Wednesday 22 June 2016

Manu the Frog and Acorn the Parrot - Chaskawasi-Manu and the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust)

People look at my bike and smile at the collection of 'friends' I have on it. There is a reason for each and over the next few weeks I am going to introduce you to each character and explain why they travel with me. They provide so mu inspiration and although sadly any conversation with them is one way, I wouldn't be without them.

The Lads on the Bike – (2) Manu the Frog and Acorn the Parrot too

Manu's name was originally Sid. Indeed this followed the name of every one of my pets over the years. I named them all Sid in deference to Sid James of the Carry On movies fame.
Nowadays I only have one pet and he is far too heavy to travel with me on the bike. Sid is a large metamorphic piece of rock from the Pyrenees. In fact he is from the French Pyrenees. Back in 1991 I was walking there with a wonderful girlfriend from my past, Diane. Together we had walked from Gavarnie village, south of the famous Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes, to the highest waterfall in Europe in La Cirque de Gavarnie. After taking a number of photographs of each other next to the noisy cascade, we could hear the imploring cries of someone not too keen on water nearby.
Aidez moi, beaucoup trop de leau.
We searched and we found the large rock who told us that he had been at the base of the waterfall for centuries and that he was fed up. He wanted a different life. Picking him up and drying him off, we carried him the five miles or so back to the car and from there back to Britain. He didn't have to go into quarantine.
Sid is now in my sister's garden with his family. In 2009 I went back to Gavarnie to search for his wife and children. I found them in the same spot as where I found Sid and brought them back.

OK enough silliness. Back to Manu and Acorn.

Manu the frog is from the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust; in fact I bought him from the WWT shop at Slimbridge. As I said originally Sid, he was on the front of the bike for the whole of 2010, the year of the first Biking Birder tour of all of the RSPB and WWT reserves. Then he represented the magnificent Wildfowl & Wetland Trust. He still does but ever since my trip out the the Manu National Park in Peru, he has taken on a dual role. The name change to Manu is to show this.
As I have said before whilst on the Peru trip I had the immense good luck to meet two incredible sisters, Herminia and Maria.

Herminia was at Chontachaka, a Reserva Ecologika centre.

This is my review on Tripadvisor:-

At 30 US dollars a night, the Reserva Ecologika Chontachaka offers a cheaper way of getting to know the Manu than other hostels and lodges. This includes all food (vegan) and transport to and from far away Cuzco. Just getting here is an adventure!
To be greeted by Herminia and on arrival introduced to the volunteers, and then being asked "do you want to see Cock of the Rocks?" was fabulous. Meeting Paulo also, a tame howler monkey was amazing.

Right, let's quickly be honest. This is not a hotel! It is a basic, open to the elements accommodation place where one can bird or choose to join in with the ecological program. I did both.
The bedrooms are open all around and mosquitoes nets are provided. They weren't too bad and the only ones that got me were when I forgot to put repellent on.
Showers are cold but that doesn't bother me none. If it bothers you - look away now.
Food as I've said is vegan and there is plenty of it. Inspirational to me. 
The five volunteers there when I was where were fabulous company, as was the previously mentioned Herminia and her sister Maria (Spanish ladies who choose to live here). Meeting local people increased the intense pleasure I derived from my stay. Augusto and his father Mario gave guided tours for free to parts of the reserve and área. In fact being part of the entertainment at the former's son's birthday party was a privilege.

Be warned, there are bugs. I love them! Butterflies in the kitchen, birds in the gardens. Others you may not be keen on include ants, leafcutters mostly.
One final thought, Access is via a basket zipwire across the large river. Brilliant fun!

So, as you may be able to tell, I loved each day of my stay. Each day starting with a 4.30am walk to a Cock of the Rock lek which gave very close views of up to 5 males and 3 females. I loved the work that I chose to join in with and I loved the company. The open to the air bedrooms are right up my Street, the food was fine by me and the general ethos of the place as an ecological reserve goes with my philosophy on life.
If you're expecting full mod cons - go elsewhere. If you want to experience something deeper and more meaningful, this is the place.

If ever you are considering a visit to the Manu and not just a bird-tick fest of mega proportions, then a visit to Chontachaka would be brilliant. Are you brave enough to go down The Manu Road?

On a later visit to the area I was invited to meet the incredible children of Chontachaka – Manu. This is the domain of one of the most wonderful women I have ever met, Maria. 

Together with three other Spanish girls; Omyra, Sabella and Laura, they give the children of the Manu a family-like home for them. These children actually live deep in the Manu rainforest but they want an education. They come out to live at Chaskawasi-Manu and access the local school in the village of Salvacion, Peru.

