Saturday 13 February 2016

A Dear Friend from So Long Ago

Saturday 13th February Fresh E Rain for most of the day

An email has photographs attached of the long-billed dowitcher from two days ago sent to me by Alison Allison.

It is always lovely to meet people, share the excitement of a bird and then receive a lovely email. Thanks Alison, superb photographs, and all the best.
A morning rendezvous at a Gosport cafe, I am thinking I have been stood up when the woman I am waiting for taps me on my shoulder. Thirty two tears ago, back when I was a young teacher at a secondary school in Wolverhampton, I had the privilege of having a group of amazing, wonderful young children for my form for three consecutive years. From that class there was a girl of a sparkling character, Lisa Gaye. Here she is opposite me at the table, now as Lisa Hillier.
Two hours pass with family talk, memories from the past and future plans, laughs and past teacher character assassination all enjoyed.
Lisa'a husband, 'Scooter' John joins us and another hour passes. What a wonderful couple.

I cycle off towards Titchfield Haven but notice that my arm is camouflaged instead of Hi-vis. I have left my my Hi-vis jacket at the cafe! Twit. I cycle back and luckily it is still there.
I reach Titchfield Haven and hear from Kate behind the counter within the superb visitor's centre that the penduline tits, the birds I am after, haven't been seen since Wednesday. In fact even that report they feel was erroneous. My chances don't seem high. I head for the area where they were last seen and as the rain falls I stare at the only greater reedmace, the favourite seed provider for the tits.
The reserve closes at 4:00pm and I leave without having added to the year list. Does it count as a dip? Hardly but it still hurts. I want this record and every bird counts.
In the evening I access the Biking Birder 2016 – The Quest for 300 facebook page and find a message from a young German birder, Annett Jaegar. Annett had recently got in touch with me over Green Birding and I had asked her about her birding. Here is a reply:-

Dear Gary,
I did share your blog in my (still very humble) Birding Germany Group as well as in Birding NRW (northrhine-westfalian birders and slightly bigger group) I am thinking as my group doesn't have that many members yet it would be too much to ask you to write an article. I will definitely ask you to once my group has grown a little.
So thank you very much for your offer.
...So if you happen to know anybody birding in Germany feel free to add people to my "Birding Germany" group. Posts in english or any other language are very welcome.

I started birding quite late ( about 3 maybe 4 years ago I think ) basically without knowing anything about birds at all. So I still have to learn a lot (not just the gull identification is killing me
) . 

After not being too ambitious for the first year I am now looking for birds whereever I go.

Birding mostly in Germany, occasionally in the Netherlands (as I live quite close to the dutch and Belgian borders). I have been to Iceland for longer visits twice now (but always travelling with a non-birder, which makes it a bit more difficult sometimes.) Looking forward to Heligoland in April this year, hopefully the black-browed albatross will turn up again which I missed last year.

Actually, I do have some lists on bubo,org, as my friend, Mike Wheeler (I think you know him) convinced me to list my birds there. I do find it a bit embarrasssing to be yet again the only person who has a Germany 2016 on but hey, at least I do stand a chance to end up number one

It would be fabulous to see more Germans taking up the pastime. Please if you are a German birder visit the facebook group pages mentioned above.

The year list still stands at 163. This is nineteen ahead of where I was this time last year.

14.49 miles 312 feet elevation up 310 elevation down

Friday 12 February 2016

Wet Through but I Find a Rare American

Friday 12th February        Fresh SE       Rain for most of the day
Fifty shades of Green, my route today will involve three ferries. One over to The Isle of Wight, Lymington to Yarmouth. Another will take me on the chain ferry at Cowes, west to east and the final ferry will take me to Portsmouth from Ryde. If I see the bird though. If not it will be another night on the island and another search tomorrow.

So with Green credentials diminished I get to the first ferry with seconds to spare before it sets sail.
Rain is falling heavily as I leave Yarmouth on the road to Newport. Reaching that town I find the excellent cycle path that runs along the west bank of the Medina river. I need to find Pinkmead and do so, finding it to be a private house with a large garden of cut grass beside the river. With only a single vantage point offering good viewing of the garden I start to scan the area looking for the greater yellowlegs, yet another extremely rare American wader. This one is the only one of this species in Britain at the moment and I need to find it.
I can't. It is high tide and there are godwits, oystercatchers, redshanks and lapwing but no sign of the mega rarity. I walk away from this clear viewing position to search for any other place where ne can scan the garden but to no avail. It has a border of thick bushes and trees and only small areas can be seen at a time. The tide is at a perfect level to bring all of the river's waders ashore and I am feeling a bit worried that the bird is not going to be here. After all it was last reported last Sunday. My feeling though is that this is due to the lack of birders going over from the Mainland to see it and not it having left.
I see a bird on the bank beside a pond-like inlet beside some tall white poplar trees. Bird number 163 goes onto the list and I photograph it after celebrating on having found the greater yellowlegs. I text Phil then I look at the photographs again and realise that I have photographed the yellowlegs. Instead I have a bad photograph of a redshank! 

