Friday 8 January 2016

The Famous Craig family and Chew Valley Lake, Avon. Lesser Scaup

Thursday 7th January

Goodbye to Cath Mendez, through the city of Bristol with light rain falling, I head for Chew Valley Lake. The push over Dr Hill is tough but the downhill cycle after is exhilarating.
An American lesser scaup has been reported at Chew residing in Suttin Wick Bay and I reach there finding fabulous birder and friend Chris Craig in the hide there. Chris has just eturned from the Craig family's latest birding adventure. He talks of Chile, Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and The Falklands. Chris has a World list of nearing 5,000 and his famous birding daughter, Mya.Rose, known as Birdgirl, is not far behind. Mya.Rose has almost the same British list as mine, around 460, has seen 4,300 or thereabouts in the World and is only thirteen! Her blog received the runners up award in the prestigious Birdwatch blog of the year award.
The wind is very strong and blowing across the lake straight at us making the views of the duck sporadic in the waves. Goldeneye are seen with good numbers of tufted duck and pochard. A female goosander flies past.
After a while it is obvious that the lesser scaup isn't here so Chris says that he will drive around to the sheltered west side and search there. If he finds it he will phone me.
A phone call has me cycling around to the Moreton Hide. A green sandpiper is beside a pool created by the recent rain as I approach the hide. As soon as I enter a gentleman with a telescope insists that I see the male lesser scaup and I quickly do so just as it takes off and flies out of view.

A kingfisher calls and lands on a small willow briefly.

18.65 miles 1602 feet elevation up 1237 feet elevation down

Catching Up . . Slimbridge Tuesday 5th January 2016. Birds and Great Friend

Tuesday 5th January very light SW sunny intervals, mild 9C

A great friend, Mark Simkins arrives on his Honda 500cc motorbike at 10:30 and so a day's birding begins at Slimbridge, the HQ of the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust.

After a quick chat with effervescent Ellie, the ex-fundraising officer for the WWT, it is to the Rushy Pen hide we go and we find the two female scaup amongst the masses of tufted duck. There are also a few bewick swans to add to year list. These please me as last year I only saw one! Pintail are as superbly beautiful as ever and go onto the list.
Mark and I head out to the Holden Tower to look over The Dumbles towards the River Severn. There are masses of birds with very large flocks of lapwing and golden plover. Dunlin are mixed in amongst them and there are small numbers of a few duck species. There is also a flock of barnacle geese but I am unsure about their origin. Category C on the British list I am later told but I feel the same way abut these as I did the snow geese on Coll and don't count them.

On Tack Piece, a flooded field within the sea wall there are a huge number of teal. The WWT website recent sightings page reports that there was over 23,000 there yesterday and a search through them doesn't give me a green-winged teal. I had to look after what happened last year at RSPB Loch Leven.
There are a few, relative to what numbers there used to be here in the past, whitefronted geese, the first year tick of the day. Nowadays the geese stay over in the Netherlands. There is also a flock of around one hundred black-tailed godwits, another year tick.
A large female sparrowhawk is hunting along the hedgerow and a buzzard is sitting on a post with it's wings in a strange relaxed pose.
With a view over towards the Zeiss hide I find the grey phalarope again.

The rest of the day is spent alternating brief wild bird watching moments with prolonged travel experience chats; Mark having been to Ppatagonia recently as well as having treked up both Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro last year. Mark particularly likes the various flamingo species.

Once Mark leaves I return to the hides overlooking Tack Piece and find ruff, the final year tick of the day.
Back at the excellent and very quiet Wild Goose Lodge nearby I have an early night, falling asleep early to the sound of a hooting tawny owl.

The Green Year list now stands at 85.

