Friday 3 June 2016

The Last Few Days of Birding - Minsmere and Lowestoft

29th May to 2nd June fresh to gale N Mostly cloudy with drizzle but also very intense thunder storm on the morning of the 31st of May. And we call this Summer!

29th May to Minsmere

So after a rest at Dave's bungalow at Brandon and with antibiotics to hopefully get rid of my sinus problem, I set off for Minsmere RSPB reserve. A purple heron has been seen there and obviously that would be a really good bird to get. I have never seen one whilst cycling so it would be a '16' bird. That is one of the 16 I need over last year's 289 in order to get beyond Ponc Feliu's European record of 304.
Cycling towards Thetford the smallest of grass snakes is on the road in front of me. I stop but this tiny ribbon of a snake has gone.
Now in 29 months of Biking Birding ( 12 in 2010, 12 in 2015 and 5 this year), I have only seen two dead snakes along the road. Now I see two within the next ten miles, both adders. Shame. More 'car-nage'.

Late afternoon, I arrive at the Island Mere hide. Bittern coming regularly past to access it's nest beside the hide in the reeds. She comes out and lands just yards in front and parades through short reeds.

Marsh harriers and bearded tits, the savi's warbler reels once more over the far side of the mere.
The evening is cool with a northerly breeze. Darkness falls. Four young people arrive, four members of the fabulous Next Generation Birders; Jess, Jake, Drew and Dan. In the dark they have come to try to hear the savi's at the end of a birding day that started at Spurn, Humberside. How brilliant is it when one meets four driven birders of such passion? Long may the NGBs have such people.

30th May

Early morning, and by that I mean 4:00am, I am up and hoping that a purple heron will come out of the reeds. After an hour it hasn't when two photographers arrive and tell me that it was seen in front of the Bittern hide last night. I wait.
6:30am – I move around to the Bittern hide.
7:10am – the purple heron flies in front of the Island Mere hide.
7:30am – I return to the Island Mere hide.
18:00 – Purple heron!

Those intervening ten and a half hours I spent sitting in the same chair mostly with a fourteen yr old birder-photographer, Harry. My reaction to getting purple heron on the year list was euphoric. Well it would be wouldn't it after waiting so long? I danced around the hide, I fist thumped, I shouted!

Harry had arrived at the hide with one of his Dad's friends, Dave. Both had great photographic equipment and as Dave went off to explore the reserve, Harry stayed behind to try to get a lifer for himself, the purple heron.
The hide was full for most of the day due to the presence of BBC's Springwatch. It seemed funny when people's telescopes were trained on the three presenters during their rehersals in the afternoon.

Bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits gave views all day yet the best, before the rare heron, occurred when an otter swam around in the middle of the mere. It was fishing and caught a number of small fish which were immediately eaten. This wonderful male thought it was a dolphin and breeched a number of times as he dove deep. The sound of gasps and delighted exclamations from the crowd was brilliant, especially from a very excited small boy next to me with his sisters and Mum and Dad. I love seeing children enjoying nature.
The crowd thinned as the evening approached but I wasn't going to leave my spot. I had been told where the purple heron had landed earlier in the day, a spot way off to the west deep in the reedbed, and despite the jokes that it could have walked to Ipswich by now, I waited.
Grey herons kept coming out of the reeds, flying a short distance in the northerly gale.
Then a darker-looking heron came out.
I shouted, “There it is!” I changed my mind, “no it isn't.” Looked again all in a split second as my final cry confirmed to everyone still present that the purple heron was indeed flying. “It is the purple!”

With everyone now on the bird, the special one flew around in the distance before coming a lot closer and landing in the reeds opposite the hide.
Up again and off towards the bittern hide, Harry and I went there and met a BBC producer who was coordinating a nest search for the programme.
Harry's Dad, Dave and the friend Dave arrived with sausage rolls and doughnuts for all.
Purple heron, bird number 249 and such a good one to get.

31st May

The day starts early once more with a loud thunderstorm accompanied by intense rainfall. The water is coming in despite the hide shutters of the East Hide being shut.
Two birders come in to shelter at around six. Ian from Watford describes how he has had six holes cut into his skull in order to remove a brain abscess.
Simon is the geography master at Harrow school who talks about his experience of being in Sri Lanka on a school trip when the tsunami hit their holiday resort.
Why stay in a watch TV when one can be out meeting the real deal fascinating characters?

A couple of RSPB staff come in to bird and enthral the crowd of three. A first summer little gull is out on the scrape and the adult long-tailed drake. Now what on earth is he doing here and in six inches of water?