For more details please look at the website:-

It is these children that I am asking you to support when I ask for donations or 1p a bird sponsorship whilst I cycle. Many thanks to all of you who have done so.

It is also to this project that I will be returning to next year once the Biking Birder experience in Europe is finished.

Acorn the parrot was stuck in a drain manhole in Essex and I rescued him, cleaned him up and now he is great friends with both Manu the frog and the new girl aboard the bike, Bobette the Caterpillar. It has been great to see how the three get on with each other!

So last week it was Albert the albatross, a reminder of the brilliant Birdlife International and RSPB Albatross campaign.

This week, Manu the frog and Acorn the parrot. Here to remind me of the WWT, Chontachaka and Chaskawasi-Manu.

Next week it will be the turn of Ophelia the orca and don't forget that there are still Scaggy the rabbit, Colin the Stone Curlew, Ricky the Robin, Oscar the otter and Tigger still to mention.

If you would like to help me along, as well as the Lads and Lasses on the bike, then please either make a donation to any of the chosen charities. Links are above for the RSPB, Asthma UK, WWT and Chaskawai-Manu. Maybe you would like to sponsor me 1p (or whatever) a bird. If 1p that would mean hopefully £3.00 at the end of the year. Every penny of the sponsorship money will go to the charities. Please either email me ( ) or message me here or on facebook.

Finally during my rest all of my family have added their names to the sponsorship list. Thanks to them for this and their love. 

Thanks everyone for looking, reading, supporting and hopefully enjoying the blog.

Monday 20 June 2016

A Rest so An Assessment of Monthly Bird Targets

Biking Birder Monthly targets

My Green BOU (British Ornithological Union) Year List is currently 256, which includes a heard only quail. Now to beat Ponc Feliu, who holds the European Green Year List record at the moment with 304, I need 49.,BOU,1,2016,0    

Now to non-birders this may seem a small number, especially when one considers that there is six months left. This is not the case. Other than a few British breeding birds and some birds only found in Scotland, that I will detail in a minute, the available birds in the coming months will be those incredible ones that are vagrants. These are rare birds in British terms that have got lost either by a process caused reverse migration or through the action of weather conditions that have forced them away from their normal migration route. 

Some of these birds, such as yellow-browed warblers, are virtually guaranteed if one is at a certain famous island during September and October. Despite originating from their summer breeding grounds in Siberia and migrating in the direction of in good years hundreds of these beautiful, small lost waifs end up in Britain.
Then there are the super rarities, the birds that are so rare that planes would be chartered by the fanatical few, the mega twitchers after a mega. An American magnolia warbler on a cliff face on Fair Isle was such a bird. A Cape May warbler on Unst, Shetland and the legendary golden-winged warbler in Maidstone, Kent are two others. 

The latter caused the biggest twitch ever to be seen in Britain when thousands of twitchers descended on a modern housing estate on the outskirts of the town trying to see the bird. It was chaos! The locals couldn't drive for the crush of birders. Buses couldn't get through.
I was there with birding friends a couple of days later after the initial rush. A freezing cold day, it took seven hours of searching with by now a much reduced crowd, yet still around a hundred or so. At one point we had retreated into the warmth of a large Tesco store's cafe only to have a birder rush in shouting “it's here!” Leaving our food we rushed out to find that it was a waxwing. Nice but not the mega bird.
We eventually saw this incredible small warbler on a cotoneaster bush that surrounded the door of a small town house. UTB. Under the belt and one that will probably remain a mega blocker to anyone who didn't see it. That is the chances of another one are extremely slim.
Actually, unknown to all birders there who had the golden-winged, there was nearby another American warbler, a common yellowthroat but the information on that was suppressed until it had gone.
Back to now, what follows are the details of the bird species that either are available or statistically will or may be available for me to cycle to and add to the year list.
This time last year I knew I wasn't going to beat 300 let alone beat Ponc. This year I am confident that the 300 figure will be beaten. All I have to do is keep pedalling.

I return to the road on Friday after having collected the bike from the cycle shop where major repairs are, hopefully, being carried out. If the bike is beyond repair then a new one will have to be bought. Whatever the outcome I will be heading for a woodland near Scarborough to try for honey buzzards.
There follows a long cycle to an area in Northumberland. I need to get here as fast as possible as there is a very rare Bonaparte's gull that has been seen for the last few weeks. I missed the Boney's available in Devon earlier in the year and obviously this boird would be a major addition to the list. Just up the coast from this bird there is a colony of roseate terns, a vary rare British breeder. My problem here is that they are on a small island offshore, Coquet Island, a RSPB reserve. I will need to see them from the opposite shore as I am not allowed to take a boat out to see them. No carbon in this case.
So for June, who's original target number of year ticks was five, I may end up seeing ten!

