choice for me to start the year. First, as I am a proud Brummie, born and raised in Birmingham, the reserve was chosen because it is the closest RSPB reserve to that fairest of cities. Secondly, way back in 1985, I had been interviewed for the RSPB warden’s job there. I remember the day well. It started with a walk around the reserve with other candidates for the post and the various RSPB officers. Then a meal at a plush hotel in nearby West Bromwich and back to the reserve for the individual interviews. I think I scuppered my chances by asking why the RSPB never bought small woodlands in places such as Trench Wood in Worcestershire. Instead their reserves to my naïve mind consisted of being mostly on remote Scottish Islands. I was to learn over the coming year how myopic that view really was and how insultingly wrong.

Back in the early 1980s, Trench Wood, close to Droitwich in Worcestershire, had a few pairs of Nightingales and beautiful Marsh Fritillary butterflies. Now both species are gone yet it remains a lovely woodland and a great place for orchids and butterflies, being a beautiful, tranquil Butterfly Conservation Society reserve.

Another thing that diminished my chances of RSPB employment at that interview was my concentration wavering between answering the rapid-fire questions and watching and listening to what was going on just outside the office window. Whoever arranged for Snipe to be drumming outside that day hadn’t helped me. I couldn’t stop myself from turning to watch and listen to that wonderful humming sound. Snipe, as you may know, fly high in circles around there chosen territory and suddenly dive, their outer tail feathers vibrating as they do so, creating the distinctive thrumming, drumming sound.

The final question in the interview was “how many marks out of ten would you give yourself on bird identification?” I think I said 8. Nowadays I would give myself a … I remain modest.

I didn't get the job.
So, I arrived at the reserve at 10.20 a.m. early and alone. Not for long though as down by the frozen lake I met a lovely couple of older ladies looking for a memorial bench dedicated to a neighbour of theirs. Muriel and Nora from nearby Aston had stories to tell and were delightful with their strong Brummie accents and humour.

Eventually back at the large visitor's centre I was soon joined and greeted by friends, the Upton Warren birders John Belsey, Dave Walker and Gert. A million thanks to these wonderful lads for the send-off.
Ian Crutchley and Steven Allcott were the next to arrive - the T.I.T.S were together again [Terpsichorean Inspired Twitcher Society] - Bearded Tit Ian, Great Tit Steve and Tom Tit - me. Ian and Steve were pupils of mine many years before back when I ran a YOC [Young Ornithologist’s Club, the junior branch of the RSPB now called Wildlife Explorers] at Coppice High School, a large comprehensive school in Wolverhampton.

Each half term the club would go out in a 50-seater coach on an outing to some well-known nature reserve. A few teachers and some local birding experts would travel to various birding hotspots every half term. Slimbridge and Martin Mere WWT [Wildfowl & Wetland Trust] reserves were visited, as was The New Forest. We even had long weekend trips to Norfolk, staying at youth hostels there. Norfolk never knew what hit it! Forty odd council estate kids turning up to explore the villages and reserves and enjoy the sensation of getting soaked by large waves crashing over the sea wall at Sheringham. Long time ago.

Now in their early forties, the two lads are still very keen birders after all those years. So the nickname for our little band of carbon twitchers from the last Big Year, 2005, that we did together was resurrected for a short while. In that year the three of us had travelled all over Britain, carbon twitching by car to be truthful, to each try to see 300 bird species, hence the term Big Year. Ian had managed it, actually reaching 350! Steve had over 300 birds too. I missed out on 293, a whole summer having been spent driving around France and Spain birding and hill climbing.

That year was mostly fabulous but it still has some bitter memories for me. I dipped the Belted Kingfisher! You may know that the bird was found on April the 1st, not a good day to find a less than five ever, seriously mega bird [CMF – Bill Oddie? Definitely!] Who would believe that a large, gaudy American kingfisher, only seen twice before in Britain, would be found in Staffordshire and so close to where I was supply teaching at the time in Dudley? Well at first no one did. Every birder whose pagers gave the mega alert tone thought the obvious. It must be an April Fool’s Day prank. Only it wasn’t. The bird was performing fabulously beside a lake near Sherbrook House on the edge of Cannock Chase to the few believers, including my friends Ian and Steve. They had rushed there on hearing that wonderful whoop on the Rare Bird Alerts pagers. By the time I knew about the bird it was late evening and I had travelled to my brother, Paul’s house in Warwick by train and bicycle.