I spend the morning circumnavigating the scrape before heading off for lunch.
4:30pm, a text from the oracle – greenish warbler at Lowestoft.
7:30pm, I am in the corner of a sports field with a few other more local birders.
Dark falls – no greenish. Oh well, there's always tomorrow.

1st June

Greenish warbler on the list . . . bird number 250!

2nd June

I am about to set off towards Lincolnshire when a text tells of a Kentish plover fifty miles to the south in Felixstow.
Forty-five miles later the news is negative, the bird has flown and hasn't been seen for a couple of hours.

I find a B and B in Ipswich to wait.

Thursday 2 June 2016

The Children of the Manu, Peru - Chaskawasi Manu

If you take a crafty peek towards the right hand side of this page you will find the four links to the four charities that I am supporting this year.

My cycling efforts are for these wonderful and vital charities and projects.

Over the next four weeks I intend to give further details of each in turn; telling you why I support them and asking nicely that please make a small donation towards them. Use the links on the right. Thanks.

If you could maybe sponsor me 1p (or more) for each bird specie I see in this BIGBY (Big Green Big Year) then that would be wonderful and a spur for my pedalling feet. All money I raise this way will be shared between these charities unless you want to support an individual one.
At the moment of typing I have seen exactly 250 bird species this year. The aim is for 300 remember so if I succeed I am asking you to sponsor me £3, or your currency equivalent. If you want to take this option then please message me –

OK let's find out about the amazing children of the Amazonian forest in The Manu, Peru.

First a word from the project manager, Maria:-

Yuri is 16 years old. He is in the final year of high school. He wants to be a forestry engineer and to work to protect the forest in which he has lived with his family, the Manu.
Parari loves animals and it now seems clear his vocation will be with the nature he loves. He can recognise a dozen birds simply by how they beat their wings.
Located in the Manu National Park in Peru, the Chaskawasi –Manu project gives the opportunity for children from deep in the rainforest to get an education.
It gives one a chance to meet, study and enjoy the company of the amazing children and adolescents from remote Amazonian communities.
Food, medicine, transportation, books, notebooks and a long list of basic items that every child in the world needs to go to school. To get this many things are needed. These children spend 9 months of the school year at the shelter away from their homes and parents. They need to feel loved, supported by the values ​​of solidarity, generosity and community living as they would in their homes.
Educate and learn to give voice to children in a culture excluded from our everyday reality. The forest is the center of the life of a Matsigenka, their whole way of life, beliefs and culture depend on it. The project looks out from the forest to enrich and teach anyone willing to approach these children. For the cost of a latte or a day trip on public transportation, Yuri can take care of their Amazon rainforest; protect it from illegal logging and preserve the environment of his community. Parari can protect the colourful species of the jungle. The Matsigenka, through the quality education of their children, will continue to live in peace in the land they love. The Manu rainforest we all need will be protected by them.
Donate now and support the future of the forest through it's children. The future of the forest depends on it.

My support of the project comes from my visits there in 2014. To meet and become friends with such incredible children and staff was a tremendous occurrence. The childrens' love of each other and their rainforest shines through their everyday actions and through their commitment to their education. They, these brave and lovely children, spend months away from their families in order to learn how to ambassadors for their way of life and communities. They have dreams and ambitions like all children. Their commitment deserves our support.

So please go to their website.....

Use the link to the right. Please if you can donate or sponsor.

Meanwhile a few photographs from my visit there in 2014.

Location of the Student Shelter Chaskawasi Manu Project (Perú)

The Student Shelter Chaskawasi Manu is located in the town of Salvation, the capital of the Province of Manu (Peru), geographical area corresponding to the cultural area of the Manu Biosphere Reserve.
The Manu Biosphere Reserve is located southwest of Peru, partially located in the regions of Madre de Dios and Cusco, in the provinces of Manu and Paucartambo with an area of 1.909.800 hectares is divided into three main areas:
  • The National Park, with 1.532.806 hectares.
  • Reserved Zone, with 257.000 hectares.
  • The Cultural or Transition Zone, with 120.000 hectares.
Manu National Park was established on May 29, 1973 by Government Decree Nº 0644-73-AG. It is located in the departments of Cusco and Madre de Dios.
Manu National Park has been recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1987, and in 1977 UNESCO recognized it as the core of the Biosphere Reserve area.
Manu National Park is part of the great biological diversity of the Amazon. It is likewise one of the most important gene banks worldwide. According to its recent management plan, it contains more than 3.500 registered plant species, many of them still unidentified. The variety of Manu Wildlife is impressive: 160 species of mammals, more than 1.000 species of birds, 140 species of amphibians, 50 species of snakes, 40 species of lizards, 6 species of turtles, 3 species of alligators and 210 species of fish.