The bird was quite distant but I have no excuse for photographing the wrong bird despite my adrenaline pumped excitement.
I search for the yellowlegs and can't see it. Panic! I need a photograph. Then there it is, much closer than before and I lay down horizontal on the tarmac of the cycle path, in the rain, to steady myself to ensure photographs and video are OK. Phew. That was close to an embarrassing disaster.

Bird on the list after an hour and a half of a soggy search, I carry on to Ryde and celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate and two crumpets at a cafe. I am soaked but as always, very happy. Yes, I am suffering excessive happiness. The young girl serving me sits for a chat. She is twenty one and relates her work with the people of the jungle, that is the refugee and economic migrant camp at Calais. This wonderful woman volunteers help there and takes van loads of food and supplies out to the people stranded there. She tells me of some of the refugees stories and how they have been conned by traffickers into believing that the people of Britain want them to come to the United Kingdom. Many have been abused as they have traveled through Europe and their hopes and dreams for themselves and their loved ones are smashed as they end up in the squalid and dangerous conditions of the Jungle. Those that do make it to Britain are interred in prison like camps. This woman is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the people I have met down in the south. A girl of determination, empathy and compassion with a sense of humour and enthusiasm.
To Ryde to get a ticket, I board the ferry there wet through once more due to the heavy rain constantly falling. The Spinnacker Tower in Portsmouth is seen through raindrops on the ferry windows.

The year list stands at 163. This is twenty ahead of where I was this time last year.

21.96 miles 1052 feet elevation up 1091 elevation down

It's Just a Perfect Day.

Thursday 11th February Very Light SW Very Sunny, cool 5 to 7C after early frost. One quick shower with hail and rainbows

Skating away on the thin ice of a new frosty day, I head off along the sea wall for Fishtail Lagoon on Pennington Marsh. It is a glorious morning, sunny with some mist over The Solent. There is a thin veneer of ice on some of the pools. Maybe there will be winter this year after all. It has been more like Autumn so far with gales and rain followed by beautiful days like this.
The tide is quickly coming covering the outer saltmarsh and with almost no wind the view over the sea is mirror-like reflective of sky and shore.

Not having been able to find Fishtail Lagoon on any map on the internet last night, I am grateful for an information board which has a labelled map of the marsh. I proceed straight away to the area, ignoring any birds on the way. I am focssed on the target bird, the long-billed dowitcher. I meet another birder, Ian from Christchurch. He has seen it and says he will put the news out on Rare Bird Alert. He describes where he has seen it, “look to the left of where there is a little egret standing next to a and as we are joined by two other birders, Colin and Ben, Ian leaves and the three of us walk down to the spot to try to find it.

There are waders here, mostly redshanks with a group of four spotted redshanks and a single common snipe. Another spotted redshank is behind some rush and a ruff flies in to join it. After twenty minutes or so a wader flies from behind a nearby gorse bush to join the redshanks, the long-billed dowitcher goes onto the year list.

I watch it over the next hour as just occasionally the rare American wader comes into view. Most of the time though it is hidden amongst or behind the rushes.
Colin is a local birder who tells me that he has been birding here for six decades. Ben is a young man, twenty one, who is extremely keen and eager to learn. Ben spots two spoonbills flying in. nother spoonbill comes in but stands away from the first two.

The light today is sharp and clear, the earlier mist has gone and thin wispy cloud merges with the blue.
I start to walk along the seawall to the west and Ben walks with me. He stays with me for the next three hours and together we become a spotting team. There are plenty of great birds to enjoy and we both start a day list. By the time we reach Keyhaven Harbour we both have over sixty birds written down and we stop for a little lunch beside the bridge. We have seen the long-tailed duck again and enjoyed close views of dartford warblers.

A water rail squeals in the reedbed and a pale-headed marsh harrier flies over and lands on a distant hedgerow. I then find four bearded tits at the far end of the lagoon, tickable but never giving great views.

My target bird for the afternoon is water pipit and after saying goodbye and good luck to Ben, “have a great life,” I head back eastwards along the seawall checking every pipit. We have already seen rock and meadow pipits and there are more of these, mostly rock pipits but no matter what I cannot find a water pipit.

A short shower of rain and hail causes a double rainbow to appear and it's reflection is beautiful.

