Wednesday 23 March 2016

3 Days of Biking Birder with Haweswater and Leighton Moss RSPB reserves visited,

Monday 21st March light NW sunny intervals, cool 2C to 8C

I open the tent flap to find a cloudy day and quite cool. Packed I am off towards Haweswater. The views along the bridleway to Rosgill and the stone-walled country lane downhill to Brampton are superb. I can see Haweswater from this elevated position and to the south the valley where I failed to find ring ouzel last year. The golden eagle ridge is just peeking above more nearby hills.

It is all so lovely with snow still on the tops in the distance.
I get to the RSPB offices at Naddle Farm.
I leave and head for Leighton Moss. The less said the better.

Up and over Shap, the highest A road in England and boy does it feel it, and down to Kendal where I find a hotel to collapse in for the afternoon and evening, The County Hotel. Brilliant, it has a deep bath in the ensuite.

So the year list is still on 189, which is twenty five ahead of this time last year. Migrants will be here soon. Yippee!

27.38 Miles 1751 feet elevation up 2479 feet elevation down

Tuesday 22nd March light W sunny intervals, cool 2C to 8C

To Leighton Moss RSPB reserve involves a shortish cycle along the A6 south from Kendall. 

It all seems to be downhill and a smooth ride gets me to the Arnside area quicker than expected. I reach the reserve and am greeted by Lesley and Sophie in the RSPB shop. They want a photograph of the Biking Birder for the reserve's twitter page.
Out onto the reserve there are plenty of black-tailed godwits to see from Lillian's hide, some are in beautiful summer plumage. With a small group of redshank are a couple of spangly-backed ruff and a couple of little egrets walk around the reedbed edge.

Next to the Grisedale hide where a couple of female red deer are quite close before quietly walking and disappearing into the reedbed. 

A female marsh harrier is sitting on a branch away to the left of the hide and I sit and relax, enjoying watching the duck on the water, wigeon, pintail and teal and the occasional group of up to four over-flying buzzards.
With the afternoon drawing to a close I head off for the causeway where a couple of bittern were seen last sunday.
A couple of residential volunteers, two young girls, are also looking for the bittern. They were the birders who saw the bittern on Sunday but report that to them the birds seemed to be leaving. Darkness falls and water rail pig squeal but no bittern are either seen or heard. All I get are a number of insect bites on my neck and head! Oh well, it would have been nice to get bittern at Leighton Moss but there's a couple of months in East Anglia to come.

19.16 Miles 976 feet elevation up  1119 feet elevation down

Wednesday 23rd March No discernible wind cloudy, cool 6C

I get to the reserve very early and enjoy birding around every trail and from every hide. The insect bites from last night have blistered and the lumps are hot and swollen. Ouch. These are worse than any bites I had last year but need to be far worse to beat the ones I received from horseflies back in 2010. Sausage lips!

I keep a day list and by the time I reach the Lower Hide at the far eastern end of the reserve I have forty-nine on the page. An adult mediterranean gull flies past, fifty up.
Back to the centre for a drink in the superb upstairs cafe, I meet Kevin who was the laughing RSPB staff member to my right in the photograph from last year. 

He is going to Fair Isle this Autumn and it's great to know that we will meet up there on the magical isle.
Before leaving the reserve to start the long ride back over the Pennines I go to the top of the high sky tower; a strong steel construction from which one gets a panoramic view of the whole reserve. 

It is superb to be above a male marsh harrier flying past.
Leaving the reserve, it has been lovely to visit this favourite RSPB reserve; well one of them. It has everything; great birds, lovely staff and diverse habitats as well as a great ambiance and cafe. What more could one want? A broadwalk? There's a long new one which takes one to the causeway through the reedbed. A tower? Already mentioned and fabulous. Nature's Home garden ideas? It's all there. A superb RSPB reserve.

6.66 Miles 352 feet elevation up 323 feet elevation down

Tuesday 22 March 2016

The Pennine Way on A Beautiful Day

Sunday 20th March no wind very sunny AM, clouded over for PM, cool 2 to 8C

A glorious morning greets me from my farmhouse cottage bedroom window and after breakfast I am off on the physical challenge of the year. My planned route is across the Pennines via the Pennine Way. I have no idea on the surface of the pathway yet know that no matter what it may be I can either cycle or push and still enjoy it on such a beautiful day.

Naive? I'll see later.
With many thanks to Michael and Emma at this wonderful b and B, at £30 a night it has been superb value, I set off.

The road has frosty imprints from a few passing vehicles and there are a few lapwings skydancing. The road takes me to a large reservoir and I take a route that gets me to The Pennine Way just south of a large dam. A pair of red grouse are on a small island beneath a powerful water shoot.

The tarmac has gone and the track is cyclable, just. After a farmhouse it changes again though as the way is made of a new covering of stones. I push.
A small tortoiseshell butterfly flutters by as I cross a stream. Birds are few and far between out here, just the occasional red grouse and curlew. A single meadow pipit lands on a wall quite close. There may be few birds but the scenery is so beautiful and so empty of people. No one is walking the way today.
Mile after mile of pushing, I reach a turn in the path where the stony way changes to boggy grass and small boulders. This is going to be fun!

Downhill to a river, more tough pushing and then over a bridge. More stones and a bouncy push uphill, I meet a walker, the first of the day.