July Targets – Scotland (Mull and Cairngorms/Abernethy)

Ten birds

Black guillemot
Hooded crow
Rock dove
White-tailed eagle
Golden eagle
Crested tit
King eider

In 2010 I had the good fortune of seeing a Pacific golden plover during this month. Last year the unexpected bird was a spotted crake so maybe another surprise may occur . . or two.

August – Orkney (North Ronaldsay)

ten birds

Now we enter the world of the rare lost migrant excepting a few regular seabirds.

Storm petrel
Sooty shearwater
Icterine warbler

September – Fair Isle

ten birds

The return to Paradise. I adore Fair Isle. The people, the landscape and of course the birds. The perfect combination of magical elements that come together every Autumn with rarities in every wet ditch, amongst dry stone walls, clinging to vertiginous cliffs or in the hands of the supreme Bird Observatory staff after having been caught in a mist net or Heligoland trap.
Using old Fair Isle bird reports I have created a spreadsheet to not only see what birds have turned up in the last eleven years but also work out the chances of them being there this year. The statistics also give an average for the number of possible year ticks for this month. That figure stands at nineteen! The maximum number of year ticks for me would occur with a repeat of the birds of September 2006. That would have netted me twenty five year ticks, including yellow-breasted bunting and aquatic warbler.
September 2009 would only have given me twelve year ticks. This would still be more than my target number of ten though. Confidence is high.
Almost certainly the year ticks I will see include:

yellow-browed warbler
common rosefinch
barred warbler
little bunting
barnacle goose

There is also mealy redpoll and associated races. I will not be counting any I see.

Then there are the more than 50:50 birds:

pectoral sandpiper
citrine wagtail
red-breasted flycatcher
olive-backed pipit
barnacle goose and.....

lanceolated warbler.

Yes this amazing mega has occurred in six years out of eleven years.
As well as these there have actually been forty eight other bird species seen over these years. By the way, add twite to the list. There are good numbers of these on Fair Isle.

October – First week Shetland
  • rest of month, back to Fair Isle

ten birds

The Birding Clams are coming to Shetland for their annual birding fix. If the weather allows the Good Shepherd to sail back to South Shetland, I will go and see my best birding friends, Jason, Steve, Tony, Rob and Martin. Adam will be sorely missed but how wonderful that he will be concentrating on a wedding to the beautiful Nadia. All the very best to you both. My plan is really to stay around South Shetland but that might change if a mega turns up elsewhere. A lifer on Unst might tempt me to undertake the two to three day trek north; especially if The Fife Birding crew are there at that time.

Once The Birding Clams leave then it is back to Fair isle for the rest of the month.
Once again I have done a spreadsheet of possible birds and probabilities for the month. Without omitting the most likely September year ticks, there is an average of eighteen year ticks over the years. The same most likely birds as the previous month dominate the table, adding little auk and waxwing later in the month which both have a more than 50:50 chance of occurring. As well as the top thirteen there are another eighteen bird species that have turned up. These include good chances for Siberian rubythroat, short-toed lark, white's thrush and arctic redpoll. Now wouldn't a tame 'snowball, Hornemann's arctic redpoll be great?

November – Scotland

five birds

Target bird, bean goose, should be a gimme with flocks around the Falkirk area, especially the RSPB reserve at Fannyside. With by now hopefully less than ten birds required to reach 300, the task will be to get to any birds available. Snow goose? Blue-winged teal or ring-necked duck somewhere; I do hope so.

December – Who knows? Back in England and back towards The Midlands, eventually.

five birds

I have already had some of the major Winter birds; shore lark and rough-legged buzzard for instance. If the pallid harrier returns to Norfolk I might head that way. So whatever I need I will go for.

Finally, just to wet my appetite for the rest of the year, here is a list of the best rarities from last year that I haven't seen yet this year. Some probably will be listed before the end. Some it would be miraculous if I saw them again. Chestnut bunting!

arctic warbler
Red-flanked bluetail
Blyth's reed warbler
Chestnut bunting
citril finch
Radde's warbler
Citrine wagtail
subalpine warbler moltoni
Eastern subalpine warbler
King eider
Lanceolated warbler
laughing gull
Siberian rubythroat
Little bunting
night heron
Ortolan bunting
Pallas' grasshopper warbler
Pallid Harrier

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...