Outside the house my huge, old VW LT 35 camper van was parked on the drive, my home at the time. I was too late to get to Sherbrook.  Indeed it would have been illegal to go for the bird. The car tax on my van had expired on the last day of March, the day after the discovery of the bird.

The lads, Ian and Steve came to rescue me and take me very early the next day to where a thousand plus expectant birders waited in the growing daylight. A birder unknown counted each person present as he always did at every twitch. Hundreds! The wooded slope adjacent where the bird had last been seen was covered by birders and their optical paraphernalia. The well-known, and the not so well-known bird photographers were lined up as at the goalmouth edge of some Premiership football match, each with their over large lens pointing towards the dead branches extending over the dank waters. A couple of hours flew by with no sign of the obviously departed bird. People started to leave and we started to consider doing the same thing. “It was on that branch yesterday,” didn’t help ease my disappointment but ever the optimist I waited.

Suddenly there was a rush of people stampeding towards their cars. The bird had been seen near Goole, Yorkshire. An hour or so later we were there, negotiating the crush of cars, birders and bemused police. The bird had chosen to be seen at a small nature reserve and the way to it was via a very narrow country lane. Panic ensued as the police tried to make a way through the chaos for a stranded local bus, stuck unable to go forwards or backwards so great was the crush of cars and excited birders. Ian, Steve and I followed the crowd but the news wasn’t encouraging. Seen but gone was the gossip. We had to look for ourselves.

A couple of hours later, we had to admit to myself that it had gone. A pair of Garganey, including the splendid male was little compensation.

Neither did my woes over this bird end here. Oh no! The following week was the school Easter holidays and my two wonderful children, Rebecca and Joshua wanted to visit their grandparents down in glorious Dorset. So I hired a small car, the campervan being out of action due to the tax, and everyone was so happy as we drove down to my favourite county. Then the news broke that that blasted [I would do the blasting if I saw it now!], Belted Kingfisher had been re-found, near Aberdeen! For a few days I couldn’t go. Now would a fanatic twitcher be so unselfish? The visit of my Rebecca and Joshua to their grandparents was paramount. I did manage to sneak off over to Shoreham to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo on a golf course early one morning, which was some compensation. Not a lifer but a good bird for the year list being only the second one I had seen in Britain.

By the weekend Rebecca and Joshua needed to be back home with their Mum, my sadly divorced Jewish Princess. So on dropping them off I hared up the M6, over the border into Bonnie Scotland, not for the first time that year, and got to the riverside location of the Belted Kingfisher just before dawn. I spent the rest of the day, as did many others, walking the riverbank searching. Someone said they heard it but I have my doubts. It had gone again. The direction it had gone from Staffordshire to the east coast of Scotland would have it heading in a beeline for possibly Iceland with a short hop over to Greenland or Newfoundland. I do hope it made it back over ‘the pond.’ I dipped!
Back at Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve, Phil Andrews and his partner were the next to arrive but Paul, my brother, was lost, having gone to the wrong Sandwell Valley centre. I phone called some instructions to him and relayed what had happened to the general amusement amongst the birders. Eventually he arrived with my children Rebecca and Joshua. I felt proud to have them all there.
Chris, the warden of Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve opened up the visitor’s centre and everyone chatted, drank coffee or hot chocolate and enjoyed the views through the windows over the reserve. That nemesis bird from the 1985 interview, Snipe became bird number [23] and then Lapwing [24], both of which were seen through the centre’s telescopes, the former not drumming but sitting beside a frozen pool. Bullfinches [25] were on the feeder and bird table outside the visitor’s centre, Redwings, Starlings [26] and Jackdaws [27] were flying overhead and the occasional Siskin.