Half a mile later two cyclists stop for a chat, Antony and Dan. Their bikes are built for this terrain with huge tyres. Photographs swopped and respect.
There are no birds singing here and I decide to listen to some of my favourite songs and sing along to them. Meat loaf and Status Quo songs head across the moorland and suddenly there are crowds of people. So far today I have seen three people. Here there are dozens and they are all at this spot because of the incredible, magnificent view. I am reached the top of High Cup Nick and a group of people tell me that it is nicknamed 'The Grand Canyon of the North.' The valley is u-shaped and surrounded by steep cliffs with views over the plain far below over to the Lake District.

People want to know why a happy singing man is pushing a heavily laden bike across the moor and a couple kindly give a donation into the robin collection box. Thanks Patricia.
BAE systems - WPS Fell Walker group
I start to head towards the way down. The path goes along a cliff edge and bumping the bike over the rocks is fun and difficult. A purple-haired girl helps push over one particularly hard part. My hands are getting battered by all of this and once the steep path down is reached I find that with care I can white knuckle ride.
Reaching the village of Dufton after 15 miles of mostly pushing I can at last relax and cycle. The small country lanes takes me through valley after valley, village after village in the direction of Haweswater.
A cyclist named Lee questions my reasons and tries to lift the bike. He makes complimentary comments about my legs as his wife, Ribby, puts a large donation into the collection box. Brilliant.
Over the A6, over the M6, and with the sun now having set, I find a bridleway that cuts a corner and find a secluded area to set up the tent for the night. I am a bit tired.

So the year list is 189, which is twenty six ahead of this time last year.

27.98 Miles 2329 feet elevation up 2997 feet elevation down

Sunday 20 March 2016

Pennines and Black Grouse.

Saturday 19th March no wind cloudy but high, cool 5C

After leaving my daughter's place in Newcastle yesterday, after having a goodbye High Tea, and having reached Castleside, near Consett by dusk, I leave the wonderful Castleneuk Bed and Breakfast to head for Langdon Beck. Over breakfast I sit with Chris originally from this area but now living in Coventry. Chris works at Aston Martin and he tells me that they produce over 24 cars a day, the cheapest sell at £200,000. Thirty years ago Chris was a miner and he tells me of what it was like to be a striking miner; the deep resentment is still in him for what the police did back then.

Jan the B and B owner has filled my water bottle with juice and chats for the last time about her years of hitchhiking back in the 70s. She tells stories of hitching across Europe and India evoking memories when hitching was my taxi service in Britain. A fabulous B and B and so much better than a Travelodge and the like. At £30 a night with a huge breakfast what more can one ask for; superb house, lovely bedroom ensuite and great people.
Deep in The Pennines now the road is alternatively steep up and steep down before I reach the Sea to Sea route seven cycle path.

It has already been wonderful for displaying birds with lapwing, snipe, golden plover and curlew all sky dancing, diving or drumming to a backdrop of skylark song and red grouse clutterings. A single red kite glides over. I worry that it will suffer the same fate as the Black Isle kites in Scotland from two years ago. There sixteen red kites were poisoned and there has been no action taken. 
I stop at a cafe and B and B near Waskerley owned by the friendly Lorraine. This must be a perfect stopping point for cyclists using the route and a full house must be an exciting place to be in a late evening when the drink is flowing and the tales are being spun. There's a family with a young seven year old dancing in the first cafe room. They and I are joined by a group of cyclists out for the day. They want to know my tale and receive a Biking Birder sticker for their patience in listening. Lorraine then tells tales of the mad red grouse that attacks passers by and of how long she has had the establishment. Great place.

White knuckle downhill section to Stanhope, a car stops in front of me and four young people get out. One shouts “are you the Biking Birder?” They, three men and a woman, Caroline, Steven, John and Mike, are out for a day's birding and turned their car around to say hello when they passed me. Yesterday the driver of a van shouted “hello Gary,” as he drove past and a couple of cars pipped their horn at me in recognition of either me or the RSPB and WWT posters on the bike.

They are a brilliant enthusiastic group and it is inspiring to think that maybe in some small way I am inspiring others.
After a quick shop for some provisions in St John's Chapel and after photographing the war memorial there, I turn towards Langdon Beck, the signpost telling me that I have five miles to go. I can see that this is going to take some time as the road heads towards the moorland top where small patches of snow are gathered in crevices. Headphones on, I mostly push the bike whilst singing to the fields. A few cyclists pass on their macho climb and most say hello.

At the top there are three young stunt motorcyclists who have been laughing at my rendition of Money for Nothing. They show me a few one wheel, look Mum – no legs on the bike tricks and chat about Newcastles chances of staying in the Premiership, the Big Game tomorrow against Sunderland and where my team, Aston Villa, will be next year. Thanks lads!

Down the other side I can see black lumps in a distant field. Binoculars up, black grouse go onto the year list, bird number 189. There are twenty two males here eyeing each other up but mostly just feeding. Occasionally a pair will turn away from each other showing their white backsides. They are a few hundred yards away but show no sign that a bright yellow cyclist is causing them concern.
I cycle on past the Langdon Beck Hotel and after finding the youth hostel closed I go to a farmhouse bed and breakfast where Michael and Emma greet me kindly. A superb house with friendly and not so friendly dogs and a male peacock; sheep out on the hills, which a mass of rosettes around kitchen doorways shows what quality they are and a few cows in barns waiting for the Spring grass to start growing.

As usual the day is wonderful because of the people met. Birds and scenery are the icing on a rich cake.
Spring, first day of Spring tomorrow, migrants are coming!

So the year list is 189, which is twenty six ahead of this time last year.

23.96 Miles 2807 feet elevation up 2037 feet elevation down

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