I find the short-eared owl perched up and preening at the east end of Keyhaven Lagoon.
A couple out for a late afternoon stroll stop me to inquire about the Lads. She has beautiful bright green eyes and has some lovely jewelry pieces, both rings and necklace, Her name is Elaine. She delights in telling me that she has made all of the pieces, some of them cast using cuttlefish. Her partner is named Peter and he takes back stage after telling me he is a landscape gardener.

Later, with the sun going down I see a young person sitting on a concrete block at the end of a concrete extension out into The Solent. He or she is wrapped in an orange blanket and I am concerned that they might have a problem as it is getting dark and getting very cold as the sun has gone down. A slavonian grebe gives me an excuse to go down there. The person turns out to be a young woman who is enjoying the landscape and she tells me she is a foundation year student of art, an oil painter and often comes down here to watch the sunset. I photograph the grebe and leave her to her contemplation.

The year list stands at 162. This is twenty two ahead of where I was this time last year.

9.52 miles 130 feet elevation up 130 elevation down

Thursday 11 February 2016

New Forest Morning to Seaside Marshes Afternoon.

Wednesday 10th February Light NW Mostly Sunny

Goodbye to Kerry and Dominik, with a new addition to the Biking Birder family, an otter who fits in well with Sid the Frog.
Through Lyndhurst once more and along the A35, turning down a small road heading south. The road goes through a superb forest if tall redwoods and pines before I reach the entrance to the Blackwater Arboretum. A Hampshire birder had emailed me over this being a place where I could add lesser spotted woodpecker to the year list. Through the park and out the back to access a long bridleway, I walk slowly searching the tree tops after having hidden the bike in thick undergrowth.

There are only a very few birds; nuthatch and titmice. Then I hear it; the sound of a lesser spot' drumming. It is a short burst so much higher in tone than a great spotted woodpecker and unmistakable. I turn around to look in the direction of where I think the bird may be and find a tree to sit against and scan. With my thick waterproof trousers coming in handy, I sit on the leaf litter and wait. It drums again; three bursts in quick succession and now I can see it high in the canopy of an oak tree with some dead branches pointing skywards. I try to photograph it but can only get out of focus branches in shot. Two buzzards circle over and the diminutive woodpecker has gone. I sit for around another half hour in the hope that it would return. 

Two stock doves much in love flutter around the treetops, flying like slow butterflies in a display flight, a sight I hadn't seen too often before. Three treecreepers come close as do a couple of nuthatches but I have no more sightings of the lesser spotted woodpecker. I am thrilled to have seen it though as in 2010 I missed it altogether. Last year I only saw one, at Ynhs Hir RSPB reserve in Wales and now both times I have failed to get a photograph.
I go in search of another, walking the bridleways and through the forest along a large stream hoping that my luck will bring the bird. More treecreepers; they really are showing well today, and the occasional titmouse, particularly long-tailed but no more woodpeckers of any kind.
Back at the Arboretum, I sit for a spot of lunch, hot cross buns, bit of brie and an orange. Then I cycle along the lanes and byways to Keyhaven, past the high tower at Sway.
There has been a long-tailed duck reported here and I walk the bike along the sea wall to try and find it. The tide is as high as it can be be and the first road is flooded and blocked off. I meet an artist, Lesley Banks of Knightwood Photoart, who is sat photographing a nearby flock of brent geese. We chat for a while about her work before I head off once more eastwards along the sea wall.
Through Keyhaven harbour where little grebes and red-breasted mergansers are diving amongst the boats. I meet a couple of birds and put a report of a long-billed dowitcher into the back of my mind as they don't seem that hot on birds despite being friendly and eager to tell me what they do now. If such a rare American wader was in the area my good friend and taskmaster, Phil Andrews would surely have told me about it, wouldn't he?
Along the wall beside Keyhaven Lagoon dartford warblers occasionally show themselves in the dense vegetation and a superb short-eared owl quarters the grassland, dives and catches a vole and flies further away after eating it.
Now the couple at Keyhaven had told me that the long-tailed duck was very elusive and hadn't been seen today so my opinion of their knowledge is a little diminished when I find the bird. It is a beautiful male too, swimming not too far away in a saltmarsh channel with two goldeneye. I show the bird to a couple of passing lady birders. It's great to share their enthusiasm at seeing such a beautiful bird.