Monday 4 January 2016

4th January 2016 - to Slimbridge

Monday 4th January 

Light SW           Occasional heavy shower           mild - 8 Celsius

The cycle route is once again an easy one, the main A38 to Tewkesbury from Worcester. Then the same to Gloucester and along to Slimbridge. All sounds simple and the trip goes smoothly and steadily enough despite a light, in the face wind and occasional heavy showers. The mild weather from last year is continuing and I should count my blessings.
A few skylarks in a field near Kempsey are the first bird to add to the year list. Otherwise the fields are bare and the hedgerows similar.
Common gull and shelduck are in a field just before Slimbridge; both are year ticks. These make the list stand at 72.
Reaching Slimbridge at 3:00pm I rush down the Zeiss hide. Six people in there haven't seen the reported grey phalarope but luckily I find it (modest) and try to point it out to the others birders present. On Rare Bird Alert and Birdguides the bird is reported as being elusive. It is easy to see why. It is amongst thick, dark green sedges on our side of the pool along the far end of the viewable field. This makes it easy for the rare, very white looking wader to disappear and it does just that.
Luckily a buzzard comes low over the area after about fifteen minutes and all the teal and lapwing take off. The phalarope does likewise and lands on an area of exposed mud. A lady from Cheslyn Hay, Staffordshire named Sheila has a telescope and I put her onto what is a lifer for her. She is so pleased she gives me a kiss on my cheek!
Now the main bird is safely UTB I can look for other year list birds and enjoy the massed flocks of lapwings and golden plover nervous due to the presence of a peregrine. Dunlin also fly both in front of us and out over the Severn Estuary. A little egret heads upstream while on the nearby lake there are wigeon and pintail amongst the masses of teal.
Out on The Dumbles there are a few Great black backed gulls as well as around a hundred barnacle geese. I don't know whether these are genuine wild birds and don't add them to the list.
Off to the nearby Wild Goose Hostel for the night as Slimbridge closes, there I meet two superb workers for the WWT, Kane and Ed. Ed's eyes sparkle as he describes his job of monitoring common scoter in Scotland. Kane later asks if he can both donate some money to the WWT on my behalf and sponsor me also!

The Green Year list now stands at 79.

41.87 miles 994 elevation up 1014 elevation down

Sunday 3 January 2016

Through Rain and Floods to Worcester

Sunday 3rd January Fresh SW - S Heavy rain all day

Another late start due to the cricket, Ben Stokes and Johnny Bairstow's incredible record breaking stand before lunch. The former gets 200, the latter gets to 100 after lunch and records of all sorts crumble.
Outside the rain is heavy and the wind is in my face. The cycle is not too pleasant. The route today is from Wolverhampton to Worcester, all along the A449. There are no birds. In all the time cycling I see one jay, one magpie, a few rooks and a pheasant. There are a lot of fields devoted to winter wheat and it is these that cause the three floods I have to cycle through. The water rushing off the wheat fields is the colour of rancid orange juice and must be carrying a tremendous amoount of sand and silt.
Just after the roundabout where I need to take the road towards Worcester centre, a lady has stopped her car and calls me over. On hearing that I am doing a cycle ride for charity, Kim gives a donation and a banana. What a fantastic lady, Kim tells me that she is a triathlete from Bewdley, Worcestershire. Wonderful.
The rooks are new for the year list and so is a single pheasant that is crossing a field just north of Worcester. In the city itself the River Severn is a foot away from bursting it's banks and the fifty or so mute swans are on an area that has flooded over riverside pathways down to the cathedral.
The Green Year list now stands at 68.

29.46 miles 1104 elevation up 1646 elevation down

January 2nd A Hoopoe for the list

Saturday 2nd January Fresh E to W Drizzle or light rain all day

Two sessions of the South Africa versus England Test match, watching with Dad, means that I am late leaving for the hoopoe.
From the back window overlooking a large oak woodland I add nuthatch and treecreeper to the list before setting off.
Cycling past the places of my early childhood; our family home in Stourbridge, where I got stung by a bumblebee as I poked the nest with a stick, along the road where Mum said she took the Christmas presents for Santa to collect and check before Christmas. So many memories. My old school, King Edward's Grammar School; I cycle onto the ring road and head for Wall Heath.
The bird is not on view when I arrive and two birders haven't been able to find it. I try and flush it from a scrubby area on the far side of the quarry. It flies into a tree and stays unseen amongst the ivy on the tree trunk for an hour or so.
Eventually it does return to the same spot and gives everyone now present great, close views. Three new birds for the year list takes it to sixty six.

19.19 miles 1115 elevation up 1376 elevation down

January 1st 2016 A New Start in the Quest for 300

Friday 1st January

A New Year, 2016 and a fresh determination to see 300 different bird species this year. It has to be this year for this will be the last year that my legs will stand up to a whole year of day after day cycling.
I am once again trying to raise money for my four favourite charities :

The RSPB - 

The Wildfowl & Wetland Trust WWT -

Asthma UK -

And then there are the incredible children of the Manu rainforest in Peru. This project supports some children in their own quest to get an education. -

Please if you can donate to any of the above then I would be most grateful. every donation is such a boost to my legs.