Summary of the Project

The Student Shelter Chaskawasi Manu was created with the intention of addressing the social and environmental problems, especially among children and adolescents in the area of Salvation in Manu Biosphere Reserve, Madre de Dios, Peru.
Currently twenty children and adolescents with poor access to education, from Amazonian native and peasant communities are living in our shelter which ensures their access to education, identity and health, so that they can exercise their basic rights of children and adolescents due to them.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

People Who Meet People

How much of The Biking Birder year is about meeting the most incredible people?
Since leaving Doug and Sue at the Sir Peter Scott lighthouse there has been a wonderful procession of wonderful and inspiring people. Maybe too many to remember them all; here is some details of the ones over the last three days:-

  • Charlie, an ex-soldier crippled whilst on exercises and invalided out of the army. Became homeless but now has an ice cream van and organises beach cleaning!

  • Steve and Lyndsey, met in the Island Mere hide and they deserve a full posting just for them! Lyndsey has started a butterfly education programme where she goes into schools with characters she has produced herself, Bob and Bobette, with various cuddly caterpillars. Have a look at her website . . .

  • Trevor, a black currant and apple farmer who loves his swallows and house martins. He encourages them to nest in his barns by placing a lot of platforms in the roof space.

  • Four fantastic young birders; Dean, Dan, Jake and Jess. Actually I didn't see them! We were listening in the dark for savi's warbler. The group of Next generation Birders had come down from Spurn and then headed off to Norwich. Very keen birders, the next generation (of) birders is in safe hands.

  • A birder from the Midlands, Steve told me the tale of another well known Midland birder who saw what he thought was a white stork and put the news out on Rare Bird Alert. His initial view wasn't the best and on looking again he found ut that it was plastic. No, not an escape with leg rings but literally plastic! Oops, a reputation ruined and a story that will define him forever.

  • Ian told me that despite an appearance that told of an age around fifty that he was only thirteen. Thirteen years ago Ian had had a brain abscess and had a series of operations that meant he had to relearn everything he had ever known. Six holes through his skull and a new life, a great sense of humour and a vivacity that is understandable with the chance he has been given to live.

  • The geography and cricket master at Harrow school, Simon and myself made an incongruous trio of birders with Ian but we had a great half hour or so as thunder and lightning flashed outside the east hide at Minsmere.

  • Zack and Dad, Mark; Zack is the winner of the Junior category of the Wildlife Blogger of the Year competition. A superb young man, it was great to see how confident he was when being interviewed for Springwatch with a TV camera almost in his face. Zack has just attended the BTO Boot Camp, another brilliant young person to watch.

  • A fantastic young fourteen year old photographer and keen to learn birder, Harry who sat with me for ten hours plus to try and see the purple heron at Minsmere. Harry is a superb photographer and his enthusiasm is inspiring. With his Dad, Dave and his Dad's friend, Dave, the three made the long, long wait fly by.

  • The fabulous Gibbin and Martin families; Mums and Dads with entourage of 'out loving nature' children.

So many wonderful, interesting and diverse people. Travel is the best.

Sir Peter Scott, A Lighthouse and a Snow Goose

Let me tell you the tale of how I ended up staying the night with a wonderful couple, Sue and Doug Hilton, in the bedroom of Sir Peter Scott.

Last year I found out one evening that after a day birding at Cliffe Pools and Northwood Hill, both RSPB reserves, and whilst being on a tour of all the RSPB and WWT nature reserves, I had missed three RSPB reserves that were back at Cliffe.
I retraced my tracks and found them all and decided that as a reward I would have a full English breakfast in a cafe I had seen the day before located beside a huge chalk pit.
On entering the esptablishment I noticed one of my favourite books, Paul Gallico's Snow Goose, on a top shelf. It was the special edition illustrated by Sir Peter Scott's beautifully painted plates. Back in the day when I was a Primary school teacher I used to read this story to the children. A very special, beautiful and heart-rending tale, the story tells of an disfigured artist, Rhayader living alone in a lighthouse far out on a lonely saltmarsh in Essex.
(interesting side story to this portrait taken from the book . . . )
A young girl, Frith, scared because of village gossip, overcomes her fear and takes an injured bird to him, a snow goose. Rhadayer heals the poor lost Princess and a friendship grows between the girl and man but only when the snow goose is present. As soon as the snow goose returns to the North Lands, the girl leaves.
The story develops until one day Rhayader goes to help rescue the British soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk.