Now if you haven’t been to Sandwell Valley you might imagine it to be surrounded by high rise flats and industrial buildings, council estates and motorways. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, the sound of the nearby M5 can be heard and the way to the reserve entrance, before the magnificent bird-sculpted metal gateway, is through a built-up area of mostly older semi-detached houses on expansive housing estates. Yet the prospect from the visitors' centre is predominantly green and you can’t see any of those buildings. Oh all that I’ve mentioned is there alright; after all Sandwell Valley is in the centre of the West Midlands conurbation. Yet over the river, beyond the lakes, pools and fields, there is a hillside golf course and all the built up areas are hidden by the same hill and the thousands of trees, many planted by the RSPB. Thankfully West Bromwich Albion's football ground is hidden by the same hill. Beautiful views were enjoyed by all, especially on this day, the first Biking Birder 2010 day, with a deep hoar frost and strong winter sunshine.

A photographer from the local newspaper, the Express and Star arrived. He soon had everyone outside doing the Conga behind me at the front on my bike. Their pushes ensured I got off to a good start. One for the album. Mind you, his last photograph, of everyone doing their preferred finger gesture advising me to get going, wasn’t the one chosen for the next day newspaper article! For those who knew of my musical obsession with the late Frank Zappa's music, the gestures all seemed most apt. Arf! Arf! Arf!

One o’clock and time to go and they all did just that; friends, family, RSPB staff and press photographer all left, leaving me to go around the reserve on my own. I rode down to a small area of unfrozen water where there were plenty of ducks to count. There were seventeen Tufted Duck to be seen, a pair of Mute Swans, sixteen Teal, a few Canada Geese, thirty six Mallard, two male Wigeon, eight Pochard and a male Gadwall, over 150 Coot, around twenty Moorhen, around 200 Black-headed Gulls and, best of all, six splendid Goosanders [28 to 38], four of them males, standing on the ice.

I met a birder, Dave from Gornal near to Dudley and together we stood watching a small reedbed from behind a screen. Whilst chatting there we hoped to see Willow Tits. We didn't see any but a fox flushed out a few Snipe and then a Water Rail [39] scampered nearby

Next, I met a lovely couple. Tracey and Steve Potter, birders from Derby who were down for the day for a spot of birding. They were Aston Villa fans, so we had couple of things in common!

Once I had explored the whole reserve; all birds seen being listed, I set off towards my first night’s accommodation. With the new knowledge of how to change the gears I soon got to John and Mary’s house in Four Oaks, Sutton, which was close to the expansive Sutton Park, a former hunting area for King Henry VIII no less, to the east of Birmingham.

Still reasonably light as I approached Four Oaks, I walked through parts of the frozen park, an area looking and feeling like the Arctic tundra with frozen heath and birch, with lovely views of a setting sun over the distant Black Country hills. I watched as Redwings came into roost for the night in holly bushes. Soon I found their home and was treated to a lovely meal, during which I enjoyed a long conversation about the pleasures of being a cyclist. Both of them were very keen members of a local, to them, Cycling Club with a garage full of bikes. The long day ended with a fabulous and well-deserved hot bath and a dive into a comfy bed.

At the end of the day the year list stood at 39 and the distance I had cycled was 24 miles.

January the first is the traditional day for birders to see as many bird species as possible. Over in the USA birders prefer their ‘big day’ to be on Christmas Day. Over here we’ve more sensibly chosen the first day of the year. Well, who wants to miss the Queen’s speech or is it the turkey fare that is the real attraction, that and the pressies?

The last few January the firsts have seen me birding locally in my home county of Worcestershire, famous now not just for the excellent sauce of the same name but also for being named as a castle in a Shrek movie!  On these days I’ve seen up to sixty-seven birds within the county boundaries, including Firecrest and Glaucous Gull, not bad for such a land-locked county in the centre of England.

I used to live in the beautiful coastal town of Swanage in Dorset. There I abided by my wife’s rule that the furthest I could go from home on the first of January had to be within a 15 mile radius of the town. Within that area I could bird nearly all of Poole Harbour, Arne RSPB reserve, Middlebeare, Durlston Country Park and Studland, as well as huge areas of pastureland. By timing which habitats I visited with the incoming tide I would see close to a hundred bird species. The most I ever did have on a first of January day was ninety-seven in 2002. The special birds seen that day included a male Lesser Scaup, a small American duck, that came back to Little Sea at Studland for a few winters running after that first encounter.


23.34 miles                                                    1168 feet elevation up   1529 feet down

Let's finish with a mention that there is a Facebook group dedicated to Green Birding, Green Birding Megastars, which at the time of writing has exactly 500 members. Take a look . . . 

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...