There is another way you can help if you can or prefer. Please sponsor me. I am asking you to sponsor me 1p for every bird specie I see this year. I am hoping to see 305. The aim is 300 but the dream is 305, the European record.
If you would like to sponsor me then please either comment at the bottom of this page or have a look at my facebook page . . .  Gary Prescott and either comment or message me.
You can also email me at -

Everyone who donates or sponsors will be named in my forthcoming books.

OK, request over. Here's the way the first day went.
It is 5:30am and a frosty, calm morning sees me at Upton Warren Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve, off the A38 south of Bromsgrove. Canada geese are the first bird to make a sound, closely followed by coot, mallard and moorhen. I am sitting in the Arthur Jacobs hide when I think I hear a tawny owl. I hear it again, definitely. This is a rare bird at Upton Warren and despite the early hour I text a couple of Upton birders.
Walking along a sloppy muddy path along the Salwarpe brook I stop and try to record the hooting. A single hoot and I press the video on my camera. At thirty two seconds the owl hoots a few notes and evidence is mine. I make three furrows in the mud to show other birders where the bird is sitting. It seems to be quite deep in the Education reserve, an out of bounds area between The Moors and the sailing pool.
I go back to the hide and await sunrise. A water rail sqeals in the reed bed in front of me.
7:30am, a pink wash over the eastern clouds and more birds call in the semi light; carrion crow, teal, cetti's warbler, dunnock and wren. The cetti's does it's Mozart calls constantly and the dunnock sings a pleasant phrase.
Across The Moors pool I can make out the birds with white plumage, black-headed gull and mute swan.
7:50 and it is light enough to start watching birds. A blackbird comes into the hawthorn next the feeders. Now I am listing; blue and great tit, bullfinch, reed bunting, greenfinch and wood pigeon. Meanwhile out on the water there are good numbers of tufted duck, pochard and shoveler with a single great-crested grebe. The bird of the day arrives, great white egret and parades along the reedbed edge. 
Two little grebes come close and a couple of herring gulls fly over with lesser black-backeds.
Birders are arriving and I decide to walk around the reserve. A group of curlew fly in and a few redwings, jackdaws and a couple of magpies fly over also.
Fourteen cormorant are on the platforms, a mistle thrush is on the telegraph wires and a large female sparrowhawk disturbs all the duck that circle the pool before relaxing.
A flock of small birds atop some alders included both lesser redpolls and siskins, both birds that were scarce in the winter months early last year.
Into a packed east hide, the great white egret is an obvious start of the year draw, and more birds to add to the list. A flock of seven goldfinches charm their way over the water to some nearby teasel heads. A redshank is walking around an island, a grey wagtail lands another.
Walking back along the trail a song thrush pops out and at the back of a waterlogged North Moors a few chaffinch are in the hawthorns.
I cycle down to the other area of the nature reserve, The Flashes. These are a series of three large brackish pools behind a large sailing pool. There I meet up with John Belsey, the undisputed 'King of The Warren' again and together we go to the hides. A buzzard, fifty up on the list, is feeding on a rabbit perched up on a post of the fox-proof fence. The Warren's fence is about ten feet high and has been instrumental in allowing breeding waders, especially avocets to have high productivity per pair. Eleven pairs of avocet last year fledged twenty nine young; phenomenal number per pair.
Out on the short grass a green woodpecker is feeding and over the nearby tall radio masts a pair of ravens are calling. 
The snipe need surveying and so John and myself, joined by Dave jackson, another Upton Warren regular birder, go out to see how many there are. Six common and four jack snipe are flushed; the latter soon landing not far away in their usual fashion. A kestrel is hovering nearby.
Leaving The Flashes I return to The Moors where a small flock of long-tailed tits are moving along the hawthorn hedgerow. Out on the water the only new bird for the day is a male gadwall.
Time to leave, the cycle back to Mum and Dad's house is mostly uphill. Six birds join the year list on the way; fieldfare, starling, collared dove, house sparrow, goldcrest and Jay. So it is the end of the first day. The Green Year list stands at sixty three, ten better than the first day total last year. Great start with a few birds I didn't get until much later in the year; lesser redpoll and jack snipe for instance.

11.86 miles 1042 elevation up 372 elevation down

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...