The Wildfowl & wetland Trust are re-issuing the book with the same artwork by Sir Peter later in the year and I urge you all to get in touch with the WWT and buy a copy.
The fundrasing by the WWT in order to reissue was very successful and from their webpage detailing this is the following text:

The Snow Goose
A novella no thicker than a love letter, in which every sentence seems to shiver with the salt-laden chill of the desolate landscape in which it is set.
It is a love story between an uneducated village girl who comes to visit the hunchback outcast artist in his lighthouse bearing a wounded snow goose for him to heal is so well-known, perhaps because of its fable-like quality. The silence and growing sympathy of the first two-thirds of the novella, broken only by the cries of the wild birds, is in stark contrast to the noisy clamour of the conclusion, related entirely in dialogue between soldiers in the pub and officers in their club, who witnessed the man in his little boat and his heroic attempts to rescue the stranded men from the Dunkirk beaches.
It has been hugely influential to work over the years and we believe it still has the power to inspire today:• Michael Morpurgo cites it as an influence on War Horse• The inspiration for William Fiennes’ The Snow Geese• Lisa Allardice’s Guardian Winter Reads 2011 - “It may not be free from sentimentality, but this sad, sweet tale has an elemental power that makes it soar”
Peter Scott
Peter Scott was the father of modern conservation founding WWF, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species & WWT, whose 70th anniversary is this year. 
Not only did he illustrate the best selling 1946 edition, but he also inspired the book itself as an Olympic medallist in sailing who kept a wildfowl collection at his lighthouse before the war and served at sea during it.

My breakfast ordered, I chatted with the ladies behind the counter and asked why the book was on the shelf. They explained that the owner of the cafe and lake ran a nature conservation charity called the Snow Goose Trust. They phoned the owner, Doug Hilton and despite being very busy and needing to get to the House of Commons to lobby the MP Eric Pickles over a local environmental issue, he came and sat with me for over an hour telling me the story of why The Snow Goose.

Doug told me the whole story of how Sir Peter met Paul Gallico and invited him to stay at a lighthouse, a lighthouse far out on a lonely saltmarsh.

Here the two collaborated on the Snow Goose story and book. Doug embellished the story with many details of a love for an American ice skater unrequited and made the links between the story of Rhayader and the life of Sir Peter in the lighthouse; artist, wildlife lover and WW2 hero.

Back in 2010 Doug had bought a lighthouse far out on a saltmarsh in Lincolnshire, the home of a certain Sir Peter Scott from 1933 to 1939.
Then Doug repeated Sir Peter's invitation to Paul Gallico by inviting me to stay at the lighthouse.

So here I was, over a year later, cycling up the long lane towards the ex-home of my childhood hero.

Into the beautiful home that Doug and Sue, his wife are carefully and painstakingly restoring to former glory. Into the lighthouse with dining table in the bottom floor room and misshapen door and stairway to access the upper rooms. Up the first flight of stairs and into Sir Peter's bedroom.
Up a steeper set of steps and into another empty room and up an almost vertical set of steps and into the light room.

Outside where a long pool with attendant wildfowl could have been taken from Slimbridge, the HQ of the WWT, itself. A bridge over the lake is modelled on a Monet picture and the one end landscaped to take on the southern features of The Wash.
Red-breasted geese, a small group of pink-footed geese showing still the effects of the guns that brought them to this sanctuary and …..

snow geese.

An evening with Doug and Sue flies by as conversation about aspirations for not only the lighthouse, with a planned visitor's centre about to be built but also of Doug's conviction to help nature in practical ways through future housing development planning laws, is one of those wonderful experiences where one could listen forever and wonder at the energy and commitment.
To bed and where else could I sleep but on the first floor of the lighthouse, Sir Peter's old bedroom.

The morning tour and photographs and goodbyes. I cycle off towards the next bird but stop after just a few hundred yards. There is a pair of barnacle geese beside the river and with them . . . a snow goose.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Sir Peter Scott's Lighthouse

Just a quick post of various photographs taken at Sir Peter Scott's Lighthouse, belonging to Doug and Sue Hilton.


the light

Sir Peter's (and my) bedroom

the incredible Doug and Sue Hilton

Art fans will recognise the bridge

various films filmed here

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...