I try to phone my Mum and Dad; I always report a good bird for the year list but have no signal. Neither can I text Phil, Steve, Jason or Bart, my birding pals.
With two birds on the year list today my mood is high and I bird along the seawall enjoying views of geese and ducks, waders and egrets. A flock of a few hundred waders includes knot, dunlin and bar-tailed godwits. Grey plovers and redhank, curlew and oystercatchers are on the grassy knolls and the mud. Six spotted redshank are close by and a single greenshank flies past.
The weather is gorgeous and the views over and along The Solent are tranquil and lovely. When the pathway is empty of walkers, I cycle along enjoying it all. I pass the area where the Keyhaven couple had said they saw the dowitcher and give it a cursory glance and scan. I am all alone, no other people yet alone birders are here.
Into Lymington at around 4:00pm, I sit beside the yacht marina and my mobile quickly receives two text messages.
long-billed dowitcher at Pennington at Fishtail Lagoon.”
LTD off Keyhaven Marsh. Did you get my dowitcher message?”
Rude words! I cycle back to where I think Fishtail Lagoon is just as the only dark cloud on view comes over. A short shower ensues. It gets dark. It gets too dark. No dowitcher.
Lesson learnt. Don't let birding arrogance dismiss the words of a couple of 'dudes.'

The year list stands at 160. This is twenty one ahead of where I was this time last year.

32.17 miles 1121 feet elevation up 1087 elevation down

Wednesday 10 February 2016

New Forest Delight

Tuesday 9th February 2016 Light W Mostly Sunny, One heavy Hail shower PM

Through Lyndhurst, New Forest, I pause at a shop window. I must have what I see and enter the charity shop to buy such a wonderful item. It goes onto the back of Oscar the Orca and next to Scaggy the Rabbit.

The charity being supported by the shop is the Shaw Trust, a charity for helping disabled people into work, a very worthy cause and thank you Penny, the friendly lady at the counter, for pointing out Tigger's features to me.

To Acre's Down, I hide the bike and walk up a ridge. I have four target birds today; goshawk, hawfinch, lesser spotted woodpecker and crossbills. As soon as I reach the top of the ridge I can see a goshawk patrolling over a distant forest.

I walk another few hundred yards along the ridge, through silver birch and holly woodland and out onto gorse and heather heath. From a end viewpoint I sit and watch as the goshawk still flies along high over the trees.
Another birder, John, an ecologist from Oxford, joins me and we watch as the goshawk is joined by a larger female. The views of this pair are the best I have had of goshawk for a number of years. Previously I have watched these magnificent birds of prey at New Fancy RSPB viewpoint in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. This pair are much closer. John finds another one perched up on a tree quite some distance from us. I then see two hawfinches fly past us just after a raven has cronked it's way past us. Both sparrowhawk and buzzard pass us too.

I leave John to explore the woodland down in the valley and immediately notice a small herd of roe deer beneath some small holly trees. I kneel to photograph them just as a low flying goshawk glides past.

Deep in the wood of oak, beech and silver birch I find a fallen tree and sit on it in the hope that birds will pass. A very quick sparrowhawk does but little else in half an hour or so.
Moving along through the holly and alder trees, negotiating deep muddy depressions, I continue to search for birds yet seeing very few. A few long-tailed tits are in the birch canopy and there is the occasional singing robin. On reaching a gravelly bridleway, I stop as a great spotted woodpecker is drumming on a nearby oak tree. It tries one branch but it isn't resonant enough. It moves to another and the staccato sound produced is much more to the bird's liking.
A small flock of chaffinches lands on twigs of a silver birch nearby and then a flock of four crossbills lands on a tall oak behind them.

The blue sky has been replaced by threatening dark grey clouds and the hail that falls so intensely for twenty minutes or so covers the ground like snow.

The year lost now stands at 158 and may be seen on Bubo:-

This is nineteen ahead of where I was this time last year.

17.64 miles 908 feet elevation up and down

The New Forest Wildlife Park

Monday 8th February 2016 Gale force W Heavy rain AM, drier and cloudy PM

Storm Imogen has arrived. Outside my dear friend, Kerry's house the weather is wild and wet. The morning I spend relaxing.
The afternoon still has the gale but the rain has petered out and Kerry and I go to her place of work, the nearby New Forest Wildlife Park. Kerry is a real life Ellie from the Pixar film 'Up' and she constantly talks to every animal in the park. 
 A winter visit where there is a thrill around each corner; harvest mice so close we can watch them feed and wash their tiny paws; owls of many different species and size from eagle and snowy owls to little and hawk owls.
There are roe deer almost close enough to stroke, a running bison, Scottish wild cats with wild eyes, pine martins, wallabies, parading wolves through dense conifers and otters, lots and lots of otters. All of the animals look amazingly healthy and are excitedly active. 

To be honest I am not a zoo person, preferring my nature experiences to involve wild animals but I take my hat off to the staff and set up of this wonderful park. Personal favourites from the visit? Two giant otters from South America, immense otters with amazing character and voice. The ultimate experience was seeing the European lynx on a platform sitting upright in front of us, incredible animal. I may not see all of these superb animals in the wild but I will always treasure the afternoon memories of my visit here.

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...