Friday 29 January 2016

Plymouth to Teignmouth. Wettest day of the year so far.

Friday 29th January         fresh to strong W
heavy rain or thick drizzle

I don't know why but a really enjoyable cycling day. The weather is appalling; heavy rain or thick drizzle and a strong westerly wind just to make sure I am soaked. There are no views of the beautiful hilly Devon landscape as it is all lost in the cloud and mist yet I really enjoyed the day. The only wildlife of note was, sadly a dead dunnock beside a cycle path.
I reached Totnes, then Newton Abbott and finally Teignmouth where the Potter's More Hotel had an attic room with a view over to the sea.
Showered, rehydrated and relaxed.

33.87 miles 2419 feet elevation up 2653 feet elevation down

St Austell to Plymouth!

Thursday 28th January fresh W sunny AM, sunny intervals & light showers PM

A day of cycling to get beyond Plymouth ahead of me, I set off on the cycle – push route from St Austell to Plymouth. The morning is sunny and the sky cloudless. It is so warm that a painted lady butterfly flutters towards me across the road. I beg it to land and it almost does, on my bike but it heads off over a tall hedge.
Before Liskeard I see a group of eight ravens circling together and further along the road a flock of around twenty fieldfare fly over. Winter thrushes have been very thin on the ground.
Hill after hill, the road is a tough one with few opportunities for cycling any prolonged stretch. That changes at Liskeard where I go on the A38. The next ten miles whizz past.
The ride through Plymouth to get to the house of a great friend, Lee's Mum and Dad, Lynn and Alan, is up and down again and complicated. Luckily down one stretch of road I am alert as someone has taken the heavy metal grill of a drain hole and there is a deep chasm left in the road!
The evening is spent in the fine company of Lee and his girlfriend Kate as well as Lynn and Alan. A family meal up to a table is the first one I have had for years and much appreciated. A fabulous evening spent with lovely company.

43.36 miles 3838 feet elevation up 3830 feet elevation down

Thursday 28 January 2016

Penultimate Day in Cornwall

Wednesday 27th January Gale easing to strong W Early fog, cloudy occasional light rain

In the hide at Stithians I wait for the fog to lift. The slavonian grebe is still here and comes quite close. 

A party of a dozen or so long-tailed tits are in the bushes next to the hide when suddenly the fog disappears and I can see the opposite shore of the large lake. I am already packed and ready to go.

The day is a mixture of pedalling and pushing as I come across hill after hill along this Cornish road.
I pass through the city of Truro with its prominent cathedral and push on, literally, towards St Austell. I reach there and find the public house I stayed in last year. The bike is stowed away in the same place and I have the same expansive room overlooking the local church with its interesting small statues on the clock tower. I had forgotten that the church bells ring loudly every quarter hour.

26.10 miles 2076 feet elevation up 2388 feet elevation down

Wednesday 27 January 2016

A Day confined in a Birding Hide, Stithians.

Tuesday 26th January Gale force W (55mph) 12C very heavy rain all day

It doesn't take long to see the slavonian grebe once daylight returns. Last night's clear, star-filled sky has been replaced by thick low cloud and it is raining hard. The promised gale, the remnants of the storm that dumped over two feet of snow on the Eastern USA killing so many, has arrived this side of the Atlantic and the weather is truly foul outside the confines of the C.B.W.P.S. (Cornwall Bird & Wildlife Preservation Society) hide.
The slavonian grebe, a bird that takes me to 144, is quite distant and after texting the news I am unsure that I did see it as a little grebe extends its neck before flying closer. I did see the bright white cheeks didn't I? Scanning again I cannot see a slav'.
Half an hour later the slavonian grebe comes closer and I get photos and a short thirty second video as it bobs up and down on the sea-like swell.

With no intention of cycling in this squall; it would be suicidal to even try, I settle down in my sleeping bag and read and watch. Birds are few and far between; four little grebe occasionally come close catching small sticklebacks and the occasional gull lands on the water to preen. 

A male goldeneye stays around in front of the hide for an hour or so.

The book is called Austerity by Kerry-Anne Mendoza and details the current obscenity of Neo-liberalism and the destruction of all that I hold dear; education, NHS, the Justice system and social compassion.
The other book I have with me is by Roz Savage and is the story of her rowing across the Atlantic. She is eloquent and intelligent and the read is inspirational. “If one is going to be outside one's comfort zone then expect things to be uncomfortable.” I'm wrapped up and cosy in this small bird hide.
Midday, rain and wind still battering the water, I am joined in the hide by Jim, a birder from Newquay. Together we watch as the slavonian grebe swims very close by and a firecrest is seen to the right of the hide; my second of the year.

The Green Year list now stands at 144, twenty ahead of where I was at this time last year.

A Change of Direction Leads me to a Rose-Coloured Starling

Monday 25th January Strong SW to W 13C cloudy, some light drizzle, suddenly sunny PM

The day starts with a decision to get a tooth sorted. A bargain of two Fry's Turkish delight bars for £1 had me chewing one yesterday and on swallowing I found a large hole in a bottom left molar. Now I have had problems with this particular tooth for ages and my dentist had said that the next time she sees me she will have to take it out under a general anaesthetic. Last year it was this tooth that first had an abscess and then got cracked even further by a pip inside a chocolate raisin.
Eleven o' clock and I am at a NHS dentist in Penzance. Twelve o'clock the tooth has been cleaned and fixed with a temporary filling. I have to make an appointment with my dentist for the full removal asap as the x-ray shows the extent of the infection below the root. Strange it hasn't caused me any pain at all since the abcess was treated with antibiotics.
On the road again, the day's original plan of trying to see garganey and water pipit at Hayle has changed with the news that the rose-coloured starling has been seen again at The Lizard.

Through Marazion and along to Helston I cycle, past a few fields of flowering daffodils. The final ten miles is into the wind. Reaching The Lizard village I start to search by walking the streets, looking at every starling group. I consider getting a bed & breakfast as the weather forecast for tomorrow is of fifty five mph gales with heavy rain.

Forty five minutes of searching I look up and the nearest starling of a small group on telegraph wires is the rosy! It pops down closer onto a hawthorn bush in a garden and gives views that are so much better than last year's bird. In 2015 I had the briefest of views of a superb adult to which this one is dull in comparison. Watching it for the next half hour I wonder when the full pink plumage of a breeding bird comes into play. The other common starlings look spnagly in the sun yet the rosy looks greyish-white on the parts that I expected to be shocking pink. Still it is another year tick and a very good one to get.


There are still a couple of hours of light left in the day and I decide to cycle to Stithians Lake to try to get the Slavonian grebe before the bad weather arrives.

Two hours later, the sun having gone down, I ask a lady for dirctions instead of looking at the map on my phone. Two miles later, after hurtling downhill for quite some way, I realise that she has sent me to the village, not the lake. A large village sign Stithians tells me so.
Back up the hill I push as darkness falls. I reach the lake with it too dark to see anything and a very close tawny owl hoots it's derision.

The Green Year list now stands at 143, nineteen ahead of where I was at this time last year.

46.60 miles 2545 feet elevation up 2180 feet elevation down

Monday 25 January 2016

Cornish Chough and Cornish Birders

Sunday 24th January Strong S 13C cloudy, misty then suddenly sunny PM

A group of young Indian students from Delhi are taking photographs of each other as I pass by to collect the bike from the shed. They ask me to take one of them all together and I joke that they should have the photograph taken in the field of daffodils, Big Fish-style. Despite the mud they agree and so half an hour is spent amongst the daffs.

To Sancreed again to try and get better views of the ring-billed gull, I arrive to find once again, no gulls. Waiting and searching for almost an hour I do see a pair of peregrines but no ring-billed. 

Another cycling birder arrives, Alex and he tells me that the Iceland gull has been seen recently at a farm along the Pendeen road. Alex also says that the best place to see chough is at Kenidjack.
The wind is sometimes coming from my side, sometimes behind me and I reach the ploughed field suggested by Alex to find it devoid of any birds.
I carry on down to Kenidjack and am thrilled to find a number of chough in the alley by the sewage works. There are a few flying around loosely connected to jackdaw and rook flocks. A couple land on a nearby derelict and ruined mine building. One has a number of rings on it's legs.

Having successfully found and seen chough well, unlike back in 2015 when the BBC Cornwall presenter had nailed me with the question of whether I had seen Cornish chough. I hadn't. So with them on the year list, celebrating what could have been a tricky bird if I hadn't had them here, I cycle to Mousehole to try for gulls; an Iceland gull was reported yesterday.
First stop is Newlyn Harbour where a very close great northern diver is seen. 

Two Cornish birders tell me that the juvenile glaucous gull is just off the beach nearby and it sure is. Large and pale, the glaucous stands out amongst the smaller herring gulls.

To Mousehole I stop for a while beside an allotment where the owner has created a number of figures using whatever materials have come to hand.

Sitting on the rocks beside the car park in Mousehole I add gannet and fulmar to the year list. There are small parties of auks passing and a number of kittiwakes also.
A friendly local birder with an amazing Deputy Dog-looking hat comes up, Paul Semmens, and together we search for the gull as he talks about his work in monitoring cetaceans in the area. Paul says he sees around two and a half cetaceans over a year, mostly porpoise and dolphins with the occasional whale.
We move around a small headland and meet another two birders Chris and the famous Mashuq. All week whenever I have met Cornish birders they have told me that Mashuq is the gull expert for the county.

Mashuq finds a white winger, possibly the Iceland but half of it is hidden by the rocks. Chris lets me have a look and following their directions I find the bird, seeing a pale mantle and head; the latter looking smaller and rounder than a glaucous head would be. Half an Iceland, it doesn't go onto year list and as darkness falls and after saying goodbye to one and all, I head back to the youth hostel.

The Green Year list now stands at 142, eighteen ahead of where I was at this time last year.

23.93 miles 1568 feet elevation up 1594 feet elevation down

An American Gull onto the List

Saturday 23rd January Strong SW 13C cloudy then rain

Out towards Sancreed, I arrive there expecting to see lots of gulls in the fields around Trennack farm. There are none. A few herring gulls fly over. I wait.
10:30am a lone gull flies around and lands briefly, very briefly. Then takes off to fly around and land briefly once more. Hence I get pretty poor views of the 1st winter ring-billed gull, an American gull looking rather lost despite the fact that it has been coming to these same fields for a number of days.
The day, which had been rather blowy and dry, descends into one of rain and fog. I decide to bird any copse or woodland on the way back to Penzance instead of spending the day searching for chough around St Just and Land's End.

The Green Year list now stands at 139, fifteen ahead of where I was at this time last year.

6.87 miles 564 feet elevation up 578 feet elevation down

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...